Inspired by mother to help cancer sufferers
In the United States, breast cancer is more prevalent in black than white women.
This statistic also seems to play out in Bermuda.
• Of the 57 women found to have breast cancer in 2014, 38 were black, 17 were white and two were Asian
• Breast cancer is the number one registered cancer, followed by prostate cancer and colorectal cancer, according to the Bermuda National Tumour Registry
• The disease is most common in women aged 60 to 69
• Between April 1, 2016 and March 31, 2017, $5.6 million was spent on insurance claims for breast cancer treatment
Lynette Gibson has heard every imaginable excuse for not getting a mammogram.
They all take her back to her mother, Olive Richardson.
She died in 1992 after a nine-year battle that started with breast cancer.
It’s possible she might have survived the disease had mammograms then been routine for women. By the time her cancer was discovered, it had already spread to her spine.
“She never complained,” said Dr Gibson, a Bermudian who has devoted her career to cancer research.
“She never viewed cancer as a death sentence. I think some of that was religious faith. She was a very humble woman and very spiritual.
“From my mother I learnt that no matter how we suffer or what we experience physically with cancer, it doesn’t mean we can’t survive positively psychologically.”
Dr Gibson’s talk, Saving Breasts and Surviving Breast Cancer, takes place tonight as part of Corange Science Week at the Bermuda College.
Her research started shortly after her mother’s diagnosis. As a master’s candidate, she spoke with cancer patients here and in the US to examine the effects of the disease from a cultural perspective.
While white patients were more concerned about how they would get to their treatment and how it would be paid for, black people talked about the impact of social support.
Dr Gibson believes the family support her mother received helped her through her ordeal, especially after she became a paraplegic.
“Everyone pitched in to help,” she said. “Nieces would come over to talk to her and wash her hair.
“Even at the end, she remained positive. I’d talk to her on the phone and she’d ask me about my life.”
That support enabled her mother to travel to South Carolina when Dr Gibson was presented with her master’s degree in 1987.
“When I went into nursing, she told me I was fulfilling her dream because she always wanted to be a nurse,” said the former St George’s resident.
“She was born in 1922, and only had seven years of education. She had an injury as a child that also impacted her life. It didn’t stop her, though. She was a very determined lady.”
Six weeks before her death, Mrs Richardson held a tea party to say goodbye to her loved ones.
“The tea had to be brewed from leaves,” said Dr Gibson. “Her guests drank from bone china cups. She sat in an easy chair in the living room and held court. It was a wonderful event.
“Her experience really inspired me to interact with people who survived with cancer, especially breast cancer. I believe it is important to enhance hopefulness in people but, at the same time, not disregard it if they are down or feeling depressed.”
This week she spoke with TN Tatem Middle School students and visited her alma mater, the Berkeley Institute.
“I was really excited to talk with Berkeley students,” the 1974 graduate said. “I went back many years ago to talk with students about nursing. This time, I spoke about healthy nutrition, I thought they were a bit young to talk about breast cancer. There are studies that show that eating well and exercising will decrease the chance of having cancer.”
Dr Gibson’s research has won several awards. In 2015 she was one of 100 South Carolina nurses honoured for their commitment to their profession.
All are welcome to hear her speak at 6.30pm in the North Hall Lecture Theatre.
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