Conquering colon cancer: Raymond's will to live

Vocalist Raymond Edwards after losing over 160 pounds.  -
Vocalist Raymond Edwards after losing over 160 pounds. -

Singer Raymond Edwards has a genetic predisposition to cancer.

His father had cancer three times before he died at 61, his brother had it twice before he died at 37, and he has had it twice.

Edwards’ goal is to outlive his father, and he is willing to do whatever is necessary to achieve that goal – and do it with a positive attitude.

His first brush with cancer was in 2003, at 28. He was in a lot of pain and had lost a lot of weight by the time doctors found a tumour in his ascending colon. He had open surgery to remove the colon, but doctors did not see the need for any further treatment and, after a painful recovery, he was fine.

Sixteen years later, Edwards started experiencing swelling in his body. He thought he was eating badly, but it turned out his kidneys were not working efficiently, allowing too much protein to escape. He was relieved it was not cancer and was given medication for it.

Raymond Edwards, vocalist, has kept a positive attitude through his trials with cancer. -

He was warned that the drug would make his stool dark for a time, but a month later, it was still discoloured. At his check-up, he told the doctor, who expressed concern and immediately scheduled a colonoscopy.

A mass was found in his transverse colon and, after a biopsy, Edwards was diagnosed with stage three colon cancer.

The medication had caused the tumour to bleed, leading to its discovery. He recalled that this time, he had no indication that his cancer was back – no pain or unexpected health issues – and so was mildly surprised by the diagnosis.

“While there was fear, I trusted that the team of doctors that I worked with, headed by Prof Dilip Dan, my surgeon Dr Emille Mohammed, my neurologist and Alicia Shim, my cardiologist, and a barrage of attentive nurses, had everything in full control. We have some really great medical personnel in TT.

“Because this was my second tango with cancer, they said the best option would be to remove my entire colon and reconnect my small intestine to my anus. And that is what we did on October 19, 2019.”

He said the cancer was in one lymph node but had not spread further, so the operation had removed it all.

Normally, that would mean he would not need chemotherapy. But because of his family history of the disease, his doctors realised he has lynch syndrome, a hereditary condition that increases the risk of colon and other cancers, and at an earlier age.

“Because of that, they felt there may have been some radicals bouncing around. They felt it best I go through the chemotherapy to make sure that we zap it out of the body. So the chemotherapy was preventative.

From left, Nigel Floyd, Raymond Edwards, and Eddie Cumberbatch of QED during a performance at Queen's Hall last year. -

“My target is to outlive my father. The way I look at it, if Daddy could survive it three times, why not? Especially as the technology is so much better now. And my mom is going to be 80 next year. She told me, ‘You’re not allowed to die on me, you know!’ So I have to live.”

He went through eight rounds of chemo at the St James Medical Complex starting at the end of February. He was very tired, slept all day, and did not want to eat, but after each session, he recovered more quickly.

Edwards said he knew it was designed to make him better, so he approached the situation with that attitude. So instead of worrying about the side effects, he made up his mind to survive.

Conscious of covid19 complications

Because he had a compromised immune system owing to chemo, Edwards needed to limit his exposure to people. So when covid19 arrived in TT, he already had a limited circle of interaction: his mother, a friend, and his driver, whom he described as his lifeline, as he not only got Edwards where he needed to go but ensured he was safe.

He said covid19 added another level of tension to the situation, but he was confident in the system developed by the medical facility. Each person was asked a series of questions to ensure they had no symptoms, patients were physically distanced, and they were not allowed to enter with company unless they needed assistance.

Raymond Edwards recovering from cancer surgery at home. -

“I was concerned that I would get covid19 because I knew I was in the high-risk group. I’m overweight, I’m diabetic, and I was a chemotherapy patient. So that’s a triple threat. In my mind, I just had to stay away from everybody, and most people understood.”

Even now, months after his treatments were completed, he is still concerned, but less so, because he takes precautions. He uses a face mask and shield, and he sprays down anyone who enters his home with rubbing alcohol.

Covid19 has also caused a prolonged separation from his wife, Desiree Connor.

Seeing that he was doing well after his treatments, Connor went to the US to care for her sister, who was also a cancer patient, but who had a three-year-old child. She was only supposed to be gone for one month, but then TT’s borders were closed on March 22, and she has yet to return. The most important thing, Edwards said, was that she was safe and comfortable.

“You are supposed to be so complete within yourself that the other person just enhances you. We must learn to be complete people.”

Still, he is looking forward to her return and excited that she will find “a new husband” waiting for her, since he has lost over 160 pounds since the surgery, and hopes to lose 100 more.

Despite the health concerns and separation from his wife, Edwards believed covid19 was a blessing in disguise.

“When you are ill, people want to take care of you. You allow them to take care of you, and after a while, it tends to incapacitate you.

"She’s not here. I don’t have a choice in that. Therefore, I have to do for myself.”

Although some neighbours and friends have brought him food, most of the time he had to cook for himself. He learned to make many dishes and it sparked his artistic side – cooking, planting, and taking pictures of his dishes.

He also had to change his eating and activity levels. He said he was more conscious of what he put in his body, so he tried to eat whole or non-processed foods, and foods that were high in protein. He also exercised more, although it could not be too strenuous.

Through it all, Edwards has had a positive attitude, which he shares on his Facebook page. He said he lived by the mantra, “Why worry?” simply because it did not make sense to do so, especially if one had no control over the situation.

Singer Raymond Edwards with his wife Desiree Connor in an undated photo. -

He said people tended to see the negative aspect of things, but if there is a negative, there must be a positive, and he is alive, which is a gift in itself.

One of his immediate plans is performing in concert with his group QED (Quite Exquisitely Done Co Ltd), comprising Edwards, Nigel Floyd and Edward Cumberbatch.

QED is partnering with Richard “Charsu” Ahong on the fifth instalment of One Night in December, titled Closer Together, to people’s screens. The virtual concert is expected to guest star Christina Christian, who placed sixth in season one on American Idol.

Tickets are $200 per household and more information on the concert will be revealed in time.

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"Conquering colon cancer: Raymond’s will to live"