“I am NOT my breasts”: A Jamaican woman’s breast cancer journey

It is worthwhile to recall your journey, reminding yourself of how far you’ve come. Meanwhile, to have your story shared by others is to know that you are not alone. Emma, I stand with you and all the other women who have, will or are going through breast cancer. #Survive #Thrive

Petchary's Blog

My dear friend Petre Williams Raynor has been cancer-free for a year now, and she looks really great, with her usual warm smile. It was a pleasure to meet up with her recently; it meant a lot to me personally, and I thought I would share something of our rather long conversation here.

Petre has written an account of her experience with breast cancer, entitled “I Am NOT My Breasts.” I have it on Kindle; you can obtain a copy here. It is clear, straight forward, an unflinching account. It takes courage to write this.

Note the upper case “NOT.” This is a defiant declaration – firm, yet positive. Why this title, I asked her? She explained that making a decision on the kind of treatment that you will have is neither simple nor easy. What is most important, however, is to just make the best decision for your…

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Latest COVID numbers a wake up call for Jamaicans

If not then, then it is definitely NOW – now to be vigilant with our infection prevention and control practices and to get all the information that we need to be comfortable and to feel sure about vaccination against COVID-19.

The COVID-19 numbers of the last 24 hours (August 12) are that convincing: 544 new positives, eight (8) confirmed dead and ballooning hospitalisations.

I am, therefore, sharing in this space the latest release from Jamaica’s Ministry of Health & Wellness on the subject, in addition to one of the more recent factual, albeit shocking, pieces of collateral developed.

#GetVaccinated #GetBackToLife #MaskUp #KipYuhDistance #TanAYuhYaad

PRESS RELEASE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                    

Attention: All News Editors

Jamaica records 544 new COVID-19 positives

  • 8 deaths confirmed while hospitals remain over capacity

KINGSTON, Jamaica. Friday, August 13, 2021: In the last 24 hours, Jamaica has confirmed 544 new cases of COVID-19 infections and eight (8) deaths while hospitals islandwide remain over capacity, reinforcing the need for redoubled efforts at infection prevention and control as well as increased vaccinations.

The total number of infections seen by the island now moves to 56,709 since the first case was recorded last year while the death toll climbs to 1,276.

On the status of hospitals, facilities across the Western, Southern and North East health regions have exceeded their COVID-19 capacity, though there is no shortage of oxygen stores. Hospitals in the South East Health Region, meanwhile, are inching closer to full capacity at 85%.

The Ministry of Health and Wellness continues to urge Jamaicans to remain vigilant with their mask wearing, keeping a physical distance from others and frequently washing and/or sanitising hands.

The Ministry is also encouraging Jamaicans to get vaccinated. There is an islandwide vaccination blitz on this weekend as Regional Health Authorities activate some 23 sites across 11 parishes.

Members of the public are asked to make their appointments online at https://www.moh.gov.jm or call the Vaccination Call Centre at 888-ONE-LOVE (888-663-5683). Once persons have received their appointment confirmation, they are to visit their vaccination site on time and with their TRN and government-issued identification or letter from a Justice of the Peace.

As at 9:00 am this morning, the island’s vaccination numbers were up to 393,863. Of that number, 258,466 were first doses, 134,462 second doses and 935 single doses.

                                                           – END –

Chafing under COVID’s thumb

AFTER more than a year under COVID-19’s thumb, many of us may be just about ready to tear out our hair. I probably would – if I had any, hair that is. Thankfully, I’m one of those women currently sporting a baldhead-do.

However, it has been a stressful 12-plus months. On more days than not, it seems there is no rainbow behind the clouds, no light at the end of the tunnel.

And what do you do on those days, days when you feel done-in by COVID-19 and run over by the persistent demands of everyday life – family, work, bills, pre-existing health conditions?

  • Scream bloody murder?
  • Strangle the boss?
  • Silence the spouse?
  • Shoo the children?
  • How about pulling the blanket over your head and drawing the window curtains?
  • How about refusing to connect to another Zoom meeting EVER again or permanently hitting the off button on your phone?

While these certainly are options, they are NOT good options – not if we nurture even a glimmer of hope for what life can be, once we put the screws on COVID-19.

But what are our good options in a world where misinformation is a clear and present danger, and with our communication ecosystem many times an infodemic maze?

