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From wheelchair to high heels
I don’t ever want it to be said, when it’s time to go, that I’ve succumbed to cancer. Don’t say that. We all have to die at some point. Saying I succumbed means I let the cancer win,” said Keisha Butcher.
She’s not on her last breath. Yet, Butcher continues to place those fighting words in the universe. In the meantime, she continues her journey one day at a time.
“I am living each day more intentionally and deliberately and I am using each day to do that,” she said.
Butcher, a legal consultant at the Legal Department of the North Central Regional Health Authority, is the daughter of Ken and Pat Butcher, two well-known Trinidadians. Ken is a local football legend, a former national coach and manager at the University of Trinidad and Tobago. Pat, a former netball star and now president of the National Netball Association, was also the executive director of the T&T Hospitality and Tourism Institute.
In her story of her battle against breast cancer, her parents are the silent support systems who watched as she challenged her fate and her faith after she was diagnosed six years ago. When she was 33 years old, while in the shower she first felt a lump in her left breast - as little as a tamarind seed. The lumpectomy report said it was fatty tissue, something which was hereditary in Butcher’s family since her dad had it on it his shins and shoulder.
“But mine continued to grow. I left it for two years, then my breast was changing colour. It was looking like toast, a golden brown and the rest of me was pale in that area,” Butcher recalled. “On Christmas Day I showed my mom, my sister and my aunt. I saw the horror in my mother’s face.”
But Butcher’s daughter knew something was already wrong as she used to rest her head on her chest. “Mummy, you need to check that out,” she told her.
After another check-up, the doctor requested a special meeting with her. Her parents were already at the office when she arrived. By then she was annoyed to have known that they were told before her. But looking back, it was perhaps an attempt to soften the blow of the news he had to share.
“I wanted to tell people in my own time. My reaction was of mixed emotions – ‘what’s malignant, again?’ He offered a method and was arranging for surgery the following week. ‘Okay, what is God doing?’ I convinced myself that He was going to heal me supernaturally,” Butcher said.A second opinion later, she was advised to start with chemotherapy. But a CT scan was required prior to treatment. A week after, she
had a dream in which she was feeling the softness of her breast instead of the firmness in her reality, except her breast felt soft like glass. She took that to mean God was going to heal her through alternative treatments. During the course of one year she did Ozone treatment, changed her diet, did infrared, even did the hydrogen peroxide protocol which is transferred through IV to the tumor site and breaks up the cells. Monitoring her progress with scans, there was a minimal increase in the size of the tumor but two spots were also found on her liver. By the end of 2012 she returned to the doctor, ready to try conventional medication.
As Butcher got a vacuum biopsy done to get more information on the tumor, she also discovered Oasis of Hope, a hospital in Mexico which focused on holistic treatment, encompassing traditional medicine such as chemotherapy and complimenting it with nutrition, spirituality and naturopaths. But the challenge was how to treat Butcher’s cancer as she did not have the results of her biopsy. “I did hormonal treatment. The scan show it didn’t respond. I also did Zoloda a low-level type of chemo. Then I realised my left leg could not move and the cancer had moved to my bone. My moving from one place to next was a mixture stubbornness, logic and fear playing at the same time, trying to work off the mountain facing me,” she said.
By the time she returned to Trinidad, Butcher’s conditioned worsened. There was fluid that was pushing against her trachea, causing her to cough incessantly, she could hardly walk. By the time she visited Dr Calipdeo at Sangre Grande General, she was in a wheelchair and offered medication to ease her discomfort.
“For the next two months, I was bedridden. I did pampers (disposable diapers), people had to clean me,” Butcher said. “One day, coming out on the verandah in the wheelchair to take in the morning view, I decided, ‘you know what? I’m going back to work.’ I got out of the wheelchair, and propped myself on the bannister and made step by step until I got to the other side. Daddy was inside, but he was watching me.”
From wheelchair, to crutches to cane to flat shoes, Butcher made it back to work. Now, she’s back in high heels. However, that transition was not immediate. Between the flat shoes and heels, Butcher went on chemotherapy for a year. While she did not experience nausea nor vomited, her hand and feet were numb, doing physiotherapy for eight months.
“It’s only God who have me here now,” she said. “I had a fear of death. I didn’t know what was going on. Before all this, I had a very close relationship with God. During this, I told Him: ‘You have disappointed me. If I am going to die, then fine.’ I reached a place I wasn’t feeling any presence. Last year March, He has shown me. I thought He would have healed me physically but I have felt so much healing in other aspects of my life.”
From her experience, Butcher’s message to others is that they don’t have to suffer like she did. “Had I gone back early enough to get my tumor tested, it would have been dealt with,” Butcher said. She uses her voice to tell other women not to be afraid, to get regular self-examinations. “Real awareness is when you get tested,” she said.
As a muse for Payless ShoeSource Breast Cancer Awareness initiative, Butcher has added her energy to the fight. Payless will donate proceeds from the 2017 Payless Bracelets and Gusto Champion shoe sale to the Cancer Society of T&T’s Vitas House where palliative care is given to terminal cancer patients. At the recently-held Pink Tea 2017 fundraiser hosted by Danielle Jones-Hunte at Chaud Café, Butcher represented Payless. By purchasing a table at the event, Payless ShoeSource was able to up their involvement in the raising of awareness.
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