LONGMORE… in dealing with my own diagnosis the ability to help someone else is even more valued (Photo: Bryan Cummings)
Government Senator Dr Saphire Longmore has revealed that she is waging a mind-numbing battle with breast cancer, having been diagnosed in October this year.
But Dr Longmore, who was Miss Jamaica Universe 2000, has decided to use her illness to help others, and, in a heart-felt article written for the Jamaica Observer, has encouraged people to take care of their health.
Here is Dr Longmore’s experience and advice in her own words.
“On October 3, 2017, my life changed. The day after Breast Cancer Awareness Month was launched the quintessential happened: I stepped out the shower and felt a lump in my breast, a lump that had been there for a some weeks but only in that moment did I become ‘aware’ of it… immediately I felt it, I knew; it was the big C. By mind was a void.
It’s a day I will never forget. I was preparing to go to work where I was to be conducting ward rounds at the hospital, after which I was to get my kids from school and run errands. I conducted the two-hour round in a daze, sticking to the clinical care of my patients and teaching the students, knowing fully well the possibility of that being the last time I would be doing it. My brain was numb with the looming awareness… I have cancer.
I completed my day and said nothing to no one. I had to grasp the reality myself first. I had to plan a course of action. I felt sadness, anger, shock, fear, and gratitude; gratitude, in fact, because it was purely by God’s handiwork that I came to be given a chance to save myself; a chance that I also immediately knew I was gonna make the most of.
The next morning, the two hours of sleep I got had to take me through the day. After dropping my kids to school I went to the doctor’s office to confirm what I knew… my lump was likely what I suspected and urgent action was needed.
The following morning the ultrasound and biopsy confirmed it. I had cancer, and the type I had was aggressive and moving quickly. I had a long and difficult battle to fight, but one I MUST win; there was/is no other option. In fact, the tumour had been there for at least five months.
I did notice subtle changes in my breast; slight increase in breast size, more firmness, actually changes I thought were related to my monthly cycle (especially as that has always been my history). I had been doing my self-exams up until August for sure, but I still did not pick it up. Admittedly, I was not the best of patients (doctors usually aren’t) as I had not been doing my mammograms. I was only 42, and there was no history of breast cancer in my family.
I knew I should have been doing my screenings, but with my very busy life I did not make the time. Retrospectively, I knew I was at risk with a single family history of ovarian cancer and my own lifestyle choices, but unfortunately such is not always in the forefront of our awareness, and the retrospectoscope is always 20/20.
I did miss the very early diagnosis, but the Good Lord acted and gave me a chance at saving myself. Had I not found this lump I could have been gone within a year. Death comes to us all, but when you are given a timeline it’s a whole other reality.
The next few weeks featured a series of tests and visits of varying specialists, essentially charting a way forward. This cancer was aggressive, and I, in return, was aggressive in my response. I confided in those very close to me — husband, family, dear friends, and colleagues. I knew immediately I needed some decorated generals in my army, and I am blessed and grateful to have such around me. In the midst of these weeks, on October 6, I spoke of breast cancer awareness in Gordon House, and on October 11 I was on TVJ‘s Smile Jamaica relating in my professional capacity how to support someone diagnosed with breast cancer. Imagine the irony I lived in both situations; situations that I chose myself because in dealing with my own diagnosis the ability to help someone else is even more valued.
The series of events that led up to me relating my situation to those near and dear are moments etched in my mind. There was heartfelt support, tears flowed, but I knew in those moments how much I am loved. I knew I have kind hearts caring about me, and it is a joy. I knew in those moments that these are the persons who will be fuelling my strength to go through this mind-numbing battle. I knew gratitude in those moments.
I decided that I will be arming myself with everything possible, but all within a thought-out, planned programme, from green juices in the morning, to moringa, sour-sop, and the latest immunotherapy protocol. I surrounded myself with only positivity and laughter; the atomic bomb in my arsenal being the ultimate weapon, my belief in the Creator, my God.
My spiritual journey is a story all of its own, from the past three times in my life when I escaped death, to my awareness of life having other dimensions that we can only fathom. I had sensed something life-changing was on its way and I even verbalised it about a year ago.
Since my diagnosis, my need for the understanding of the Way (yes, trekkie too) is a burning flame that needs to be fuelled. My God is my strength, and my strength is my God. I am a mere instrument to be used for a purpose. I am on a journey of discovery as I have always been; this is my path.
My treatment is extensive and I have come to the awareness of issues related to cancer treatment in Jamaica that are concerning. One such is the fact that with all the efforts to raise breast cancer awareness and encourage screening, there is not one working mammogram machine in a public health facility at the moment. Since coming to know this fact I have been making what effort I can to help resolve this situation.
The other major issue I would want to emphasise at this moment is encouraging persons to secure their health insurance. Yes, a lot needs to done regarding funding of health care, and that is a task I will tackle when I am more able to. But for now I still can give a voice to say, secure that health plan, make the sacrifices to know that you are covered.
Women, especially, who are the centre of their families and who tend to neglect themselves in the pursuit of their family’s happiness, the best way you can see to said happiness is by being there yourself and in the best health you can be.
Start a health plan that includes your diet, exercise, stress management, spiritual exploration, laughter, screening, and health insurance. I am one of those who have been fortunate to access all the above, being fully aware that many can’t, but that doesn’t mean significant effectiveness can’t be had with scarce resources and meaningful lifestyle changes.
I am still in a daze at times, having had a couple sessions of chemo/immunotherapy and the ‘wonderful’ side effects that go along with such. The reality is still sinking in. My mind flashes at times to what could have been had it not been for God giving me a chance to save myself. My life has changed… is evolving. My future is unknown, but I have reason to fight and live: that is my plan — to fight, to live, to fulfil my purpose; to beat this cancer and survive.
On this journey, however, there is an ironic twist. I have come to open-heartedly accept that this cancerous mass is a part of me, it is of my own body, my own… offspring… solely my own creation. One of my new jokes (I always find a way to laugh at myself, especially now) is that this is my third offspring, all my offsprings love my boobies… this one gets to keep them, lol. Alas, many a serious word is spoken in jest.
I have come to appreciate that this cancer is a part of me that needs love, care and affection, that needs to be appreciated for the function it is playing in my body and in my life, a part of me that needs to have positive energy challenged to it, a part of me that needs to be loved and when the time comes to say goodbye; it would have served its purpose in bettering my life.
With my mantra being “losing is not an option”, I know with God, my husband, family, dear friends and colleagues by my side, through the multiple remaining chemo sessions, through the surgery that will be a double mastectomy, through the radiation, through it all, I will win, simply because losing is not an option.”