It was my first morning in Cuba. I was writing in my diary, trying to organize my thoughts and emotions to face the beginning of my CANCER journey. It was not even 6 a.m. when I heard a very strong knock at the complex of apartments where Sharon Mills and I were staying.
I opened the door and she said, “Buenos dias. I am here for Sharon”.
Two days later, I saw her again, this time on her knees helping a sister from St. Kitts to put on her shoes. The following day, she was carrying somebody else’s bag. Her peculiar, loud voice and contagious laughter filled the air, interrupting the “scary moments” I was having for my upcoming surgery. I really thought that she was there to assist somebody. It was hard for anyone to believe that that happy soul was facing unimaginable battles. After she heard my history, she didn’t hesitate to show me all her scars and share her experiences in an effort to prepare me as we both had BREAST CANCER …. Serious issues amidst her many jokes. Most of the times, I needed Sharon’s translation because I just couldn’t understand Ruby’s Nevisian twang. They often laughed at me. In fact, we laughed so much together.
Ruby Chapman was up and in the Cuban streets before the sun was out, always helping somebody else. She would reach our place ready to assist us. When asked how she was feeling, she would say, “Me cool Doc.” “Me cool.”
When I asked her to stop calling me “DOC”, her reply was “OK, little one.”
We sat her down one day and forced her to tell us about her situation. When we learned about it, we recognized that there was simply no way for us to handle it on our own. We solicited her permission to publicize her story and to ask for much needed help. I vividly remember her saying. “OK, Jess, but let me tell you something. I am not important. Not too many people know me. I just cut grass………ah…and play cricket. I am good at that.”
If there is an act of love and togetherness that I will never forget during my 12 years on this beautiful island, Nevis, it is “Ruby’s history.” In less than a month, this loving community raised enough funds to not only pay her expensive, outstanding bills, resume her treatment that was stopped because of lack of funds but also brought her and Sharon back HOME just in time for the Opening Ceremony of Dr. Hobdy’s Chemotherapy Center. What a powerful medicine of love!
When we said, “Ruby the money was raised; the bills are paid. Nevis loves you. By the way, you are very well known.”
Her humble response was, “You sure? Am I coming home?” And she just laughed and laughed with excitement.
Brothers and sisters, when every cell in your body is battling to remain alive, there is no place like HOME. We held each other’s hand during treatments; shared jokes, blankets, food, love. We express our gratitude TO YOU, a loving community. You did it! You brought her back home. You took care of her.
Ruby, Sharon and I were three cancer warriors in Cuba. The physical story of my sisters has ended. I am grateful to God that I am still here to share with you their stories. I am still here to honor their lives and to celebrate the strength, courage, determination, hope and faith of the many of us who are touched by cancer. Do not look at us with pity. Do not see us as persons who are not capable or incomplete. Even without both breasts, ovaries, womb, prostate, leg, skin, we are still ourselves. Cancer, you can take organs but you CANNOT touch our souls.
It is not money in the bank, a big house, titles or cars that make us important. It’s how we positively impact other people’s lives. God spared Ruby’s life for some time and she gracefully and thankfully accepted her fate. In spite of the only imaginable dark holes of advance cancer, she continued to give us lessons of HUMILITY.
That humble lady, with a peculiar way of walking, looking and talking can easily be described with hundreds of adjectives. A lady who thought that her job was not important brought us together. Indians, Muslims, politicians, preachers, white, black, rich and poor- all fell in love with her. She came back home to remind us that Cancer can happen to anybody. We need to be there for everybody. She came back to inspire us. How can we possibly complain for simple life issues, side effects of medications when this courageous lady, who had almost all her organs taken by this deadly disease, could have smiled and brightened a day of many until her last breath?
In her last days, when she couldn’t talk much, she would put her hands on her chest and softly say: “I love you Jess.” “I love the world. I am happy for my time here”.
I also loved you, Ruby Chapman. I will always remember you. Yes, dear, you were important, very important because you were God’s amazing child. I know that Nevis loved and admired you.
I thank our Almighty for giving me the honor of having Ruby’s presence in my life. Rest in peace my dear sister.
Dr. Jessica Bardales-Essien
A blessed survivor
Founder of the Nevis Maternal Health Fund