Cancer survivor living a full life
Delores Jackson-Bourne lives just across the street from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
Her husband Lionel worked there for 30 years and there is a plaque to mark that milestone hanging in the modest living room at her Martindales Road, St Michael home.
What Delores didn’t know at the time she relocated to Barbados to be with the love of her life who she met in St Vincent at age 19, was that the hospital which was always in her line of sight daily, would have been such a constant feature in her early life shortly after she moved.
When she expected to be living her dream with her new-found love, she was staring cancer full in the face.
At 19, Delores was told she had bone cancer and had to have her right leg removed, just below the hip. It has taken this 56-year-old years to tell her story despite proddings from friends.
The emotion builds as she starts to tell of her battle, pausing during the interview to dab away the tears before they fell on her well made up face.
She admits that sometimes it is still difficult to talk about, but she was determined to share her journey as a 37-year survivor of the dreaded disease.
Delores starts at the very beginning, when love brought her to Barbados. It was a chance meeting in a jewellery shop when Lionel was shopping for a bangle for his mother.
The script couldn’t have been better for her. The two became pen pals, a fast friendship developed and love blossomed. Delores moved to Barbados on February 25, 1978.
But later that year, the script flipped.
In October she started to feel some pains in the right leg.
“I got up a morning and felt a pain in my leg. It was a constant pain. In the day it would swell and at night it would go down,” she recalled vividly, sitting on her cream covered sofa, clutching tightly a tissue and her cellphone in her left hand.
She went to the doctor, who then sent her for an X-ray. The doctor sent her home with the promise to call in a few days.
Two weeks later he told her she had to be admitted to hospital.
Still not clear what was going on, she followed doctor’s orders and packed her bag and headed to Ward B5.
There were no doctors visiting her side for a while, but one day, she opened her eyes to see them lining her bed on both sides. She was simply told she would be going to surgery.
Her foot was bandaged when she came from surgery and she believed all was well.
That wasn’t the case.
Like it was yesterday, Delores remembered doctors saying to her: “We have some bad news for you. You have cancer in your foot.”
Tears came gushing down her face.
It was her death sentence.
“The evening before I went in, my boyfriend [Lionel] came and I told him I am not going to come back. He said, ‘No, you are not going die’. He told me he is going to come back and see me. I told him to take all my stuff and give them away.
“I went surgery and that evening when I opened my eyes, I saw him standing there. He said, ‘You see what I tell you. You will come back’.”
Delores paused again, dabbing her teary eyes.
Composed again, she continued: “I had given up. I was in pain. I was a young girl. I was looking at my whole life without my limb and thinking I wouldn’t be able to do things; I wouldn’t be able to dance.”
She spent three months in hospital, waking every morning to Lionel’s face.
Feeling sorry for herself, she had to keep telling herself that she had life. But it was a doctor’s words that gave her that will to live.
“He told me, ‘Don’t worry. I know a doctor who lost his limb and he is still a doctor today. You can be anything you want to be and you can do whatever you want to do’.”
Those words still resonate with her.
On December 31, 1978, Delores was out of hospital.
She remembers the two ugly crutches which left blisters under her arms, as she moved around the house she shared with her boyfriend. They got married the next year.
Delores wasn’t daunted by the adjustments that had to be made.
But her sister in England wanted her to visit specialists there.
She remembers one doctor saying he was going to make her a beautiful limb to match her beauty. Delores had to learn to walk all over again.
She was so fussy when she was fitted with her prosthesis that she put on a pants for the first time in a while and spent the entire day in it.
Delores spent six months in England.
When she returned to Barbados she had to continue with physiotherapy at the QEH.
Delores said she was always determined to make the best of her life as it changed. She got her first job at American House in Fairchild Street with Khubson Karnani.
“I don’t think anyone else would have hired me because of how I was. He trained me as a salesperson. He made me into a perfect salesperson.”
Delores worked there for almost 17 years, even after the shop moved to Roebuck Street.
She wanted more and moved on, working at Pandora’s video shop, and then at Yvonne’s Bakery in Sheraton Centre, where she spent 13 years.
Always remembering the doctor’s words that she could do anything she wanted, Delores got her driver’s licence.
“I never say I can’t do something. I just get up and do it,” she said.
The only thing she would like to do, but would need some help with, is going to the beach. “I just want to feel the sea water on my back.”
Even when doctors told her she couldn’t have children, she defied the odds and had her daughter Melissa who is now 29.
Delores said she lives for her daughter, especially after her husband died 13 years ago. Nowadays, she dotes on grandson Nathan, seven.
This cancer survivor has gone from three-month to six-month to yearly checks, and never skipped one.
From last January, though, she was fully discharged, never having to return to the hospital.
Being cancer free for 37 years, she marvels at how the response to cancer patients has changed over the years.
“Nobody is pointing fingers anymore. It doesn’t matter if you are rich, poor, middle class or whatever . . . it don’t have any sympathy for anybody. It attacks who it wants to attack and there is nothing you can do about it. It is a frightening thing to talk about and just as frightening when you go through it yourself,” she said.
Delores is still very involved in the cancer fight and meets with the support group every first Wednesday of the month in the radiotherapy department.
“I love myself . . . . I don’t let anything keep me down. Once you have life you have a chance. When you wake up and see a new day, be thankful,” said this tiny warrior, who plans to write a book one day.