Komen Claims Cause Consternation

I write this letter with deep consternation after reading this Komen blog and the press reports on the Susan G. Komen and Ministry of Health’s announcement of a $100,000 gift to launch a Breast Cancer Programme yesterday, September 12.

It also strikes me as so ironic that, exactly one month away from the Christopher Columbus’ ‘Discovery’ date we, who are supposedly an ‘Independent’ nation, are still looking to a ‘saviour’ from outside the country to ‘discover and rescue us’. See what you lookin’ at, Bahamas – wake up, and stop perpetuating this nonsense!

The Cancer Society of The Bahamas (CSB) was formed in 1976 by a small but fiercely dedicated group who worked relentlessly to form an organization dedicated to educate the public about cancer so that it may be prevented, diagnosed and treated in its early stages, to be of service to cancer patients and their families, and to raise funds to support these programmes, and after close to 40 years of sacrifice, hard work and struggles in the original trenches of the cancer fight, they have built an organization that assists the local population all over The Bahamas with all forms of cancer, breast cancer being one of their primary targets. I know the story intimately because I helped to write it as a 30-year breast cancer survivor and a Past President and Board Member of the Society. Although I have long retired from the Society I still keep in contact with all of the many entities that deal with cancer care in this country.

Here is my story: When I was only 31 years old, it was the late Dr Poad who accurately diagnosed my cancer as soon as he saw it, and referred me to the outstanding Bahamian surgeon, Dr Earle Farrington who performed my biopsy and mastectomy at the Princess Margaret Hospital with the late Dr Wavell Thompson as the anesthetist, after the specimen was correctly diagnosed as Stage 1 Piaget’s Disease by Bahamian lab technicians and pathologists, and I recuperated in the PMH with Bahamian nurses, the late Lillian Thompson and Susie Mae Lockhart taking excellent care of me. This was 30 years ago when we did not have all of the experts, equipment, nor amazing technology that we have today and I am still alive. So you don’t you think Bahamians knew what they were doing then and are doing now?

I joined the Society when they were in the process of purchasing the first ever mammogram machine for The Bahamas which was donated to The Princess Margaret Hospital.  We knew then that ‘early detection was the best protection’. That was our motto 30 years ago when Komen was just being formed and we work working closely with the American Cancer Society who embraced the CSB with open arms, asked us what we needed and then shared their services, expertise and resources freely with us so that we could adapt it in whatever way we thought necessary to appeal to the Bahamian public. We knew 30 years ago that Bahamian women’s breast cancer developed at an earlier age than the US statistics showed and that it was more aggressive. We might not have had the scientific data to show it, but our doctors had the empirical knowledge to advise us it was needed, so the CSB was advocating monthly breast self examination and mammogram screenings at an earlier age decades ago.

In contrast, the Komen organization is only 30 years old and entered the Bahamian cancer scene a mere four years ago. The correct story is that they were introduced to The Bahamas through the auspices of the Bahamas Breast Cancer Initiative (BBCI) that was formed by the wife of the then US Ambassador to The Bahamas, Stephanie Siegel, herself a breast cancer survivor. Members from the Sister, Sister Breast Cancer Support Group, the Cancer Society of The Bahamas, myself, and a group of extremely qualified Bahamian cancer specialists: Dr John Lunn, Dr Theodore Turnquest, Dr Larry Carroll, Dr Corrine Sinquee and Dr Devaughn Curling, were invited by Mrs Siegel to work along with the BBCI to advance cancer care in the country. We, the Bahamians, were their respected consultants and were asked for our advice on how to achieve this.

We are the ones that have been in the trenches and on the ground from the outset, we are the ones that know our people and our country, we are the ones who patients turn to for assistance, we are the ones that have THE RIGHT to set the policies and procedures because we know the story. This is our country and we must demand the respect that we deserve. Visitors to our country should have the decency to ask our permission to participate, not barge in and try to take over. But as in all such cases, if the donkey lets you get on his back, in so doing it gives you the right to ride him!

It was the BBCI who invited the Komen organization to partner with them to assist in the fight against breast cancer here in The Bahamas. It was the BBCI who informed Komen about the genetic study which was developed by most of same brilliant Bahamian cancer specialists listed above who worked along with their colleague, Dr Judith Hurley out of the United States, and this study was also assisted financially by the highly successful and locally organized annual cancer fundraiser ‘Ride for Hope’. I trust that these persons and organizations will also write in to elaborate on ‘how the story go’ since many of them were not mentioned in the press reports.

I resigned from the BBCI because I was not prepared to bow to Komen’s control. I refused to be told by them how and what to do to develop educational programmes for women in The Bahamas based on the standards and statistics of a group who ‘just reach’. It appears that too many people are not aware that slavery and colonialism are dead and I, for one, refuse to dance to the beat of someone else’s drum especially since I was involved in writing the music ‘in the first beginning’.

In these days and times, no person or organization should be allowed to come into the country purporting to be our ‘saviour’ with the presumption that they have the right to impose their standards unequivocally upon us, telling us how and what we must do in order to conform to their guidelines. Allowing persons to dictate their terms of engagement just because they can write a fat cheque is no better than prostitution and I cry shame on those who perpetuate this pathetic behavior.

I am a Bahamian first and foremost and I believe in the Bahamian people. I have respect for the successes of the Bahamian people who work hard and I have no hesitation in speaking out in their defense – so should we all.

I am therefore outraged that the Ministry of Health would deny and ignore the cancer achievements of our historical past and ‘diss’ our own organizations and professionals by saying they want to partner with a entity from outside the country to do the very things which these organizations have already developed and have been doing for years! This is ridiculous and a total waste of time and energy. Furthermore, just how many digital mammogram machines do we need in the country anyway, especially if we do not intend to also invest in properly training the personnel to operate and maintain them! We also refuse to enact legislation that will guarantee quality and consistency in standards of diagnosis or even enforce existing legislation that is already on the books that will protect our women from poor quality diagnosis and care.

Before Independence in 1973 many of us might have been poor in the material sense, but we were richer in spirit and creativity. We were more self sufficient and proud because we relied on our own selves and our community to sustain our existence.

Do we wish to continue to be like Oliver Twist? When we are hungry, do we want to continue to cower and plead, “Please, sir, may I have some more?” or do we want to ask our neighbor to help us plant a seed to grow a tree that we can eventually stand next to and lift up our heads to pick the fruit to feed ourselves for generations to come? Bear in mind that this process takes time and serious nurturing with plenty of hard work and patience, but such is the long and winding road to success.

How in the world are we ever going to regain our self respect and dignity if we continue to put out our hand in supplication instead of in collaboration? Collaboration embodies mutual respect – supplication perpetuates dependence.  Ask yourself: what position and condition would you wish to encourage?

By: Pam Burnside
Nassau, The Bahamas
September, 2012

Links related to this letter:

What Does the Susan G. Komen Foundation Actually Do?

Insight: Komen charity under microscope for funding, science

Discover the Hidden Facts: Susan G. Komen Foundation

I Will Not Be Pinkwashed: Komen’s Race Is For Money, Not Cure

Komen’s Leadership Changes Are Met With Skepticism