By Francis Quamina Farrier
ONE of my long-time prejudices was recently swept away with an unexpected test for prostate cancer. Here’s the story as it stretches over a 70-year period. Since my pre-teen years, my mother always advised her children that, “Prevention is better than cure”, especially with health issues, and so I’ve always seen a doctor for regular check-ups over the decades. However, I have to admit that my most recent prostate check was not planned and certainly not done as an integral part of my health check policy and that goes all the way back to my pre-teen years. Let me explain.
Things that one experiences during one’s very young years tend to stay with them well into adult years. For example, because my mother was plump and so too my aunt and my sister, as well as my favourite teacher at school, I tend to like plump persons readily. There was also the annual visiting nurse at the St. Ann’s Primary School in Agricola back in the 1940s, who checked out the boys for various health maladies. Part of the checks necessitated the removal of our pants. It was no big thing for us youngsters at the time, but unwittingly I grew to be comfortable with a plump mature female nurse or doctor, checking me out partly clad for medical reasons: “Prevention is better than cure”, isn’t that so?
For all of my 80 years, I’ve never been hospitalised even though I have been to hospitals many times for medical check-ups; prevention is better than cure. Growing older and with the loss of a few of my male relatives and friends to prostate cancer, I made it my duty to have prostate checks for over 10 years. In more recent years, I’ve made those checks twice a year; one by a blood test, the other by a finger test. The latter being done by a mature male doctor getting to the bottom of the matter. I had a prejudice against younger slim females physically testing my prostate. However, all that changed recently in an unexpected way.
I was invited by New York-based Guyanese, Ms Lorna Welchman-Neblett, to give coverage to her 2018 annual Cancer Outreach, here in Guyana, by the Health and Education Relief Organisation for Cancer, Inc. (HEROC) of which she is the head. HEROC was established in October 2013 in New York and has made three annual visits to Guyana so far. During those three visits, outreach sessions have been held at the Georgetown Public Hospital, also at Beververwagting, Enmore, Charlestown and Herstelling. The latter was the session to which I was invited to give media coverage. When I turned up, there were dozens of persons, both men and women, being screened for various cancers.
There were also those who were being given attention to their eyes. No sooner had I begun my work as a journalist, that it all switched to me becoming an instant patient. I was literally caught with my pants down.
A mature male doctor had ushered me behind a plastic screen which I thought was for the purpose to take another photograph for this feature article, but that was not so. I was instructed to pull down my pants to have my prostate checked. That was really no problem since I have been doing that for over 10 years. But to my surprise, it was not the mature male doctor who was going to test me. It was a female who I thought was a teenage nurse. I have to admit that I was slightly upset.
As I stated earlier, I was accustomed since my pre-teen years, to submit only to males or to plump mature female nurses and doctors for pants-down medical examinations. But that surprise prostate test was a brief journey on my `Road to Damascus’, so to speak. Discussing the experience later with Lorna Welshman-Neblett, I confessed that I had shed my prejudice against younger female nurses and doctors checking my prostate; especially those who are slim. Here is the reason. After the test by the ‘nurse’, I was told that she was, in fact, a doctor; also that she was one of the most brilliant young doctors and who is an expert in cancer treatment in Guyana at this time.
Before I left the Herstelling Outreach location, I decided to do something which I would normally never have done; I asked the young doctor how old she was. Her answer was, “I’m 29 years old.” She noticed my surprise. I asked her to allow me to take her photograph for publication in this feature article to which she graciously agreed. I was also told that Dr. Latoya Gooding is so brilliant, that she graduated one year early as a qualified medical doctor in Cuba, specialising in cancer treatment, and is one of the most respected young medical doctors here in Guyana.
I learned more about the young doctor; that she was recommended by the respected Dr. John Mitchell of New York, who told Neblett, “If you are doing any cancer work in Guyana, then she [Dr. Latoya Gooding] is the one to work with.” Dr. Gooding had already established the Giving Hope Foundation, according to Neblett, who also pointed out that, “We are sister organisations and work as one together.” Working together, the two organisations have tested over 2,500 Guyanese for various cancers over the past three years.
In more recent years, I’ve lost male relatives and friends to prostate cancer and so I am pleading with all men, especially those in their mature years, to get tested at least once every year and if possible, like myself, twice every year. Remember, “Prevention is better than cure.”