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Tuesday 12 November 2019
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When cancer hits close to home

Keisha Butcher and her daughter. Acacia. Keisha succumbed to cancer on October 16, 2019. - JEFF K MAYERS
Keisha Butcher and her daughter. Acacia. Keisha succumbed to cancer on October 16, 2019. - JEFF K MAYERS

I met Keisha Butcher in October 2015 when I interviewed her at her office at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex for a feature in WMN's Breast Cancer Awareness Month issue.

As we talked about her tumultuous relationship with breast cancer, she looked at me with a pretty smile and said, "I'm sorry I can't give you the fairy tale ending you're probably looking for. I'm not in remission or anything of that sort. The tumour is still there. It's not getting any worse, but it's not getting better either."

But I still expected a good ending and wasn't prepared for the news of her death on October 16. In fact, that very morning Facebook had reminded us that that day was Keisha and Carol Day, and that we had become friends on the social media platform exactly four years ago. "Look we!" I shared. She never responded. The following morning I learned of her demise.

But we were more than just Facebook friends. During that first interview we had somehow connected and we both realised it. Maybe it was because we sensed each other's inner one-child syndrome struggle, maybe it was something else. But when the formalities were over and it was time for me to leave we automatically embraced each other. We never lost touch after that.

"Who would have thought after one interview...it's just easy to talk to u!! I'm not always this friendly," she had once messaged after a discussion we had about men. I never saw any other side so I didn't believe her then. All I ever saw was a beautiful, intelligent woman with a sweet disposition and a fighting spirit. As time went by I got to see Keisha Butcher the mother, the daughter, the sibling, the attorney, the friend, the artist, the woman – not always friendly – but I still liked the person I saw. She was human.

Keisha Butcher and her daughter. Acacia. Keisha succumbed to cancer on October 16, 2019. - JEFF K MAYERS

I received fairly regular updates on her ups and downs with the dreaded cancer. She never lost hope and found strength in her faith. "Hi. Season's Greetings!! Finished d chemo yesterday!! Had to shave my head last night as d hair started dropping Monday night. God is good. I'm rocking my bald head for now! Talk soon," she messaged on December 23, 2015.

"Doing pretty good. Can't complain. Loving life and looking fwd to my 40th bday!!" she responded one of the many times I checked up on her. "Great. And if God is willing I will blow out my 85th bday candles...I hope u will do the story.....sure u will b at d party!!" she told me at another time, adding that I was at the top of the short list to write her biography when the time came.

And the concern wasn't just one way. "I see you're not feeling too good," she observed one time I had a really bad flu. It was not the only time she had checked up on me.

But our conversations were never just about cancer and sickness. Our children popped up in almost every discussion. "Going good. Responding well to the treatment. Hopefully to finish this particular treatment in one month's time! God is soooo good all the time. I am always amazed how he lovingly favours and looks out for me. Your son is the splitting image of you!!! You got no help, clearly...lol," she referred to a photo of my ten-year-old I had posted a few days earlier.

"Hmmm. Between that and trying to parent a 14-year-old who needs my attention to focus on school, is active in netball...dropping, picking up etc...my head is spinning...but it's all good," she answered to a question on how she managed to keep up with everything.

It was clear that her relationship with her daughter was one of the highlights of her life, and her love for and pride in knew no boundary. Even Acacia's "flaws" were a source of joy to her. "Acacia hates to rub my feet. I'm forever negotiating," she lamented with a chuckle after I had suggested she subject herself to a little pampering.

On September 3, "Thanks for checking up," was the last thing Keisha ever said to me. I couldn't believe she was really gone. I still expected that fairy tale ending in which she would live to a ripe old age, or at least double 43. And if I feel so emotional about her death, I can only imagine how her parents, former parliamentarian Kenneth Butcher and president of the TT Netball Association Dr Patricia Butcher feel, having had to say goodbye to their young daughter so soon. I cannot even begin to imagine how Acacia is coping with the loss of her mother. My hope is that they can find comfort in the beautiful memories she took the time to make.

Keisha was an advocate for breast health and encouraged women to take their health and wellness seriously by getting regular screenings, trying their best to practice a healthy lifestyle and asking lots of questions of their doctors. And not just in October, but all year round. It is sound advice.

Rest well Keisha, and thanks for your friendship.

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