It was late November 2020 – Eldred “Ed” Bethel had recently celebrated his 80th birthday, and was loving his life, when he developed an irritating cough which persisted for a week, forcing him to seek medical attention to get some relief, after failing to get relief from over-the-counter (OTC) medications. Two months after that first cough, Bethel, a veteran broadcaster who has also served as consul general of The Bahamas in New York and high commissioner in London, has been diagnosed with stage four lung cancer.
Bethel has to undergo extensive chemotherapy treatments to try to arrest the spread of the insidious disease. He is expected to begin chemotherapy treatment on April 18. His medication, it is anticipated, will cost approximately $5,000 every three weeks, and he has no insurance.
His children – Lisa, Wayne, John and Bianca – have come together to raise funds to assist their father with his medical bills through GoFundMe.
Although Bethel was hesitant at the suggestion, as of yesterday, the crowdfunding site showed $15,546 raised of a $150,000 goal from 112 donors.
“I told them to give me a chance to think about it,” Bethel told The Nassau Guardian. “I was walking one afternoon and got a notification on my phone and it said they had started a GoFundMe. I thought he [my son] would have checked with me first, but my children are looking out for their parents. I’m not annoyed. I’m grateful for what they’ve done.”
His children wrote on “GoFundMe” that although the news was a “heavy blow to our family, we are all optimistic that with prayers, treatment, love of his family and friends, he will thrive and continue to do the things that he enjoys”.
Cigarette smoking is the number one cause of lung cancer. Lung cancer can also be caused by using other types of tobacco (such as pipes or cigars), breathing secondhand smoke, being exposed to substances such as asbestos or radon at home or work, and having a family history of lung cancer.
Bethel, who admits to smoking in his youth, said the last time he smoked was more than 30 years ago.
“[Fellow newsman] Garth Mitchell and I were the best of friends. He died and I knew he was a chain smoker. I stopped smoking when he died.”
Bethel said his wife Dawne, who he describes as his “Rock of Gibraltar”, also told him he had to stop smoking.
“I stopped cold turkey,” he recalled. “Visiting Garth got me really scared.”
Bethel also spoke at his friend’s funeral.
According to the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC), people who smoke cigarettes are 15 to 30 times more likely to get lung cancer or die from lung cancer than people who do not smoke. And that even smoking a few cigarettes a day or smoking occasionally increases the risk of lung cancer. The more years a person smokes, and the more cigarettes smoked each day, the more the risk increases.
The CDC said different people have different symptoms for lung cancer. Some people just have general symptoms of not feeling well. But that most people with lung cancer don’t have symptoms until the cancer is advanced.
Lung cancer symptoms may include – coughing that gets worse or doesn’t go away, as in the case of Bethel – chest pain, shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing up blood, feeling very tired all the time, and weight loss with no known cause.
Other changes that can sometimes occur with lung cancer may include repeated bouts of pneumonia and swollen or enlarged lymph nodes (glands) inside the chest in the area between the lungs.
After noticing his cough lingering for a week, Bethel sought medical attention as the OTC medicines did not offer relief. He was prescribed a two-week course of antibiotics, which he said did not completely improve his cough. His general practitioner then referred him to a specialist who prescribed a further two-week regiment of antibiotics at a higher dosage and scheduled a number of screening tests as well.
“The EKG for my heart was perfect… I’m a lover, so nothing wrong,” said Bethel who is known for his irrepressible quick wit and humor. “But the CT scan showed excessive fluid on my left lung.”
He was referred to another medical practitioner for a procedure to remove the fluid from his lungs. With the Christmas season approaching, Bethel was told that his procedure was urgent, but that he should celebrate Christmas. On January 8, he had a procedure done and a biopsy at Doctors Hospital. That resulted in a two-night stay for which he racked up a $30,000 bill and he does not have insurance; he also had to take a PET scan at $3,000-plus. Bethel was further referred to the oncologist.
When it was confirmed he had lung cancer, Bethel said he wasn’t too shocked, but said his wife Dawne cried.
“It was shocking for a moment, but wasn’t something I really feared. I said honey, we will fight this.”
