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Grateful in the new year

Andrea Sweeting, Sister Sister (Breast) Cancer Support Group President, takes her turn on the catwalk during the fourth Remilda Rose Designs fashion show "Warriors, Conquerors, Survivors" to honor cancer survivors on November 10, 2019. GILLIAN CURRY WILLIAMS

Andrea Sweeting is grateful in this new year considering the medical crisis that she went through in the latter part of 2019. And while she’s not 100 percent, and her doctors have told her that she needs to take it easy, it’s almost impossible to tell that she’d had a stroke.

“I’m really and truly grateful, because honestly … to know that I couldn’t walk and talk, and am able to do these things now – it’s truly a blessing to be into this new year. From where I’ve come from – knowing that I had a stroke, I know for a fact that I am truly grateful and blessed.”

Sweeting, the Sister Sister (Breast) Cancer Support Group president, recently suffered a number of illnesses, which sent her life into a tailspin. She learnt she had congestive heart failure, that was followed by a bout with pneumonia, dehydration with a kidney infection and poor circulation, and then she suffered a stroke, which resulted in paralysis to the left side of her body.

Sweeting, 70, who is known as a “feet-on-the-street” get-the-job-done kind of woman, who had bested breast cancer, and worked tirelessly to ensure that other cancer fighters received the support, care, compassion, and at times financial assistance they needed to fight, survive, and thrive – was “sidelined”.

Today, she physically looks like herself pre-crisis, and she says it took a lot of work, but she’s still not fully up to pre-crisis strength and her doctors have told her to reduce her activities and take it easy.

The cancer support group president of 18 years returned home on December 1, 2019, after three months of treatment in the United States. If you don’t notice her working her hand as she speaks to you, you would never think anything had ever been wrong with her. But she admits it took a lot of therapy and hard work to get to where she is. Sweeting had three months of speech, physical and occupational therapy in the United States and is continuing with hand therapy here at home.

Her speech therapy comprised of medical personnel noting what she ate, how she ate and also ensuring that her brain worked. The latter entailed having Sweeting do exercises with her mouth and therapists listening to the way she talks and them asking her questions to which she had to answer, to ensure her brain was functioning well. Physical therapy entailed trying to get her legs and arms working again and to restore her posture. The stroke had left her twisted to the side. She also engaged in occupational therapy for her hand. Today, she’s still working on her hand, more specifically from her fingers to her wrist, to loosen up the stiffness in her fingers. But she said her doctors remain confident she will regain full use of her hand, but have told her it will take time.

“That is the difficult thing right now,” said Sweeting of her hand. “I’m really grateful because honestly and truly to know that I couldn’t walk and talk and able to do these things now, it’s truly a blessing, and to be into this new year.”

When she commenced her treatment in Florida, she was doing one treatment a day at a cost of $300 a day for each session at Advent Health. It was during her third week that she said the receptionist at the Florida hospital asked her daughter D’Andrea (Dee Dee) Cary whether her mom would do three disciplines in one day. Their first thought was of finances. Sweeting had no insurance, and as self-paying customers, three times per week treatments would have amounted to a $900 per week bill. But at Advent Health, Sweeting was able to do the three treatments per day at the cost of one.

Now that she’s home, she’s continuing with her hand discipline three times per week at $100 a day to ensure she doesn’t have a relapse. Still, without insurance, she knows it has to be done.

During her medical crisis, her family set up a GoFundMe account with the goal of raising $150,000 to help defray her medical expenses; donations were also accepted at the Royal Bank of Canada, account number 7227705, branch number 05775, in the name of Terae Sweeting (granddaughter); or at the Dudley’s Cosmetics kiosk in the Marathon Mall.

The family was able to raise $14,645 from 156 donations via GoFundMe, which went toward her hospital bill in Florida. Donations made to her granddaughter, are taken on a monthly basis to whittle away at Sweeting’s outstanding $45,000 bill at Doctors Hospital. And while she has a way to go, she expressed gratefulness for whatever people have been able to do or are doing to assist her.

