THE fragility of this thing called life really hit me when I found out that one of the strongest persons I have ever encountered succumbed to her cancer.
Devika Tinsarran was diagnosed with stage-four breast cancer in 2016. She was told that she had just about one year left to live, and naturally, that was devastating news for her and her family.
I met Devika in 2017, during the month of October as Breast Cancer Awareness activities were underway. She came to my school to speak at an event the Interact Club had organised to raise awareness on Breast Cancer and to stand in solidarity with those persons who were affected by the ailment.
We invited representatives of the Cancer Institute to make presentations, and a ‘Cancer Survivor’ was slated to present as well; that ‘survivor’ was Devika. I can recall that we were (low key) worried when we started the programme and Devika had not shown up as yet.
Just a few minutes before she was slated to speak — quite literally in the nick of time — Devika walked into the auditorium. I can recall, too, that I greeted her and asked if she was the cancer survivor that was slated to speak (I had not met her prior to this). Her response was something that I will never forget.
“No, I’m not a cancer survivor, I’m a cancer thriver,” she said.
If you knew her, or even if you had just heard about her, you would know that after receiving that fateful news in 2016, Devika was on a mission to use her voice in every imaginable way possible to raise awareness on cancer and champion the cause of early detection.
She got up on that stage and recounted her journey– all the pain and challenges she faced and how no matter what, she continued to fight.
The cancer spread to other parts of her body. Chemotherapy took its toll on her. And, she had to change much of her lifestyle, down to her diet (going completely vegan). But did that dampen her spirits? Maybe it did, at times. But for the most part, she was a champion of her cause, always keeping incredibly upbeat and vocal. And she spoke highly of her family and support system that helped her along the way.
After that programme had concluded, a few students approached her to speak with her. Many of those students (myself included) shared with her our own experiences with loved ones who have been diagnosed with cancer. She stayed to talk to each and every one of us. She was there for us, listening earnestly and being that pillar of support needed at the time.
During her presentation too, she shared with us that she has an Instagram profile: “The Guyanese Vegan.”. On that profile, you would find snaps of her garden and the meals she prepared for herself, that made veganism seem like the coolest thing in the world.
When I found out about her passing, I posted a photo of her online. And so many of my friends from school reached out and spoke about how inspiring she was. I think she would love to know that she was able to inspire so many persons, by just being herself and sharing her truth.
Medical professionals in 2016 said Devika had just about one year to live. She passed away a few days ago, in 2019. Devika’s life has truly been one that has inspired me, and so many others.
I think this is a good time as any to remind people that early detection is one of the keys to beating cancer. Over the past few years, greater emphasis has been placed on offering screening services; get screened, get tested, get a checkup. These services are available at many health centres and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs).
And specifically for breast cancer, which was reportedly the leading cause of cancer deaths in Guyana, early detection can really help to save lives. Common signs of breast cancer include the swelling of all or part of a breast (even if no distinct lump is felt as yet), skin irritation, breast or nipple pain, nipple retraction (turning inward) and some nipple discharge (other than breast milk).