He received a major scare two years ago. Since then he has become an advocate by bringing awareness and sharing the lessons he learned in an effort to help other men and women avoid the ordeal he experienced.
Graham Bannister was diagnosed with Stage 1 colon cancer in February 2018 when he made the decision to do a colonoscopy. At the time he was 55 years old.
Today, he considers himself “one of the fortunate ones” that survived the disease because he caught it early.
“I didn’t get one [a colonoscopy] at age 50 when you should. If I did, maybe I would not have had cancer. But I was fortunate enough that it was caught early enough,” he said.
However, catching the cancer early did not take away from the stresses that he had to endure. Being diagnosed with cancer was enough to give him a scare.
“When somebody tells you that you have colon cancer or cancer of any sort, it is like being hit with a ton of bricks. It kind of threw me for a loop,” he said, recalling that the doctors would give him the assurance it wasn’t a death sentence.
However, the father of two said the news affected his family just as bad as it did him. But he said they gave him tremendous support, and they remained very positive by making lots of jokes about his condition to often lighten the mood.
“It is something you see other people being diagnosed with and you say ‘well, that will never happen to me’ or, ‘if it does, I will get rid of it easy’. When it happens to you, then you look at life totally different and it affects you and your family,” he said.
“We all got stressed out over it and we were trying not to, but it is one of these things that happened and we dealt with it the best way we could,” he recalled.
“I have never been afraid of dying, but when I was diagnosed I started to have a fear of what would happen to my family if I wasn’t there – where would they go, who would look after them? And that played on my mind, but I said one day ‘this is foolishness, stop letting it impact your life and just deal it with!’ And that was when I turn around and say cancer is not a death sentence,” said Bannister.
Since his diagnosis and treatment, Bannister had done two more screenings, the last one in November. He said he would be going back in another two years to do another screening.
The onetime lover of a brand of sweet drink said since then he has been very careful of what drinks and foods he consumes.
“Because I had the screening and got it dealt with early, I didn’t have to do chemotherapy or radiation. It then became dieting and exercising and keeping healthy – being aware of what I am putting in me,” he said.
“If it weren’t for the love and support of my wife and children, I probably would have had bigger issues than I did because they were there to help me get through it,” he said. Recalling that his daughter was doing her CAPE studies at the time, Bannister said he was “glad to know that she still brought home good results”.
Immediately following his diagnosis he started to feel somewhat withdrawn and all he wanted to do was to “deal with it”.
Bannister, who is the operations manager at Amalgamated Security Services Barbados Ltd. has been working with the company for the past five years. He received some time off from work following his surgery in March so he could recover. It was in May that he returned to work.
However, it was during his approximately six-week recovery after the surgery that he decided he wanted to share his story and spread awareness about colon cancer.
“Men are stubborn. Colon cancer affects both males and females, but a female will more go to a doctor than a man would. I was stubborn about my health too. When I had that pain, fortunately, that has nothing to do with it but I got diagnosed,” he recalled.
“I said stubbornness can kill you. So I am trying to convince men that having a screening for colon cancer using a colonoscopy is not the end of your manhood, because that is what I hear. I want people to get away from that myth and recognize this is for your health,” Bannister warned.
He said he was grateful to his surgeon and the doctors with whom he came into contact, saying they helped him to accept what was happening and like his family, they were responsible for putting him at ease.
The Christ Church resident who said he also put his faith in God while trusting the professionals, explained that since his rollercoaster ride was over and his good days far outweigh the bad, he has been devoting a lot of his time to spreading awareness of the disease.
“After the surgery, I kind of got into this ‘why me?’, but it wasn’t why did I have colon cancer. It was more ‘why was I fortunate not to do chemo and radiation treatment, when I know a lot of people who had to do it and did not survive afterwards,” he said.
“That again helped me to realize that the purpose of that happening was for me to become an advocate for colon cancer awareness. I am going to use my voice and life to share with everybody,” Bannister declared.
Adding that there was a need for more education on the issue, he said he has already started his awareness campaign and is currently in discussions with a number of organizations for their support.
Bannister recently created a Facebook page – Beating Colon Cancer – as he continues to spread awareness on the disease.
“Hopefully, I will be able to grow the awareness of colon cancer, and the importance of screening and early detection.”
He is hoping to embark on a major plan to raise awareness for colon cancer month, celebrated in March. The events, he said, will include talks, entertainment, radio and TV programmes and community outreach programmes. He is also working on the production of a video of the process to help bring awareness. [email protected]