Veronica Jones remembers it like it was yesterday – she and her daughter were out shopping when her daughter noticed her mother’s yellowed eyes and brought it to her attention. Jones asked her daughter to take her picture for her to see. Jones told her daughter to send the photo to her relative, a nurse, who advised her to immediately go to the Accident and Emergency Department at the hospital.
“That was on July 17, 2017,” said Jones, 58. “I remember because within another two days I had an appointment with my doctor who had me on a diet to help with hypertension, so I was saying I would let her know. I never got to her.”
Jones was admitted into the hospital and put through a battery of tests to rule out different possibilities. Pancreatic cancer tends to spread silently before diagnosis, which makes it one of the most deadly cancer diagnoses.
When given her diagnosis, Jones said she doesn’t recall thinking about it all, but that what she does remember is not feeling fear.
“It was almost like, ‘Lord, whatever it is, we’ll have to go through it.’”
Knowing that she was to simply deal with it head-on, Jones said she surrounded herself with like-minded believers.
“We did a lot of praying and building up my spiritual warfare. I was just surrounded by persons who believe that whatever it is, God will get us through it, and one day at a time. It was something we had to face,” she said.
Pancreatic cancer occurs when cells in the pancreas grow, divide, and spread uncontrollably, forming a malignant tumor. The exact cause of pancreatic cancer is unknown, according to webmd.com, and there is, unfortunately, really no known way to prevent it.
Jones was diagnosed borderline stage two with the cancer at the head of her pancreas.
According to webmd.com, initially, pancreatic cancer tends to be silent and painless as it grows, and by the time it’s large enough to cause symptoms, pancreatic cancer has generally grown outside the pancreas.
Before her daughter noticed her eyes were yellowed, Jones said she had felt fine and had not suffered from any untoward symptoms.
“No pain … no nothing,” she said.
Initially, she said doctors told her she would need surgery, if they could do it. She endured an eight-hour surgery, a month in the Intensive Care Unit, and radiation and chemotherapy.
“They changed my diet and said I definitely would have to have surgery if they could do the surgery. There are so many blood vessels that they can’t bypass to do the surgery, and I was blessed that the doctor said he could get two fingers between one of the major vessels to be able to cut and do what he had to do,” she said.
The best treatment for pancreatic cancer depends on how far it has spread, or its stage, which are both used to guide treatment and to classify patients for clinical trials.
Jones changed her diet and did eight rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, but had to do chemo the “old-fashioned way” via a tablet, due to the fact that she also has an enlarged heart and that they did not want to put her back to sleep. She finished chemo about three months ago, but is awaiting new medications that she has been told to take.
Two years after diagnosis, a recent PET (positron emission tomography) scan showed up negative for Jones, but she said she is still battling and will have to redo chemotherapy, which she will take this time via a port-a-cath.
Jones, who taught at the Laura L. Anderson Primary School (former North Eleuthera Primary School), had to retire after her diagnosis. She also had to relocate to New Providence for treatment.
“It’s rough,” she said. “Some days you’re up and some days you’re down, but just continue to trust God and keep the faith. Either way, if He’s healed me that I’m still here, there’s another form of healing. I’ve made up my mind that if I die tomorrow, that’s another form of healing.”
Jones is also literally half the person she was before she was diagnosed. She weighed in at 243 pounds at diagnosis and is now at 103 pounds, having shed 140 pounds.
“Dr. Munroe said when I finished I would be very tiny, but I didn’t know I would be this tiny. When I got married I was 98 pounds. I’m almost back to that,” she said.
Jones is one of 14 cancer survivors and fighters who will be honored during Gillian Curry-Williams’ fashion for a cause event under her Remilda Rose Designs brand. The one man and 13 women have all battled or are still battling various forms of cancer.
By participating in the event, honorees get to share their individual stories and what they went through which allows others to see that cancer is survivable.
Curry-Williams’ upcoming show, in which Jones will be featured, is personal. The designer’s late father, Donald Curry, was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. She took note of what he went through and how her mother, Letitia Curry – his main caregiver – dealt with him. Curry-Williams also took notice of how her father was at treatment sessions, which she would attend with him, which gave her the opportunity to take in how other people received treatment. What she witnessed made her wonder what she could do to assist as a designer. She, at first, came up with a fabric she dubbed the “Fabric of Hope” – a print made up of some of the colors associated with various types of cancer. That was followed with the idea of staging a fashion show to honor individuals who were going through treatment or had battled cancer, during which Curry-Williams would debut designs in the “Hope Fabric” but at the same time, dress the cancer survivors/fighters in her original designs, giving them a turn in the spotlight on the runway.
“Dress them up and make them feel good … make them feel special,” said Curry-Williams. “And yes, you may not have any ovaries, you may not have a breast … you may not have breasts, because you may have taken both off, you may have had cancer in the lungs or the rectum, but the fact is you are still handsome, you’re still beautiful, you’re still worthy.”
Jones said she felt blessed and favored to be honored.
“I am very honored to have been chosen by [Curry-Williams] and I really hope that she could get some corporate sponsors soon, because this is all from her heart and many persons don’t know her and what she’s doing.”
In Curry-Williams’ fourth show to honor cancer survivors and fighters scheduled for November 10 at the Atlantis, the designer said she knows her father would be proud of what she’s doing, and the fact that she has continued with the event even though he’s passed. Prior to his death, she said he had expressed his pride in her thinking of the idea of the fashion show for a cause, and she was able to host her first show before he died, even though he was too sick to attend.
Andrea Sweeting, Sister Sister (Breast) Cancer Support Group president serves as patron for this year’s show. Tickets are $70 general admission, $120 VIP.