January is cervical cancer month. Cindy Freeman is a cervical cancer survivor and has decided to mark the month by sharing her experience with cervical cancer… She believes this gives those diagnosed with cancer, those living with cancer as well as survivors, hope, encouragement and life skills to cope.
Cindy was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2009. She was in secure hands when she developed symptoms that led her to consult her doctor, a gynaecologist, based in Nevis, Dr Jessica Bardales-Essien. The Essiens and Cindy were family friends. “I used to go for pap smears and later stopped. I figured the Essiens were gynaecologists and they would fix all my problems,” Cindy said.
Cindy was prompted to seek treatment when she noticed she was bleeding during intercourse. “I would bleed a great deal,” she recalled. The bleeding would be on and off. She hoped the bleeding would stop. One time the bleeding was too heavy and this prompted her to call Dr Jessica Bardales-Essien.
Cindy talked about the moment she was examined:“Jessica told me to go to her office the next day. I did exactly that. As she examined me, we conversed and laughed as usual. Suddenly her facial expression changed and she said, ‘I do not like what I see.’ I knew something was wrong.”
Cindy had to wait two weeks to get the results of her diagnosis. “The results came out and the stage of the cancer was described as ‘high grade’. “I was scared. I cried. I did not know what it was. I believed people die shortly after they are diagnosed with cancer. I figured I would die,” she said during a recent interview.
Cindy loathed the idea of any doctor suggesting that she goes through chemotherapy and radiation. “Part of me was scared and part of me was courageous,” she said. According to Cindy, her diagnosis took place during a year when there was a recession. She needed to seek treatment overseas. She opted to go to Cuba, thanks to an existing agreement between the St. Kitts and Nevis government, Nevis Island Administration(NIA) and Cuba.
Well-wishers funded part of her treatment expenses. Her neighbour Patsy Hanley, Pink Lily Cancer Care and her church organized a fund raiser at the Wesleyan Holiness Church, Hanley’s Road. Individuals gave donations and Nevis Island Administration(NIA) met part of her ticket expenses. She also received donations from Maternal Fund. Cindy greatly appreciates the community support: “I will forever be grateful for the donations that helped save my life.”
Although she had insurance, the donations came in handy as she was required to pay and claim from the insurance later. She also accessed a loan to boost her treatment fund. “My health was a priority,”. All along, her family, friends, church members, Pink Lily volunteers and the community at large stood by her and when the time came for her to go to Cuba for treatment, Dr Bardales-Essien accompanied her and assisted Cindy to settle in and begin treatment.
“The treatment was a challenge but before she left Nevis, Lea Parris-Cambridge had already counselled me on what chemotherapy involved. Chemo is similar to getting drips. Whatwas most uncomfortable were the side effects. I would have terrible headaches. The body felt drained and tired after chemo sessions.” She also had radiation treatment and brachytherapy.
While she eventually loved being in Cuba and the professional treatment she received, Cindy missed her husband, children relatives, friends and Nevis as a whole.
Cindy came back to Nevis after her treatment to learn at the airport that her father was in hospital battling prostate cancer. Family and friends had kept this a secret while she was away. She says had she known her father had cancer before she went to Cuba; she would have made every effort to ensure that he had accompanied her for treatment. Sadly, he died a few weeks after Cindy had returned to Nevis.
Where does Cindy draw her strength to cope?”When I found out I had cancer, I was not a Born Again Christian. I was in a backsliding state. My experience with cancer drew me very close to God. I would have died but God spared my life. I wanted God to strengthen me to remain positive. When I was in Cuba and wanted to give up, I would say, ‘but Lea is always positive. Lea Parris-Cambridge and I have been close friends since 1997’
Cindy was battling with her emotions after Dr Jessica Bardales-Essien was diagnosed with breast cancer last year(2013). “I hurt when I think of Jessica. She inspires me. She is very courageous. She is always there for me and all others who are affected by cancer. Jessica is a very special person to me.”
Cindy’s message to those affected by cancer is, “Do not give up.” She says “men, women and girls should take advantage of cancer screenings. Early detection saves lives,” she said.