“Anything that persons can do, I am grateful,” Sweeting said yesterday.

While she may look and feel amazing, she said her doctors continue to encourage her to take it easy. And while she remains Sister Sister president, the women of the group have stepped up to assist where they could.

Having gone through what she did, Sweeting takes nothing for granted. She felt a twinge in her ear that felt like an earache and noticed redness in her eyes, and immediately beelined it to the relevant medical professionals to have them checked out. Neither issue was problematic, but the doctors put her through the gamut of tests.

“It’s an ongoing process with my health issues to ensure I stay where I am,” said Sweeting.

As she looks back at where she came from to where she is today, Sweeting said no one knows tomorrow, or the condition they will be in, so while they are healthy, she encourages them to enjoy life. She’s looking forward to celebrating her 71st birthday on February 7.

And she also gives thanks to everyone that has supported her with donations and encouragement.

“From where I’ve come from – knowing that I had a stroke, I know for a fact that I am truly grateful and blessed.”

In the initial days of her recovery, the one thing she asked for was prayers. She said she knew it was only through God’s grace that she would be able to get out there again and function at 100 percent as president of Sister Sister.

As she underwent the most intensive part of her therapy, she described it as a journey, but that she saw improvements day after day, including the first day she was able to get up and walk unassisted.

During her recovery process, Sweeting returned home for one day to serve as patron for the fourth Remilda Rose Designs fashion show “Warriors, Conquerors, Survivors” to honor cancer survivors on November 10. She used the event as a goal to work toward knowing.

The cancer survivor’s most recent medical battle played out coincidentally during breast cancer awareness month. At the time, Sweeting said her doctors have told her that a combination of medications she’d been on over the years for her thyroid, pressure, and to fight cancer, were like a “pressure cooker” in her body and helped to contribute to her medical woes.

“From the beginning, they [doctors] were saying the chemotherapy. I took the strongest of the drug in those days, but he [the doctor] said that I should have had effects from this earlier in life – not 18 years later.”

That episode she said was another teachable moment for her.

“That’s another thing we need to educate our people on – I took [medication] for my thyroid from I was 25 years of age, and then had my thyroid taken out. Then at the age of 40, I was on another pill for my pressure and so what they’re saying is that the combination of those drugs and to have been on them for so long, with the combination of chemotherapy, they feel, is part of what caused all of this,” she told The Nassau Guardian in an earlier interview. “The whole concept is when we’re on medication for more than three years, we need to speak to our doctors about it. We have to let them know we’ve been on this drug – x, y, z – even though it’s working, could we try something else or do something else. You can’t stay on one thing for too long, because eventually even if you’re not feeling the side effects of it, eventually it does something to the body.”

Sweeting battled and beat breast cancer and with her most recent challenges, faced the biggest challenge in her life’s journey.

Her family’s mission was to get Sweeting recovered, because they say their mother’s/grandmother’s work is far from done, but they needed help to ensure that she continues to spread the message and provide hope to many.

As for Sweeting’s recollection of the day she had her stroke, she recalled leaving the hospital after having the second of her lungs drained of fluid, having supper with Cary, electricity going off at her home and her daughter encouraging her to go for a ride in the car to keep cool.

“I walked out of the house with my bedroom slippers on and everything and went into the car. It was a good thing I had on a pair of pajamas. Then, I heard my grandson talking to me – ‘Grammy, Grammy, what’s your name? Tell me your age.’ He asked me that about three times, and I said, ‘Trae why you keep asking me the same thing?’. He said, ‘Grammy, just talk – keep talking.’ And when I opened my eyes again, we were in front of Doctors Hospital. I didn’t have any idea what was going on.”

Shavaughn Moss

Lifestyles Editor at The Nassau Guardian
Shavaughn Mossjoined The Nassau Guardianas a sports reporter in 1989. She was later promoted to sports editor.Shavaughn covered every major athletic championship from the CARIFTA to Central American and Caribbean Championships through to World Championships and Olympics.
Shavaughn was appointed as the Lifestyles Editor a few years later.

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