  1. Vaccination.

I understand that many people have reservations, but vaccines have long been a part of the public health toolkit, both here in Jamaica and globally – and we have ‘the receipts’ to show. Among other things,

  • through vaccination, smallpox has been declared eradicated from the world in 1980;
  • vaccinations continue to save the lives of over 2 million children each year; and
  • through the success of immunization, Jamaica had the last case of Polio in 1982, the last case of locally transmitted measles in 1991, the last case of diphtheria in 1995, the last case of rubella (German measles) in 2000, and newborn tetanus in 2001.

We also owe an obligation to ourselves, our families and, yes, our communities to take the time to first get the facts on the available COVID-19 vaccine(s) while reminding ourselves of the hard year we’ve had, with many in isolation from others; some contending with mental health issues; and all of us mourning, in one way or another, the loss of life as we knew it.

Also needing to be considered in the mix is the state of your own health. Do you have a pre-existing health condition? If the answer is yes, then you should know that a pre-existing condition, such as hypertension or diabetes, puts you at higher risk of adverse health outcomes associated with becoming infected by the virus that causes COVID-19. In that scenario, you may want to give serious thought to getting the vax.

  • Infection Prevention & Control.

We also have at our disposal infection prevention and control measures: washing hands, sanitising hands, wearing a mask, keeping our physical distance from other people – all things that work and work well to help us stay safe and protected from COVID-19.

Of course, as with almost every challenge that faces a group – from families to workplaces to communities to countries – the more of us who use the available tools and are consistent in doing so, the greater the benefits, not only for the individual but also for the group.

  • Guarding your mental health

It has never been more important than right now to take stock of your mental health and to make the effort to protect it. The experience of COVID-19 is ripe with the drivers for stress that can take a toll on your mental wellness.

Thankfully, Jamaica’s Ministry of Health and Wellness has in place a number of options to help folks access needed support.

Not the least of these is the Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Helpline, accessible at 888-NEW-LIFE. Persons can also get information through the Ministry’s mental health page at https://www.moh.gov.jm/mental-health/.

The mental health page, among other things, also affords visitors a platform (https://www.moh.gov.jm/mental-health/mental-health-stories/) that allows them to share their stories and to receive feedback from others while feeling a part of a community.

These offerings are rolled up in the ongoing ‘Speak Up, Speak Now’ campaign that is intended to help eliminate stigma associated with mental illness while promoting an end to the silence on mental illness.

There also exists the COVID-19 Mental Health Response programme, which is embodied by a group of ‘Reach Out Rangers’ tasked to support those in need of psychosocial support at the level of communities at this time.

It is important that Jamaicans take advantage of these offerings, if and when the need arises.

Meanwhile, our look at vaccination, practice of infection prevention and control and the protection of our mental health must be buttressed, in my own view, by research; a reliance on tried and trusted sources of information; and a healthy dose of trusting your gut, sans the temptation of conspiracy theorists.

The Dream

COVID-19 is not likely to disappear overnight. However, as Jamaicans, we have the earned reputation of doing what it takes for however long it takes to reach our dreams and to live those dreams.

The dream right now is to be able to step outside of our homes and breathe easy, knowing that COVID-19 as a public health challenge has been diminished. Let’s reach for that.

Becoming A Butterfly: Launch!

New book, new talent. Introducing Matthew Harvey. #BecomingAButterfly.

THE MONASTERY

Hey guys, Happy New Year to you all!

In my previous post, Becoming A Butterfly, I made you guys aware that my e-book was up for pre-order. Well as of today, Becoming A Butterfly is officially on the Amazon market for purchase! In this post, I’ll go over a few things I mentioned in the previous post and a few other things towards the end.

Becoming A Butterfly is a collection of poetry, proses, and other forms of writing that covers a variety of themes such as love, heartbreak, depression, regret, infidelity, body image, and suicide. The book contains 7 sections which each cover their own set of themes, to create 7 unique reader experiences. The collection is not specific to any gender, sexuality, or race. It is an anthology for real people, with real issues, of all adult ages.

The book outlines my experiences with a range of…

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Custodianship and Country: Some Australian Aboriginal Beliefs About the Environment

Petchary's Blog

Recently I shared with you a “Love Letter to Mother Earth” from the Buddhist monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh. I have been thinking about spiritual matters in general recently, and in particular those relating to the Earth and environment. It seems to me that – apart from the perspectives of the technocrats, the scientists, the politicians, the businessmen/women – the spiritual aspects of our relationship with the planet are completely ignored.

So, here is my own small overview of approaches to the environment, expressed by Australian aborigines over thousands of years. I have included some quotes from representatives of various aboriginal peoples and I am indebted to my Australian relatives for pointing me in some interesting directions. I also want to point out that aboriginal nations and their beliefs and cultures are numerous and diverse. Before the arrival of the British in 1788, there were (according to

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Wake up to beat COVID-19

The clouds gather. Lightning strikes. Thunder rolls. We close our shutters. We batten down windows. We gather our resources. The storm has come. COVID-19 has come.

