After my sister and I were told by her doctor that she had advanced cancer and only a few weeks to live, we never again spoke about her disease. Had we done that, the tears wouldn’t have stopped. From that day until she died she laid in bed looking death in the eye knowing that her cancer wasn’t reacting to treatment. What haunts me is her fear to leave her two small boys behind, probably the worst thing a mom could ever face. I wished I had told her how much I admired her bravery. I wished I had thanked her more for all the wonderful things she did. No two people are alike and we grief differently. The grief may come and go like ebb and flow, or it may hit you like a high speed freight train. I now know how important it is to frequently tell our loved ones that they will not be forgotten, especially when facing cancer.
World Cancer Day, an annual event on 4th February, educates us that cancer has affected everyone on this planet, with 8.8 million deaths worldwide in 2015 according to the World Health Organization. This day also drives home the need for information, prevention and cancer management. Scientific research has shown that 90-95% of all cases of cancer are contributed by environmental factors while 5-10% by an inherited gene. We need to invest in awareness programs to provide correct information by debunking false claims that appear everywhere especially on social media. Many types of cancer are preventable. We need to reduce the high risk factors and change our lifestyle: let’s quit smoking, reduce alcohol intake, eat healthy, exercise, reduce excess weight, sun exposure and pollution. Also, we need to reduce the suffering and deaths caused by cancer, by providing effective and affordable programs in early diagnosis, screening, treatment, and care. Private organizations such as Princes Wilhelmina Foundation have been doing a fine job combatting (the burden of) cancer in Curaçao. As Member of Parliament I introduced legislation against second hand smoke but more action and leadership are needed from our officials.
My personal journey gave me the chance to learn how to best support a loved one with cancer. It has made me aware that in almost all cases, cancer is avoidable and treatable if we make the right choices.