HUNDREDS of walkers and runners are expected to turn up at the Queen’s Park Savannah, Port of Spain (opposite TGIF) tomorrow to take part in the seventh annual Walk for the Cure, an initiative of the CIBC FirstCaribbean Financial Centre (CIBC), the TT Cancer Society (TTCS) and Vitas House Hospice. The walk begins at 4 pm.
With prostate cancer being the leading cancer mortality among men in TT, CIBC is on a mission to raise more awareness and funds for this critical cause.
Managing director Anthony Seeraj said at CIBC’s office at Long Circular Road, Maraval: “For the past three years we have adopted prostate cancer, a worthwhile initiative. In 2016, 116 males were screened and of those men, 54 per cent were first-timers. In 2017, 460 males came forward to be screened, some in Tobago, some in rural communities and even some Cepep workers. Our outreach programme was tremendous last year and we are looking to do the same this year with the funds raised.”
He said in the last two years the bank had underwritten the full costs of PSAs (prostate-specific antigen), the DREs (digital rectal exam) and TRUS (transrectal ultrasonography) tests, plus 50 per cent of biopsies done at Vitas House. Also, for that period they raised $130,000. Some $95,000 has already been raised for this year, but Seeraj stressed the fundraising does not end at the Savannah.
“As a bank we have raised US$1.7 million collectively as of last year. This is the largest cancer fundraising event in the Caribbean,” Seeraj said.
“Personally, I have lost clients, friends and colleagues to prostate cancer so if I can play a part in getting males to drop their ego and get tested and screened and save a life, why not? Prostate cancer mortality in the Caribbean region is among the highest in the world and prostate cancer is the most common cancer in TT and this is an issue which we must treat with urgency.”
Sherma Mills-Serrette, clinic manager at the TT Cancer Society, who has been in the nursing profession for 26 years and specialist oncology nurse said, “Most of the people who I see come in with life expectancy for less than a year because of advance stage cancer, it is really heart-breaking to see them telling relatives all that we could have done we have done, because they came to us at a late stage. So when the opportunity arrived to partner with CIBC, I felt like Brian Lara, I thought it was a national achievement.
“For us at the TTCS, it is not about breast or cervical cancer, it is about cancer every day. It’s about education, screening, counselling, support, transportation and we meet you on that level. But it is up to the individual to ask themselves what are you going to do? Through our efforts, we have made cancer treatment affordable, accessible testing and acceptable to a great number of people. But because of ego, fear and homophobia, we need to educate males differently.”
Some 6,000 men have been diagnosed with prostate cancer, and there are more who have not come forward to be tested, but according to PAHO, TT is ranked fifth in the world as per country report, while a BBC report has rated TT number one in the Caribbean.
Mills-Serrette has assured the society is equipped to handle an increase in screening if the need arises. She made an impassioned plea to men to get tested. “It’ a diagnostic test that can save your life.” She said once the TTCS knows early, prostate cancer can be treated either by reducing cancer cells or getting rid of it altogether, depending on what stage of health one is in.
Cultural icon Roy Cape is a testament to what Mills-Serrette is saying. Cape, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2014 but now serves as spokesman for the Walk for the Cure, shared a bit of his experience living with this illness. He said he was always aware that he may have a prostate problem but ignored it for one year.
However, after getting his PSA done, and it read 49, he was subsequently sent to an oncologist who helped him get the necessary radiation treatment, which together with the taking of medication, brought down his PSA numbers. He took 12 of the recommended tablets over the four years of treatment.
For eight weeks and two days, five days a week with each session lasting for 15 minutes, Cape was subjected to radiation. “I was sceptical about going to the Brian Lara Cancer Treatment Centre at first, given some negative reports on the institution, but my experience was excellent.”
He boasted, “I am down to 0.1, and I have been reading that for about three years. But in going to Brian Lara, it touched my heart seeing how much people in all different stages were suffering. So when I got there on mornings I did things to cheer them up. However, the experience changes your whole life, and there are side effects.”
He said the radiation brought out arthritis in his joints and his body has gotten weaker but he felt much healthier with his new diet.
Regarding his music he said, “I was preparing to retire from playing in the band (Roy Cape All Stars) so I decided to spend time taking care of myself. Music doesn’t have a future here. You have to be dependent on additional income, though I must admit it is much better today.”
He then praised Government for putting a lot of money into assisting with expenses associated with the treatment of the disease.
Cape, who was asked by CIBC and the TTCS to be the spokesman for Walk for Cure, said, “Since I experienced it, I felt good talking about it. I get a lot of calls and I call people too, sharing my experience to anyone who will listen.”
The programme has changed the way how people look at life now.
Mills-Serrette said about the Walk for Cure, “This is one of the most important initiatives of TT. We’ve finally got the opportunity to put men’s health at the forefront.”
Cape also stated: “Prostate is something very sensitive to men. But I want to tell them if you don’t take care of this you can lose your manhood. I, Roy Cape have experienced prostate cancer and it took four years to take me where I have gotten today. I am happy to be here in good health and I want to help. I think this walk will bring about the necessary awareness.”
Seeraj urged people, “Come out and interact with other people some of whom also have prostate cancer. It is a fun event for a serious cause.”