We abide by quarantine. We adhere to curfew. We frequently wash hands. We maintain our physical distance. We wear face covering.

Soon, however, the isolation begins to chafe. We’re not used to this. ‘Dis storm yah a gwaan too long now’. ‘Wi tyad’.

We fall into sleep.

The shutters come loose. The windows begin to crack open. There is need to replenish our resources and so we venture out. The face covering comes off. We forget to wash our hands. Routinely sanitising surfaces becomes a distant memory and the ‘call of the party’ beckons to us like the call of the wild to the caged lion.  

Enter the nightmare.

Positive COVID-19 cases increase. Parishes that previously had only a few cases experience a rash of cases, a number of them with no known link to a confirmed local or imported case.

It’s time to wake up from this nightmare.

Wake up to the need for a return to donning the mask.

Wake up to the need to give yourself some physical space from others, whether at home or ‘out a road’.

Wake up to the need to frequently wash hands and to sanitise surfaces.  

Wake up to the reality of COVID-19, which, from all indications, is going nowhere soon.

Wake up to the need to do all that is required to stay healthy and alive, to keep our children healthy and alive.

Let’s wake up … please.

Making the COVID comeback

The mere thought of all that it will take to make a ‘come-back’ from our COVID-19 experience is exhausting. But here is the thing, if we do manage to do the work, we will be all the better for it.

Not the least of this work to realise the ‘Build Back Better’ goal now being championed by the United Nations, among other interests, is the active and deliberate prioritisation of the environment or else environmental considerations.

Can somebody say ‘climate change’?

Earth and its people are under threat from climate change, even in a time of COVID-19.

From the discipline and resources, to collaboration among diverse stakeholders across jurisdictions and global political will, tackling climate change, I know, can, at first blush, seem a daunting task. Then when you take a deeper dive, this is confirmed.

Still, it is doable – and we should be motivated. After all, global warming, sea level rise and the associated livelihoods loss in critical sectors; as well as impacts such as extreme events, including hurricanes and droughts that have assaulted sections of the Caribbean over recent years, is even more daunting.

With COVID-19, we have seen an unprecedented mobilisation of resources, backed by political will, to mount a worldwide response to a virus that, up to now, has infected more than 8 million people and killed more than 440,000 globally. It is a response that has yielded dividends, though we now have to step carefully to continue to safeguard public health.

Meanwhile, as we make the needed adjustments to life with COVID-19, we have to take onboard prevailing environmental concerns, from things such as air and plastics pollution to biodiversity loss and, of course, climate change – all of which are connected.

To delay, as is said, is danger. It’s never been more dangerous, in fact; COVID-19 has taught us that.  

As UN Environment/UNEP tells us: ‘COVID-19 is a reminder that human health is linked to the planet’s health. Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people. They account for seventy-five percent of all emerging infectious diseases. To prevent future outbreaks, we must address the threats to ecosystems and wildlife, including habitat loss, illegal trade, pollution and climate change (https://www.unenvironment.org/resources/working-environment-protect-people-uneps-covid-19-response).’

UN Secretary General António Guterres has said ‘We need to turn the recovery into a real opportunity to do things right for the future’. And he has gone further to propose a number of ways related to climate change in which this can be done.

These in include that money spent on recovery from COVID-19 ‘deliver new jobs and businesses through a clean, green transition’; and that ‘public funds should be used to invest in the future, not the past, and flow to sustainable sectors and projects that help the environment and the climate’. 

This is sound advice and is guaranteed to give us the benefits, should we choose to pursue this course.

COVID-19 Reflections While Staying Home: The Housework

The quote from Simone de Beauvoir did it for me with this blog: “Few tasks are more like the torture of Sisyphus than housework, with its endless repetition: the clean becomes soiled, the soiled is made clean, over and over, day after day”. In a time of COVID-19, housework is like salvation, a soothing balm to irritated nerves and as ‘Petchary’ rightly concludes, one of the distractions to which many among us hold in the bid to cope.

Petchary's Blog

I have been writing some rather serious pieces lately about COVID-19 – including an ongoing series on my small blog, which is tucked away on the Jamaica Gleaner website. I have written about COVID and environmental pollution, COVID and water issues, COVID and vulnerable Jamaicans (starting with those living with HIV/AIDS). There is more to come.

