In the wake of Hurricane Dorian and the COVID-19 pandemic, three Abaco natives have formed their own support network as they face new challenges.
Elladice Murray, Gwendolyn Baillou, and Karen Lightbourne, who were once only cordial acquaintances, are now meaningful pillars of support in each other’s lives.
Treasure Cay resident Elladice Murray, 53, found Hurricane Dorian put a pause on her more than 30-year career as a beauty specialist.
During a regular checkup two months after the storm, Elladice was notified a lump found in her breast was possibly cancerous. This was confirmed in January when she got a call saying she was in the early stage of cancer and was presented with the choices of radiation or a mastectomy. In March, she chose to have the latter, ultimately having both breasts removed.
Hours after the operation, Elladice was able to access a phone and gave her family members and friends a call. She recalls them asking "why’re you on this phone and why you sound so happy?"
Family and friends were puzzled as to how she maintained such high spirits and a positive outlook on life. F
“They were surprised and shocked at how I sounded because most people after an operation sound down.”
Elladice said cancer is merely a medical diagnosis, not a definition of who she is or what she can do. She witnessed her mother in the fight against cancer and attributes her positive attitude to the strength that was displayed.
Elladice has completed four rounds of chemo and, after being in Nassau 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.
Meanwhile, Gwendolyn celebrated her 50th birthday in July, when she also marked the completion of six rounds of chemotherapy.
“Plenty persons have cancer but they don’t want to talk about it or say anything, but this doesn’t make sense," she said. "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.”
Gwendolyn 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, Gwendolyn has worked as a bartender and waitress in resorts spanning the island of Abaco.
Gwendolyn also faced high bills from house damage due to Hurricane Dorian. Both Elladice and Gwendolyn suffered roof damage, while Karen’s home was totally compromised.
Karen too has found herself battling cancer. She has so far opted not to have a mastectomy. She is now on her eighth round of chemotherapy since March and has remained in Nassau, as the treatments are not available in Abaco.
“Through it all, it gets better. I’ve been down, but not out,” she said, adding she is taking it “one day at a time".
The trio emphasized that God has continued to keep them as they push forth. In fact, Gwendolyn said, “He keeps us so we can tell our story. The cancer community needs to know they are not alone.”
CIBC First Caribbean has been helping to raise funds for cancer patients for the past eight years, including its annual Walk for the Cure event. The $70,000 in donations raised during Walk for the Cure last year was presented to eight cancer organisations across The Bahamas. The Abaco Cancer Society received $12,000, a record amount for the organisation.
On October 3rd 2020, Walk for the Cure Day will be recognized. Bahamians everywhere are encouraged to walk, run, swim, and workout 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 visit 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 4pm. 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 leading entertainers from across the region.