Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Passionate fight against cancer

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Elisha Stuart may not be considered the average 28-year-old.  In fact, she perceives herself as a 40-year-old trapped in a 28-year-old body. However, pink is her passion – not pink the colour, but what it symbolises.

The finance analyst at CIBC FirstCaribbean also carries the title of walk manager for the CIBC FirstCaribbean Walk For The Cure breast cancer awareness walk in association with the breast screening programme of the Barbados Cancer Society.

Stuart told EASY magazine that her decision to support this cause was influenced by a history of breast cancer in her family, having as a young child lost her grandmother to the disease and currently coping with the illness of an aunt who was recently diagnosed.

“Hitting so close to home for me has made me even more passionate about the cause . . . . I wanted to know more about it. Why were so many people being diagnosed with breast cancer? Why are we doing nothing about this? So I started to read up about it to find out more about the disease and the cancer society. That’s when I actually found out that the breast screening programme was a totally separate unit of the Barbados Cancer Society. So I inquired about how I could get involved.”

Stuart explained that the CIBC Walk For The Cure first started in 2012 but it was not as successful as the company had hoped because of the lack of numbers, with support coming mainly from staff and their families. She admitted that she was not really aware of it at that time and she honestly was not checking.

In 2013 FirstCaribbean decided to collaborate with the breast screening programme in putting on the walk together. The walk was satisfactory that year, she said, but last year she started to become more involved, taking on the role of walk manager.

“I did it because I wanted to make the event a greater success to achieve its purpose to pique awareness about the disease.”

She said that the Barbadian community was socialised in such a way that when someone was sick or died no one would mention what caused it.

“When my aunt was diagnosed I didn’t find out right away. Then a while after I heard from my mum, then [other family members] were talking about it. It was this whispering, whispering thing. And I asked myself but why are we not talking about this? We should be seeing how we could band together and do something to help . . . .

“When we get sick we hide things and we don’t like to talk about it. But funny enough I find that when you talk about stuff out loud you will be amazed at how many people are also going through the same thing as you. There is strength in numbers,” said the former Queen’s College student.

In 2014 she decided to host a boat ride to raise funds for the breast screening wing of the organisation. She said she was pleased that the event was a great success with the support of corporate sponsors like Digicel, PRIVA, Island Fusion, Mount Gay Distilleries and ZULU.

“I felt really good to give back. I’m not a millionaire but doing that made me feel so good that I could actually do something to assist,” she said with a hearty smile.

She said she started visiting the president of the Barbados Cancer Society, Dr Dorothy Cooke-Johnson, to find out about the work that was actually being done to assist females battling with the dreadful disease. That was when she found out that they not only performed mammograms but actually assisted families affected by cancer in a profound way.

“When you see the slogan saying helping survivors or family of survivors, it’s true. They actually buy groceries so the money [of the persons battling the disease] can go towards medication because it is very expensive,” she said.

“I was so intrigued by [their work] that I wanted to get involved.”

Walk For The Cure this year recorded 15 000 registered, making it great success.

“The turnout this year was humbling. It was a phenomenal response. It’s quite overwhelming to see that amount of people who came out to represent for breast cancer. About 5 000 to 6 000 came last year and I kept saying this year I wanted 10 000. [People I told my goal to] laughed at me, so I’m pleased with how far Barbados has come that 15 000 people walked for breast cancer,” she said about the October 4 event.

Stuart said she used her youthfulness to target other young people to get on board the fight to raise awareness. She revealed that about half of the people present at the walk were young people.

“I want to get all the young people on board to fight this thing. Let’s raise awareness, let’s talk about it, let’s create hype about pink . . . . Let’s create this big buzz in Barbados talking about pink and breast cancer. Everybody will read up and start to become more knowledgeable about the disease so maybe if they see a family member going through something they are not as reserved but more open to discuss it.”

The optimistic former pageant girl, who was first runner-up in Miss Barbados Tropical Paradise and was a contestant in Miss Shabeau, said she wanted to work more with Dr Cooke-Johnson to raise greater awareness about the below-the-belt cancers in 2016 since they were becoming more prevalent among young people.

“I personally knew a young person with cervical cancer . . . . I want to get people to be free to talk. When you have your girls’ night you sit down and talk about these things, because cancer doesn’t pick and choose. It can be you today, me tomorrow. It’s nothing that you could prepare for,” she said.

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