Bethel said he asked the doctor if the lung cancer diagnosis would be a death sentence and was told no. And that he would not have to do radiation or surgery, but that he would have to do a course of chemotherapy and take medication, which would be expensive.
“Stage four is the worst you can get but it’s not a death sentence. The oncologist has given examples of people who have lived four to five years on their medication. He [the doctor] gave me personal stories about how expensive the medication is, [but] he said I don’t need a Rolls Royce, but a Volkswagon. I left it in the hands of the Lord. I tend to believe that you can always beat challenges,” he said letting his sense of humor rip once again, describing himself as president of the optimist’s club.
Prior to returning home from London at age 77 upon retiring from his last diplomatic posting, Bethel said he had undergone a battery of tests and was given a clean bill of health.
On their return home, he said he and his wife could not afford insurance living on a pension. He was thankful they had been able to save some money, which was depleted after his wife faced her own medical challenges, which he said were negative.
As the family faces his medical challenge, Bethel said his family and friends have been wonderful.
“The outpouring has been surprising to me, people I don’t know… someone sent $10 [on GoFundMe] and said that’s all I have Mr. Bethel – it was touching.”
As he prepares to begin chemotherapy treatment, Bethel ruminated over the fact that he has never had any sickness in his life.
“I never even got anything from NIB, not even maternity leave,” he quipped. “The only thing that happened to me was playing basketball and I broke my hand. I have taken colonoscopies, did my prostate exams and never had any concern.”
It was a fact he said he was recently bragging about prior to his lung cancer diagnosis.
“I asked the doctor why I didn’t know this before. He said this could have been going on for years and that this is one of the most prevalent diseases in The Bahamas.”
According to the CDC, cigarette smoking causes about 80 percent to 90 percent of lung cancer deaths in the United States.
The most important thing a person can do to prevent lung cancer is to not start smoking, or to quit if they smoke. They can also avoid secondhand smoke from other people’s cigarettes, cigars or pipes; get their home tested for radon, be careful at work and avoid carcinogens that can cause cancer.
People who should be screened for lung cancer are those who have a 20 pack-year or more smoking history, and smoke now or have quit within the past 15 years, and are between 50 and 80 years old.
Screening stops when a person being screened turns 81, or has not smoked in 15 or more years, or develops a health problem that makes him or her unwilling or unable to have surgery if lung cancer is found.
As he prepares to begin chemotherapy, the irrepressible Bethel noted that since his doctors prescribed him antibiotics, that he has not had a sip of any of his favorite libations and is missing his beer, Chardonnay and 19 Crimes. He said he’s waiting to pop open a bottle of Port purchased for him by friends.
“I haven’t had Communion yet,” he joked. “Haven’t had anything to drink since I was given antibiotics. I can’t wait to beat lung cancer.”
Bethel’s career life is a storied one. He began in journalism at the Nassau Tribune in 1959. He subsequently crossed over into broadcast journalism at ZNS in 1963 and covered many major events including the 1962 Nassau Conference held by United States President John F. Kennedy, British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan and Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker; the 1962 General Election in which women voted for the first time; the 1965 fire and sinking of the SS Yarmouth Castle; the 1965 “Black Tuesday” demonstration by the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP), when then-Opposition leader Lynden Pindling threw the mace out of the window of the House of Assembly; and the historic 1967 General Election, which was won by the PLP, ushering in the first majority rule government.
Bethel coordinated ZNS coverage of the 1973 Independence, and along with fellow broadcaster Charles Carter were broadcasters at Clifford Park on the historic night of July 9, 1973, when The Bahamas became an independent country.
Bethel also coordinated ZNS coverage of the 1985 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in New Providence.
He served as manager of ZNS Northern Service and Deputy General Manager of the Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas. His résumé includes executive director of Bahamas Information Services (BIS), news editor at Love 97 FM and The Bahama Journal, and evening news anchor at The Nassau Guardian Group of Companies’ Start 106.5 Hits.
As a diplomat, Bethel served as Consul General to New York (2002-2007) and the 8th High Commissioner representing The Bahamas in London (2013-2017).
Bethel’s story is one that he knows should not be lost, and he started to put it all on paper, getting through four decades, but said he lost interest after he got ill. He’s hoping to redevelop his interest to complete his story.