In the last year, three Abaco natives have faced property destruction inflicted by Hurricane Dorian, a cancer diagnosis, and now, the heightened safety risks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Elladice Murray, Gwendolyn Baillou, and Karen Lightbourne, who were once only cordial acquaintances, are now meaningful pillars of support in each other’s lives.
Murray, 53, a Treasure Cay resident, maintains a steady grasp on positivity, despite every challenge. The beauty specialist of more than three decades, saw her home-based business battered by Hurricane Dorian in September 2019. Two months after the storm, during a regular checkup, she was notified that a lump found in her breast was possibly cancerous. The result was confirmed in January 2020, when she received a call informing her that she was in the early stage of cancer and presented with the choices of radiation or a mastectomy.
In March, she chose to have the breast removed, but ultimately decided to have both breasts removed.
Hours after the operation, Murray spoke to family members and friends via telephone. She recalls them being astounded that she was using the telephone, and that they were puzzled as to how she maintained high spirits and a positive outlook on life.
“They were surprised and shocked at how I sounded because most people after an operation sound down,” she recalled.
But Murray said she recognizes cancer is merely a medical diagnosis, not a definition of who she is or what she can do.
Murray witnessed her mother’s cancer fight, and attributes her positive attitude to the strength that she saw displayed.
Murray has completed four rounds of chemotherapy and, after being in New Providence since February, is able to complete her medical checkups at the Cooper’s Town Clinic in Abaco.
“Through it all, despite chemo and a couple of bad days, I thank God for His grace and mercy. Him, my family, and friends all kept me sane. I never once let it get to me,” she said.
Baillou is the “baby of the bunch”. As she celebrated her 50th birthday in July, she also marked the completion of six rounds of chemotherapy. In recalling her ongoing journey, she advises people in her position to “not fret and do not fight alone.”
Witnessing her mother’s battle with cancer, and finding this out in the later stages, inspires her to speak out even more.
“Plenty persons have cancer but they don’t want to talk about it or say anything, but this doesn’t make sense. You need support; you need friends and people to help. Put your hesitations aside and talk to somebody. Support is what it’s all about.”
Baillou learned she had cancer after falling twice. She recently went from having chemotherapy treatments every three weeks to weekly and she encourages cancer patients to not remain tied down to the bed or couch.
“Get up in the morning, exercise, and eat healthy. Build yourself up,” she said.
Since the age of 15, Baillou has worked as a bartender and waitress in resorts spanning the entire island of Abaco. She has also remained committed to her community. Prior to traveling to New Providence for her medical appointments, she assisted with many independent initiatives, which included the preparation and distribution of meals after Hurricane Dorian.
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the trio’s need to take added precautions has increased.
In Baillou’s case, family members closest to her are deemed high-risk due to their occupations. This has meant strict physical distancing.
Also incurred during the pandemic are costly COVID-19 tests. This follows added bills brought on by the house damages sustained due to Hurricane Dorian.
Murray and Baillou both experienced roof damages and Lightbourne’s home was totally compromised.
In contrast to Murray and Baillou, Lightbourne has, so far, opted not to have a mastectomy, and is now on her eighth round of chemotherapy since March in New Providence, as the treatments are not available in Abaco.
“Through it all, it gets better. I’ve been down, but not out,” said Lightbourne.
She understands that there are many myths surrounding cancer and that most people see the diagnosis as a death sentence. She also remembers being uneasy and worried when the pandemic first started and the number of confirmed cases grew. However, she said those feelings were relaxed as time went on. With an optimistic attitude, Lightbourne takes it “one day at a time.”
The women are symbols of friendship and hope for each other.
Murray and Baillou frequented Lightbourne at her then-home-based beauty salon, but those shared times cannot be compared to their frequent chats during medical appointments. It is during these times when they encourage and support each other most.
The trio emphasized that God has continued to keep them as they push forth.
“He keeps us, so we can tell our story,” said Baillou. “The cancer community needs to know they are not alone.”
For the last eight years, CIBC FirstCaribbean has committed to raising funds for the provision of care and counseling to cancer patients like Murray, Baillou, and Lightbourne, and their families, and raising awareness through education campaigns.
The $70,000 in donations raised during Walk for the Cure 2019 was presented to eight cancer organizations across The Bahamas. The Abaco Cancer Society received $12,000, a record amount for the organization.
On October 3, 2020, Walk for the Cure Day will be recognized. Bahamians everywhere are encouraged to walk, run, swim, and work out for the cure in their own neighborhoods or home gyms. On this day, individuals are asked to wear Walk for the Cure t-shirts, take photos and videos, and post them to social media with the hashtag #WalkfortheCureBAH to raise awareness. Individuals can also stop into any CIBC FirstCaribbean branch and donate to the CIBC FirstCaribbean Walk for the Cure account.
In addition to the local event, the regional walk this year will be a virtual one taking place on Sunday October 4 at 4 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (EST). It will see the usual fundraising and pre-walk activities in each territory taking place online and via social media, before culminating with a virtual walk and concert of hope featuring entertainers from across the region.