Most J’cans are more con­cerned about can­cer than HIV

Jamaica Gleaner - - FRONT PAGE - Sher­ine Wil­liams Gleaner Writer sher­ine.wil­liams@glean­

TO­DAY, SHE talks freely about her bat­tle with can­cer. “When I re­alised I had breast can­cer, I said, ‘OK, Chris­tine, what do you choose? Is it life or can­cer?’” said Chris­tine King. “My choice was life, so what­ever it took to get the can­cer out of my body, I said I would do it. I would bury it and move on with my life. If I get sad, I’m go­ing to get sicker – men­tally, phys­i­cally, and spiritually.” King is re­mark­ably open about her fight against can­cer. A new sur­vey has re­vealed that it is the most feared type of sick­ness among Ja­maicans. A Gleaner-com­mis­sioned Bill John­son sur­vey con­ducted in Septem­ber to gauge pub­lic per­cep­tions on health-care is­sues re­vealed that Ja­maicans are more than twice as likely to be fear­ful of can­cer (47 per cent) than of HIV/AIDS (23 per cent), and the Zika virus, de­spite the lat­ter’s re­cently height­ened pro­file in the me­dia. The sur­vey showed that 52 per cent of women and 43 per cent of men say that can­cer is the dis­ease they are most wor­ried about get­ting some­day, with the fear peak­ing (59 per cent) among Ja­maicans in the 35-44 age group. That con­cern slips to 50 per cent among those be­tween 45 and 54 years old. The angst is still very much ap­par­ent among younger peo­ple in the 18-24 age range (41 per cent), who would nor­mally be con­sid­ered at the peak of their fit­ness. For 48 per cent of those be­tween 25 and 34, can­cer is their big­gest health fear. Yet, based on na­tional health data, Ja­maicans are more likely to die from a num­ber of other dis­eases. For in­stance, be­tween 2011 and 2015, the lat­est pe­riod for which com­par­a­tive data are avail­able, fewer than 7,100 Ja­maicans died from the can­cers most fre­quently re­ported here. That was 1,953, or ap­prox­i­mately 28 per cent fewer than those who died from cere­brovas­cu­lar dis­eases such as strokes. At the same time, di­a­betes caused 20 per cent more deaths (8,494), while

heart con­di­tions also claimed more lives, although at a lower (three per cent) rate.

Yulit Gor­don, the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Ja­maica Can­cer So­ci­ety (JCS), is hardly sur­prised by the fear of can­cer. She said it is of­ten shaped by peo­ple hav­ing wit­nessed a loved one suf­fer or die from some form of can­cer. This sit­u­a­tion some­times trig­gers a neg­a­tive cog­ni­tive as­so­ci­a­tion with the ser­vices of­fered by or­gan­i­sa­tions such as the JCS. Peo­ple shy away from them.


“The psy­cho­log­i­cal bar­rier of fear is a real one,” she said. “It has pre­vented many from ac­cess­ing the avail­able screen­ing ser­vices and from par­tic­i­pat­ing in the many pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion fora staged across the is­land.”

There is an­other fac­tor that Gor­don said may drive this kind of be­hav­iour: eco­nomics. “Many Ja­maicans do not have health in­sur­ance to ac­cess can­cer care, and this has added to the fear as many fam­i­lies have had their sav­ings wiped out treat­ing the dis­ease,” she ex­plained.

The Bill John­son sur­vey, done with the sup­port of the Na­tional Health Fund, found that the fear fac­tor for can­cer was low­est among older Ja­maicans; at 27 per cent among those 65 and over; and 42 per cent for those be­tween 55 and 64 – the age co­hort to which Chris­tine King be­longs. This, in part, may ex­plain why she is so open about her con­di­tion.

Then again, King, who was the man­ag­ing edi­tor of the Sun­day Her­ald news­pa­per, was al­ways an out­go­ing, vi­va­cious per­son. Hav­ing lost close friends who were not very open about their can­cer di­ag­noses, she was will­ing to dis­close her own to close friends, and, now, to speak pub­licly about it.

King was her nor­mal happy self when The Gleaner spoke with her re­cently. Can­cer has been no match for her per­son­al­ity.

“I have had my breasts for 60odd years,” she said. “I have two won­der­ful daugh­ters. I have four beau­ti­ful grand­chil­dren. My breast has served its pur­pose. It doesn’t de­fine who I am.”

Thank­fully, King said that she dis­cov­ered the tu­mour at stage one, which is why she has been able to avoid more ag­gres­sive treat­ment like chemo­ther­apy. She is now on Arim­idex, a hor­mone treat­ment.

Gor­don ex­plained that the dis­ease is not a death sen­tence, es­pe­cially if de­tected early.

“The lead­ing can­cers in Ja­maica con­tinue to be can­cer of the prostate, breast, colon, and cervix,” she said. “All these can­cers can be pre­vented, but you have to avail your­self of the screen­ing ser­vices.”



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