The incidence of various forms of cancer in Barbados has troubled Pastor Paul Leacock to the extent that he is now calling for a review of some treatment practices, more assertiveness of patients and increased documentation of their experiences solely from the view of the afflicted persons.
Leacock, the Cancer Support Services (CSS) chaplain who leads counseling at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital’s Ward C 12 where most cancer patients receive treatment, believes that one or a number of factors are causing Barbadians to contract cancer at an abnormal rate. He says there should be more examination of the island’s surroundings plus the lifestyles of its inhabitants, and at the same time, local traditional and alternative medicines need more study.
“We need as a community of people to pay attention to what has given rise to cancers in Barbados. Not enough research, observation, reporting is happening, and it needs to happen from patient-level to medical clinical level. And it needs to happen even on the administrative health ministry level, the environmental level.
“In particular, persons who have experienced journeys with cancer, your observations are very important. We need to begin to have a conversation, and we need to be able to gather information to understand why. When we look at the NCD indices, why is cancer raging out of control in Barbados?”
Leacock’s call came during a CSS cancer experience sharing session in the Courtney Blackman Grand Salle of the Central Bank in a forum titled, Can We Talk? Your Cancer Journey. Peril or Triumph. His presentation to the forum was greatly influenced by interaction with cancer patients since 2014 on behalf of CSS, which has adopted that QEH ward.
The chaplain’s contention that the dreaded disease is ‘raging out of control in Barbados’ is supported in a report of a cancer prevention research and public health policy NGO, the World Cancer Research Fund, which has positioned this island’s cancer rate at 45th in the 178 World Health Organisation member countries. That status, projected to 2018, has the island’s cancer ratio at 247.5 per 100,000 persons.
“Diabetes is almost taking second place to cancer,” he charged. “What is happening in our environment that is leading to more cancers; what is happening in our diets; what is happening within our lifestyle?”
The reverend who holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Human Resource Management said that anxiety levels among Barbadians must be considered.
“I am believing, based on what I am seeing, that the level of stress that people are experiencing is one of the factors that we’re not paying enough attention to,” he said and explained that stress is not restricted to matters of unfaithfulness of spouses, but could be job and or living expenses related, among many other challenges.
He queried the apparently liberal use of weed killers, insecticides and other aerial spray products in Barbados. “We need to make policies. Should we still have DDT coming, should we have Roundup being sprayed in Barbados? Should we still befog and what are we fogging with? Should we have certain sprays being used, aerosol?”
Leacock, who made clear that much of his presentation was based on patient experience over the years, questioned the negative attitude to remedies that fall outside the western norms.
“What about the alternative treatments? We must pay attention to these. I think that to our peril as a nation, we are ignoring the alternative treatments that we whisper about, talk about and are not giving vent to.”
He said, “We need to have a good study on the efficacy. Does soursop really work? pear leaf, mango leaf, do these things really work? Should we continue to scoff at them? We need to begin to study these things. Walk with patients.
“If I was a physician who had a patient who said, ‘I don’t want the chemo, I’m going to go natural’. And that patient is taking natural things and I’m seeing improvements, I would want to walk with that person and learn from them, rather than saying to them when they come for their next treatment, ‘Oh this is the patient here that don’t want no chemotherapy’”.
Many of the four dozen persons in the room were either cancer survivors, or those going through treatment. Leacock urged them to add to the dictionary on cancer experiences in Barbados by writing their stories.
“Hidden in your stories are answers. What really made the difference? I want to encourage you and everybody who has had a cancer journey, write your story, because in writing and telling your story we may discover something that we overlooked that is making a difference. We have to make significant decisions and just can’t stand by and watch as people take slow marches to places we don’t want them to go,” he said.