“It made me understand how insignificant I am.”
These were the words uttered by breast cancer survivor Carolind Graham when asked how being a member of Jamaica Reach to Recovery has helped her.
Graham, who is also the chairman of Jamaica Reach to Recovery, was brought to tears as she spoke to the Jamaica Observer about the work of the affiliate group of the Jamaica Cancer Society.
“When you see persons who are not only challenged physically and challenged financially – some persons who are unable to access treatment – and you see them this month and you don’t see them next month… and you know what has happened,” a tearful Graham said.
With a membership of more than 100, Jamaica Reach to Recovery’s sole purpose is to provide educational, psychological and financial support for breast cancer patients. The group meets every second Tuesday in each month at 5:00 pm at the Webster Memorial United Church hall in Kingston, but when familiar faces no longer sit among the survivors, the membership has had to learn to cope.
Graham told Your Health Your Wealth that when this happens, the group remains grateful and takes things one day at a time.
But they are also facing other challenges.
“Originally it was mainly persons with breast cancer who would meet and support each other, but as time goes by, things change,” Graham explained. “The organisation has evolved, in that we are still all breast cancer survivors, we are all volunteers, but with the increase in the incidence of breast cancer and the challenges of the economy, we find that there are many of our members now who need more than emotional support.
“They need financial support,” Graham told Your Health Your Wealth.
She explained that as a breast cancer group, they do not only support breast cancer survivors, but their families as well. As part of their outreach, the volunteers visit hospitals and leave their names so they can be contacted to provide support to women who are newly diagnosed and might have just had surgery.
“When they call, we go in and we visit, we teach them exercises that they have to do,” Graham explained. “We listen to their concerns and because it is a new experience, they have questions.”
She said the group also provides temporary prosthesis and stress balls to the patients.
“So we sort of give them a right frame of mind to go home with and we tell them if they need further information they can contact us, so that there is a sort of buddy system outside of the hospital,” Graham continued.
In an effort to try to assist survivors financially, Jamaica Reach to Recovery started a 5k fund-raiser. Its 14th staging is set for Saturday, October 3, at 7:00 am in New Kingston.
Graham said though that because the group is not well known, it has been a challenge when it comes to raising funds to assist cancer survivors.
“The funds raised are used entirely to support women who have breast cancer and cannot afford their treatments,” Graham shared. “We not only assist members, we assist anybody who comes in with breast cancer.”
She said anyone in need can walk in to the Jamaica Cancer Society on Lady Musgrave Road in Kingston, where the group is based.
“Of course, there are some things that we can’t help with. There are some drugs that are beyond our scope in terms of money, but we do the best we can with the funds we have,” she said.
The chairman said she hopes that this year’s run will raise $3 million. She admitted that this amount is not adequate, but told Your Health Your Wealth that it would be significantly more than they have raised in the past. For last year’s staging of the 5k Run/Walk event, the group raised about $1 million, Graham shared.
She said the group has learnt to “pinch” the little money they do have.
With at least two new members joining Jamaica Reach to Recovery each meeting, the group is committed to providing the support they need.
“We are never satisfied with where we are at, but our primary pressure now is funding, because people are unable to access the help they need in terms of life-saving treatments,” Graham said.
With worldwide statistics indicating that one in eight women are victims of breast cancer, Graham is urging people to come out and support the ICWI Pink Run on Saturday.