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Doc fighting to cut cancer deaths

Anesta Henry

Doc fighting to cut cancer deaths

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HER DEEPEST FEAR is that the number of women in Barbados being diagnosed with breast cancer and dying will increase.
Nevertheless, she is happy that more women are seeking knowledge about the disease.
And, there is a delight in her heart when she recalls the significant number of breasts she examines annually.
Dr Shirley Hanoman-Jhagroo, chairperson of the Breast Screening Programme sub-committee of the Barbados Cancer Society, is fighting to reduce the number of premature deaths from cancer.
Hanoman-Jhagroo, a gynaecologist, told the WEEKEND NATION why she cofounded the screening programme in June 2002.
She also voiced her views on how she believed Barbadians responded to the disease.
“As a gynaecologist being trained in Britain, a gynaecological examination is never complete unless the breast is examined too.
“This practice is not so in some parts of the world but I insist to continue how I was trained. And looking at the number of women dying from the disease and the number of women developing breast cancer, I thought if in other parts of the world efforts are being made to reduce the premature deaths from that disease, we can do it in a small island like Barbados where the health system is very good when compared to other third world countries.
Need to do something
“My passion for cancer and early detection started with cervical cancer when I started trying to improve conditions for patients who didn’t want to go to the public hospital to treat cervical abnormalities.
“Then when the breast scenario came onboard, I said to myself, you know, we need to do something about that, cervical cancer is under control.
“Even though the exact cause of breast cancer is still unknown, it is very hard to prevent it. So along with other individuals, I decided to start this programme to early detect the cancer in Barbadian women, to give them more treatment options,” she said.
According to Hanoman-Jhagroo, since the screening programme was introduced to the public in August this year 36 700 mammograms have been carried out, an “amazing amount” which brought a smile to her face.
“I try to get people to understand that the protocol for early detection and for breast screening is to have your breast self-examination. All women should know how to do breast self-examination. We are trying now to start getting young girls as young as age 16 to do self-examination.
“We used to say age 20, but having had an 18-year-old diagnosed with the cancer, we decided to start at 16. Something that we have to try and overcome is the fact that breast cancer has respect for no one. What has happened on several occasions is that people in their 20s are told that you are too young to have breast cancer.
“Earlier in July, we took our education programme to a higher level than July 2009 by purchasing a vehicle which goes out into the community to teach women how to do their self-examination and to educate them about the importance of self-examination.
“We also encourage them to come to the clinic to get their mammograms done,” explained the 68-year-old who also oversees the Family Planning programmes at Black Rock and Warrens Polyclinics.
Years ago, people affected by breast cancer directly or indirectly often shied away from “talking about the disease much less being screened”.
Today, the obstetrician is proud to say: “Women are coming forward a lot earlier to be screened and they are not apprehensive about talking to people about living with the disease.
“I remember people would say: ‘Oh gosh, no, I can’t talk to anybody about this.’ Now, survivors of the disease are coming to me asking me if they can do anything to help persons who are currently suffering with breast cancer,” she reported.
More aware
“What we would like to start seeing is that when the statistics are done at the end of the day that the number of deaths from the disease has fallen. I know people are more aware of the disease and are coming forward for their mammograms but the statistics are getting higher and higher every year.”
Hanoman-Jhagroo expressed the hope that some day soon she would like to see a vibrant breast cancer survivor group here.
“We need a vibrant breast cancer survivor group in Barbados, and I am looking forward to getting that done. Last Friday I spoke to a patient who was feeling down because she had just started her chemotherapy. I told her, ‘Okay, I will get someone to call you and talk to you; she will even come and see you’.
“When I put down the phone from talking to that patient I called a breast cancer survivor and I asked her to call the patient and talk to her and she did. She even went to see her, took her for her second treatment, went to the supermarket for her, and did her laundry . . . . If that patient did not call me and tell me how she was feeling, how would I have known how she was coping? We need a vibrant cancer support group in Barbados,” she declared.
While the programme has a fully equipped breast screening clinic at Henry’s Lane, St Michael, Hanoman-Jhagroo said she believed there was a need for an upgraded radiotherapy centre with a linear accelerator.