Cancer affects everyone's lives at one time or another and this was obvious by the community interest shown at last Wednesday's meeting to form a San Pedro Cancer Society. More than 30 people turned out to support local cancer survivor Janine Lopez in her quest to do more for those afflicted with this life-threatening disease and their loved ones.
Offering her expertise on the subject was invited guest, Ms. Iginia Leslie, President of the Belize City Cancer Society. Involved with the society since 1996, she explained it is not necessary to have any cancer background or history to be involved in the society's mission which is support. Her work began as a best friend to someone whose sister was a cancer survivor. She added this survivor is a Belizean who lives in the United States and is currently one of the society's primary providers of educational materials. Ms. Leslie informed those gathered that the Cancer Society provides many services including: home visits, counseling for patients and loved ones, transportation for doctor's visits, and some assistance financially or with medications through pharmacy participation. She made it clear though, that emotional support, "just someone to listen," can be just as important to someone who is suffering.
Questioned on why so many cancer patients travel to Merida, Ms. Leslie replied that Belize lacks the facilities for oncology (the study of tumors) that Mexico has. Some treatment is available in Belize, and surgery as well, but many times doctors refer the patient to a doctor outside of the country for additional care. She mentioned that an oncologist from Texas, USA has offered his services, on a part-time visit basis, if an oncology clinic is established in Belize-one of the society's goals. Ms. Leslie also noted the society's work involving lobbying the Mexican Embassy in regard to their visitor's tax, which was raised for those seeking medical treatment in their country. She further mentioned the problems associated with obtaining visas to the United States for patients because the US government regards them as possible financial risks.
Education is also a major role the Cancer Society plays as early detection is the key to survival. Ms. Leslie stated the society does educational training in rural areas and many schools, concentrating efforts on Standard V and VI students, adding they are the most receptive audience. She emphasized the importance of education commenting, "People hear the word cancer and assume the person will be dead in two months." Several informative pamphlets were distributed and each person attending had the opportunity to feel a life-like, latex breast, complete with a small lump in it, to demonstrate how easily breast cancer can be detected. The Belize City President then spoke about fundraising activities, noting the society's biggest month for this is October when they hold their annual Walk for Cancer. This coincides with Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but since Belize is such a small country, the society uses October for all types of cancer awareness. She added the media is of major assistance in the educational campaign, which gained her a pledge of support from this newspaper. The president also made special mention of the San Pedro Lions Club for their generous assistance to local patients.
Ms. Leslie then directed the discussion towards the formation of a San Pedro chapter. She explained the Cancer Society is a non-profit, non-governmental organization. Ms. Leslie continued to speak regarding the Board of Director's responsibilities and the processes they must follow regarding financial reports and meeting schedules. She informed those gathered that the initial step in establishing a chapter is the formation of an executive committee. After much discussion and nominations, the following people accepted positions for the San Pedro Chapter: President - Janine Lopez, Vice President - Catherine Paz, Secretary - Dana Palma, Assistant Secretary - Aldicia Castillo, Treasurer - Marsha Mark and Assistant Treasurer - Daniel Zetina. Dr. Otto Rodriguez of the San Pedro Lions Clinic accepted a nomination to act as a medical advisor for the committee. Ms. Leslie congratulated the new committee adding the key to success is commitment.
The group then contemplated their future activities on the island. Several people from the crowd volunteered to work on fundraising and Nurse Kelly of the San Pedro Health Clinic pledged her support as well. She informed the women that the clinic performs PAP smears (for cervical cancer detection) on Mondays from 2 - 4 p.m. and detailed how they should prepare for this painless exam. Nurse Kelly further informed those attending of other cancer related activities and screenings the clinic provides. Men attending the meeting were advised of the types of cancer they are prone to, including breast cancer, which surprised many.
Upon closing, Ms. Leslie thanked all for taking time out of their busy schedules and for volunteering their time to support such a worthy cause. In conclusion, she reminded all of the Cancer Society motto, "We need YOU today. You may need US tomorrow!" Anyone requiring additional information or wishing to volunteer their services may contact local chapter personnel in San Pedro or the Belize City Cancer Society at 02-74015.