Health & WellnessLifestyles

Sister Sister continues its work in the face of challenges

Andrea Sweeting urges people to stay on top of health checks as Breast Cancer Awarness Month is observed

The past 19 months has posed a challenge to just about everyone and every organization, and at the onset of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, people are being encouraged to ensure they get screened, as early detection can save lives.

While Andrea Sweeting, Sister Sister Breast Cancer Support Group president, said it’s difficult to hear or even get a breast cancer diagnosis in the best of times, she said in the midst of a pandemic, it can seem like a double whammy, but encourages anyone who receives a diagnosis to remember that “it’s not the end of the world”.

Sweeting, a two-time cancer survivor, 20-year survivor on the right breast, and one-year survivor on her left breast, said in today’s world, and considering the COVID-19 protocols that are in place, she knows it’s a rough time, but that people must make the effort to stay on top of their health checks.

Further, she said if someone believes something is wrong with them, they need to be patient and persistent with medical officials in getting checked out, and a diagnosis.

“It’s not the time for you to give up, but rather to be persistent. You have to push for someone to realize that something is wrong with you.”

Sweeting leads the organization which doles out mental and spiritual needs as well as financial assistance through the purchase of a port-a-cath, the medical device used by the oncologist to administer chemotherapy, and which is seen as the first step in helping women fight breast cancer.

Sweeting said Sister Sister has faced its fair share of challenges in the pandemic era in raising funds to do their work last year, including offering $25 Super Value vouchers to cancer fighters and survivors for grocery assistance.

“We’ve not had a fundraiser in the last two years. In September 2020, we could not have our prayer breakfast, nor in September 2021.”

That lost revenue amounts to an average of $15,000 raised through advertisement sales in their booklets and monies from ticket sales for their annual prayer breakfast at about $50 per ticket to 600 people, less hotel costs for the event. The remainder of the proceeds along with donations from the corporate sector and individuals goes toward Sister Sister being able to assist when and where they are needed.

“Truly, it has been a huge handicap, but we try to not let it affect us in that way,” she said.

Sweeting said the members of Sister Sister have also found themselves talking more with individuals, and trying to keep them focused on themselves and getting better. During the pandemic, they have not had face-to-face meetings. Everything has been done virtually.

The pandemic, she said, has taught them many lessons – one being that everyone does not have to be in the same place for them to accomplish things, or let people know what is happening; and that they may not be able to meet an individual face to face, but that they can still help them in a different way.

“The drawback is that there are some persons that need that personal attention or are afraid to talk about something or for everybody to want to know what they’re going through at one time, because some of us are still very private. There is nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed of, but this is just how some people are,” said Sweeting.

Sister Sister’s most recent challenge is having had its supply chain for port-a-caths disrupted. The local supplier from whom they purchase the device finds itself out of the product, due to reduced production at its supplier’s factory.

Sweeting said they learned last week that the supply is out, and currently have six people who have been diagnosed with cancer, and are in need of a port-a-cath to begin treatment.

Sister Sister gives out port-a-caths free of charge to anyone diagnosed with cancer.

She said the medical suppliers are liaising with doctors to see if they would use an alternative device until their suppliers are able to receive a shipment. Alternatively, she said, the Cancer Society of The Bahamas has a few port-a-caths for sale.

In what has been a difficult time for the organization, Sweeting said she is thankful for the fraternities and sororities, as well as a core group of individuals and corporate citizens, who have gone above and beyond to assist them during the pandemic to ensure that Sister Sister has “something” to work with.

At the same token, Sweeting encourages others, especially those who have sought the assistance of Sister Sister to give back.

She said everyone knows someone who has been diagnosed, and who will be diagnosed.

“We need each other. Regardless of the situation, we definitely need each other. Yes, some of us can’t afford it, but we’re trying to tell our women we helped you, try to figure out a way to help us. If you can donate to the group that $25 or $50 you would have paid to go to the prayer breakfast, then just donate that money to us. We need to stand up for each other and be there for each other. No man is an island.”

From January, Sweeting said Sister Sister has gifted 75 port-a-caths as has been needed. It’s a number that she said is down, considering they gave out 188 port-a-caths in 2018 and 195 port-a-caths in 2019.

It’s also a cause for concern for the Sister Sister Breast Cancer Support Group president.

“It concerns us because we realize that the Cancer Society has a few but persons don’t have the funds. People aren’t going to the doctor and it’s not conducive going to the hospital. It’s difficult to hear or get that diagnosis but it’s not the end of the world.”

According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), other than skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women. Mammograms are the best way to find breast cancer early, when it is easier to treat and before it is big enough to feel or cause symptoms.

There are different symptoms of breast cancer, and some people have no symptoms at all. Symptoms can include – any change in the size or shape of the breast, pain in any area of the breast, nipple discharge other than breast milk (including blood), or a new lump in the breast or underarm.

Risk factors include being female, being older (most breast cancers are found in women who are 50 years old or older), or having changes in your BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 genes.

You can lower your risk by keeping a healthy weight and exercising regularly, not drinking alcohol or limiting the amount of alcohol consumed, taking hormone replacement therapy or birth control, and breastfeeding your children if possible.

Although breast cancer screening cannot prevent breast cancer, it can help find breast cancer early, when it is easier to treat.

Men also get breast cancer but it is not very common. About one out of every 100 breast cancers diagnosed in the United States is found in a man.

Sister Sister is the brain child of Dr. Locksley Munroe and Dr. Charles Diggiss. The group was launched in September 2000 as a nonprofit charitable group for women diagnosed with breast cancer.

Nurse Charlene McPhee, assisted by Francis Smith, Margaret Thurston and Cheryl Ingraham, underpinned the fledgling group until it took its own “flight”.

In September 2004, Sister Brenda Russell, deceased, organized the group’s first prayer breakfast, which remains the major fundraiser for the group. It is held annually in September.

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Shavaughn Moss

Shavaughn Moss joined The Nassau Guardian as 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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