BREAST cancer advocate Keisha Butcher fought bravely against the disease – and to encourage women to get screened early – for a decade.
Butcher would have wanted her message to live on, as she shared with Newsday in several interviews in recent years, before her death on Wednesday, at the age of 43.
“We need to have more voices explaining and educating about cancer awareness," she said in 2016.
Butcher, an attorney for 15 years, worked at the North Central Regional Health Authority as a consultant in legal services, and taught masters degree courses in corporate governance at Sital College. She was also an artist.
When she was 33, Butcher found a lump in one of her breasts. Her mother asked her to visit the doctor, but was told it was only fatty tissue. The lump was removed, but it returned a year later.
In the 2016 interview about her breast cancer journey, Butcher said if she could do it all again, she would have gone to the TT Cancer Society first, received conventional treatment, such as chemotherapy, and use alternative care after. She was not properly diagnosed with cancer until four and a half years after she found the lump.
“It took me a while to go back to anybody to be able to confirm that lumps that had returned was in fact cancerous. When that happened, it was already in a more advanced stage than it had been."
She said fear blocked her from getting treatment early. She told Newsday: "The report, in my case, came back saying there was fatty tissue. 'What if it is not that, fatty tissue? What if it is cancerous?' So I went into denial."
She had hormone-sensitive breast cancer. She noted her type of breast cancer was: “one of the easier ones to treat had I picked it up early.”
Butcher said her medical plan was to try and manage the cancer through hormone treatments and chemotherapy.
“Medically, what they are trying to do with me, until they get a break through in cancer, is to manage it, controlling it. If it is controlled, it can’t increase or spread, then I would be able to enjoy a normal quality of life,” she said.
She was treated at the oncology department of the Sangre Grande District Hospital, and praised their care.
"They are the best. They are second to none in terms of our doctors and nurses. It really is a great programme they have there."
Her experience of denial and the return of the lump pushed her to breast cancer activism where she encouraged women to take their health and wellness seriously, living without fear and doing the necessary, regular screenings to ensure they do not have cancer. She believed breast cancer awareness should not just be in October, but all year round so people can live a healthy lifestyle.
She encouraged women to always ask their doctors a lot of questions and take an active role in their healthcare. She talked about the importance of putting lots of questions to cancer specialists.
“I was diagnosed with breast cancer, but they didn’t know the exact type of breast cancer I had until a few years on. So it was difficult for me to get the right kind of treatment. That led to a downhill battle for a while. Eventually, I got better when they were able to correctly identify.”
She was an active participant in the annual Pink Tea TT fundraiser. In 2017, she was the Payless Breast Cancer Awareness Ambassador, and called for a change in conversation to help more people understand that early and regular testing is more likely to confirm a person is cancer free.
As an artist, Butcher was inspired by all things West Indian. Her art was displayed at ThinkArtWorkTT studio which described her as a "Trini at heart" who was the "product of both her environment and her heritage."
She would sign all of her paintings with "TYL" above her name – it stood for Thank you Lord, a tribute to her relationship with God. When standing in front of a blank canvas, she often pondered if that was how the Creator felt.
She saw her art as a reflection of her legal profession stating: "I paint like a lawyer… I follow the ‘precedent’ of created things.”
Butcher had a daughter Acacia, and she relished in sharing her artistic work with her. She was the daughter of former parliamentarian Kenneth Butcher and Dr Patricia Butcher – president of the TT Netball Association and head of the TT Hospitality and Tourism Institute.
She had a masters degree from the University of the West Indies in corporate and commercial law, and attended the University of London where she read for an undergraduate law degree, and won the Blackstone's World Prize in her first year. As a student of St Joseph's Convent, St Joseph, her art teacher Ann-Marie Howard taught her the techniques she used in her paintings.
Butcher's funeral will take place on Saturday at Fatima RC Church in Curepe.