This miserable virus has taken over our lives, hasn’t it? Meanwhile, on the home front the atmosphere has changed. Here’s another, “lighter” side to the dreaded coronavirus…

I’m in love with a Shark.

Well, not unusual for a lover of our environment, you might say. But this Shark is an inanimate object, although quite an alluring one. It is made mostly of plastic (not environmentally friendly). It makes a not unpleasant whirring noise, with little rattles when it picks up something particularly interesting. It has lights on the front, so you can see…

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COVID-19 in Jamaica: We Knew What We Were Up Against

A good perspective on the journey up to now with COVID-19 in Jamaica. From the get go, the Ministry of Health and Wellness has cautioned the country about the probability of a surge and flooded the media, new and traditional, with key messages for infection prevention and control. All the while, the country was told, in no uncertain terms, that there will be new and emergent information on the virus with which we must all contend, but that together we can overcome. #EverybodyCounts #BeatCOVID19.

Petchary's Blog

On Tuesday, March 10, 2020, I attended a Media Breakfast at Kingston’s Knutsford Court Hotel on COVID-19. The aim of this session hosted by the Ministry of Health and Wellness was to explain and update the media on the Ministry’s response plan to COVID-19. It was also, by the way, the last public event I attended. I canceled coffee with a friend the next day, and I have been at home ever since apart from a few evening walks for exercise before curfew.

Media Invite_COVID 19

The two-hour session was informative, with journalists such as Television Jamaica’s Shemala Mitchell and Irie FM stalwart Natalie Campbell asking a range of questions. I recall that the event was quite well attended.

I have heard and seen a number of comments on social media recently suggesting that the Ministry of Health and Wellness has somehow lost control of the COVID-19 situation, and is floundering in confusion…

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Wanted: Herd immunity against climate change

Tick. Tick. Tick. That’s the climate clock ticking. I don’t know how many of us actually hear it. Indeed, I don’t know that some us even care to.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay.

Either way, as one very captivating September 4, 2019 CNN headline reads, “The Amazon is burning. The climate is changing. And we are doing nothing to stop it”.

However, surely, more of us are beginning to get it… IT, you know, the fact that even if climate change were not actually happening, then even the risk of it and all its attendant ‘side effects’ – hotter temperatures, category 5 hurricanes, extended droughts, dried-up freshwater, food insecurity, public health crises – would be worth some of our time, some of our individual and collective attention.

And the fact is, the climate is changing. The science tells us so. Meanwhile, across the globe we see or hear the reports of impacts already being felt.

Sea level rise is a challenge that comes with climate change.

“Already, two of Tuvalu’s nine islands are on the verge of going under, the government says, swallowed by sea-rise and coastal erosion. Most of the islands sit barely three metres above sea level, and at its narrowest point, Fongafale (the largest of its islands) stretches just 20m across,” reads a May 16, 2019 report from The Guardian.

Meanwhile, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Special Report on 1.5 Degrees of Global Warming has substantiated for us that a world at 1.5 degrees of warming is in better shape than one at two degrees Celsius, which is where we are headed and fast. Translation? Go for 1.5 instead of 2.

Still, despite all the risk to ecosystems and ecosystem services to life as we know it, and the repeated warnings at least as far back as Al Gore’s ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ in 2006, many of us appear impervious and others deliberately obtuse.

It is against this background that I read with interest the CNN article/column – written by journalist Nick Paton Walsh and the headline for which I quoted earlier – whose reflections on climate change mirrored my own perceptions of the predicament with which we are faced.

He concludes: ‘The most obvious resolution will come in a few decades, when the heat gets too much, crops fail, clean water becomes more valuable than oil, and the things you were warned about start to kill a lot of people. Then change will be inevitable and unavoidable, and the number of people all hoping for the same life of wow will sadly drop to something more sustainable’.

Ouch!

Look, there are stakeholders who are working at various levels, as well as within and across sectors – scientists and some policymakers among them – to get a handle on climate change and to do the resilience building.

But the pace is not enough and the volume of work requires more hands on deck to build on the science, to mobilise needed finance, to develop and share new technologies, to innovate, to learn, grow, adapt and, ultimately, to survive.

In public health, there is what is known as ‘herd immunity’. It is where resistance to the spread of a contagious disease within a population is the result of a sufficiently high proportion of individuals being immune to the disease, especially through vaccination.

Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay.

We need to replicate that in the effort against climate change. We need herd immunity for climate change where climate change is the disease and collective, comprehensive and sustained response actions from the majority of countries, their leaders and their people are the vaccination.

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