ON August 28 2017, saxophonist and former policeman, Pedro Lezama, received a phone call from his daughter Mercedes. It was her 20th birthday and she asked her father what the family was doing for her birthday. Little did she know, Lezama was on his way to the hospital after he noticed he was passing blood. What followed was weeks of tests and scans done in TT, where Lezama was eventually diagnosed with rectal cancer at Medical Associates Hospital, St Joseph.
After the diagnosis, his friend, Angela Pappin-Tanquini, suggested he go to the US to undergo further tests and seek treatment, which he eventually did at the Englewood Hospital and Medical Centre in New Jersey in December 2017. “She was a two-time cancer patient herself, so she wanted me to be sure of everything and seek treatment over there,” he said. He then had biopsies, CT scans and MRI’s done before he was further diagnosed with colorectal cancer.
“I had an operation done. It wasn’t supposed to be complicated. I felt fine after the surgery until my stitches ruptured.”
Shortly after the surgery, Lezama, who spent 38 years in the police service, started experiencing stomach pains, chest pains and fever, and his painkillers weren’t working. Upon investigations, it was revealed that his colon had suffered a leakage and faeces and fluid had backed up in his system. He was then placed into a medically-induced coma while his attending doctor brought in specialists to do a colostomy.
“They removed my colon, put it outside my body and connected it to a bag to collect the faeces.” Though he made it out of the three-week coma alive, it was anything but easy. “I got pneumonia in the coma and I had trouble breathing. Not only that, but my brain, stomach and lungs had collapsed.”
Post-coma, Lezama said he couldn’t read a simple sign and had to take 13 different types of tablets, each twice a day, until he experienced another health problem. “One day I was lying down and I started feeling like my heart wanted to burst through my chest. I called for the nurse and pointed at my chest. I was in so much pain I could barely speak. They rushed me to the ICU (intensive care unit).” He had suffered a heart attack. As a result, Lezama’s stay at the New Jersey hospital was prolonged and he was eventually discharged in March 2018.
After returning to the home of Pappin-Tanquini in the US, Lezama was hit with a medical bill of US $1 million, which was nullified because Pappin-Tanquini applied for charity care which is healthcare provided for free or at reduced prices to low-income patients in the US. “I am forever grateful to Angela for opening her doors and heart to me and for taking care of me. She did a fantastic job,” he said.
Lezama returned to TT in April 2018 but did not get his colostomy bag removed until March 2019 – a year after his colostomy.
He told Newsday said he still has pneumonia and can’t consume mucus-inducing products like milk. “I can’t eat as much, and I’ve had a drastic dietary change. I eat little to no meat, consume more fibre and eat more vegetables. I still have difficulty breathing at times, but having suffered a collapsed lung and still be able to play my instrument is remarkable.”
He added that he is still discovering what is and isn’t good for him but believes his dietary change and occasional detox had a lot to do with the fact that didn’t lose any hair throughout his eight rounds of chemotherapy which he did at the Radiotherapy Centre, St James under, what he called, some of the most professional and courteous doctors and nurses in TT.
Lezama played at the recent funeral of ex-model Lystra Cudjoe, who died of cancer. “Her passing was a surprise because she was always jovial and never spoke of death. Like me, I never speak of death. I see myself living for the next 20, 25 years.” He said playing for her funeral reminded him how fortunate he was to have beaten cancer. “I’m happy to resume my performances. I’m not 100 per cent, but I’m grateful to God for giving me a second opportunity at life.”
Lezama said he is cancer-free and looks forward to spending the rest of his life that way. “I embrace the experience because it made me stronger. Everything that I went through in that year and even up to today, has helped me understand the power of love, friendship and prayer.”
He thanks his friends such as herbalist Derry Thomas and pastor Calvin Rechais among others for their advice, support and prayer. “I must also thank my wife Quedia Lezama and my children Sean, Latifah, Mercedes, Latif, Micael and Jeremiah who were very supportive in that time that was hard for them as well, especially my 18 month-old son, Quan Keanu Pedro Lezama, who has given me a sense of promise.”
Lezama said people can expect another concert fundraiser from him later this year as he still has US $42,000 in after-care medical bills to pay.
Looking back on his battle with cancer, he said, “I just want to share my story with people to, hopefully, encourage or inspire someone. What I went through, I don’t want anyone to go through.”