Eleuthera, Bahamas — The One Eleuthera Foundation (OEF), in conjunction with its counterparts Family Medicine Center, Cancer Society of Eleuthera and others, hosted their 2nd Annual Pathway to Wellness: Reversing the Trends health and wellness symposium with the guiding theme The Pathway to the Cure, August 1st through 3rd.

Focused on cancer, one of the largest contributors to morbidity and mortality in Eleuthera, the three-day symposium commenced with a welcome reception on Thursday, hosted by the Rotary Club of Eleuthera at the Cancer Society building in Palmetto Point. It was during this time that the Cancer Society of Eleuthera’s (CSE) facility was rededicated as a Wellness Center. The multipurpose facility houses a conference space, counseling room, kitchen and thrift shop. Its committed team organizes various programs and events each year that promote awareness, prevention, cure and healthy lifestyles. In addition, they assist women and men with getting screened and treated for breast and prostate health through fundraisers.

Passionate about the cancer cause, CSE President Juanita Pinder said, “This fight that we are in is a personal one as each of us [CSE board members] has now been touched by cancer. Our loved ones including my brother-in-law, Kevan McKenzie, who was just laid to rest, have all been victims of cancer.  We as an organization must continue to increase our efforts with early screenings, education, research and fundraising.”

Friday sessions included discussions on current cancer research, statistics, risk factors and options for management and treatment of the disease within Eleuthera and The Bahamas. This intense dialogue was led by a broad slate of presenters inclusive of Dr Delton Farquhason, Vascular Surgeon at Princess Margaret and Doctor’s Hospitals, Dr Laundette Jones, Assistant Professor in the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Maryland, Dr Robin Roberts, Consultant Urologist at Princess Margaret Hospital and Director of UWI’s School of Clinical Medicine and Research, Dr Norad Morgan, Specialist in Emergency Medicine at Princess Margaret Hospital, Dr Indira Martin, PEPFAR Lab Strengthening Manager at Bahamas Ministry of Health, Dr Indira Carey, Manager of Field Application Scientists at Roche Applied Science, Dr Wesley Francis, Oncologist at Princess Margaret Hospital, Dr Kathryn DeSouza, Physiatrist at Sports, Spine and Rehabilitation Centre, Dr John Mensah, District Medical Officer for Central Eleuthera at the Department of Public Health, Dr Pearl McMillian, Director at the Department of Public Health, Juanita Pinder, President at the Cancer Society Eleuthera, Maisie Pinder, Community Outreach Coordinator at The One Eleuthera Foundation, and Meaghan O’Connor, Sara Tomaso, and Alannah Kittle, Students at Emory Global Health Institute.

According to Dr Laundette Jones, Assistant Professor at the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Maryland, one of the main functions of BRCA1 and BRCA2 is to repair damaged DNA and control growth. When they do not function correctly, damaged DNA is replicated and cells grow uncontrollably, leading to mutations and subsequently, the development of cancer. She believes that combination of genetic, internal and environmental factors influence such mutations. “Although the estimates for lifetime breast cancer risks among carriers of BRCA1 mutations are high, not every person with BRCA1 mutations develops breast cancer.  The Jones lab seeks to identify those factors that modify breast cancer risk to predisposed populations, which is a key step to breast cancer prevention”, Dr Jones said optimistically.

Local research indicates that up to 500 new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in The Bahamas each year and between 24 and 27% of breast cancer is caused by the BRCA gene mutation. Alarmingly these rates are the highest of any other country. Further, statistics reveal that 43% of Bahamian women diagnosed with breast cancer die before the age of 50 while the average age of death in women in the U.S. is 68.

Laying the premise for this year’s conference, Dr Pearl MacMillian indicated that between 1994 and 2010, malignant neoplasms or cancers were the second leading cause of death among all sexes in The Bahamas next to heart disease. Among all cancers, breast, prostate and colon cancers have the highest incidence of mortality in the country, a fact echoed by many of the symposium presenters.

Another intrinsic trend reverberated by symposium orators proves that incidences of cancers, especially prostate and colon are on the rise. Alarmingly, records show that women have the highest incidence of colon cancer, a completely curable disease. This particular fact is arguable as it was also noted that this may be due in part to more women being screened than men.

Information presented by Dr Robin Roberts indicates that black males are twice more likely to be diagnosed at an earlier age, with a more aggressive form of prostate cancer than white males. He also noted that these black men tend to be more obese and are less likely to be screened, hence, bring a death sentence on themselves.

Persons are still refusing to be screened because of various phobias that are sometimes mythological or psychological. Further, local research indicates that for Eleutherans, finances are also an issue. Consistent with The Bahamas 2010 Census of Population and Housing,about 3,000 women on Eleuthera are over age of 30. More than 55% of these women need assistance in getting mammograms. Many only seek screening for cancers after they become symptomatic. More often than not, it is found that at this time the majority of these individuals are already in the late stages of cancer which is much more difficult to treat and significantly reduces their life expectancy.

After absorbing the vast amount of information presented over the symposium’s 8 hour duration, we are left with burning absolutes and uncertainties. We know that the cancer gene is distinctive to The Bahamas with Eleuthera being no exception. How then, do we get our people to be proactive? How do we debunk the beliefs that prevent persons from getting tested early? What can we on Eleuthera do to reverse this trend? We acknowledge that somehow we have to make the necessary screenings assessable and affordable for all. How do we reduce these alarming facts?

Group discussions led to several steps in reducing and preventing cancers locally. These steps include an intense education program and increased effort in bridging the gaps between the young and old. Additionally, there has to be a coming together of all health related agencies as one body. This will foster greater support of health care mechanisms. Further, it is evident that there is an immense need for necessary screening and treatment equipment on Eleuthera. Compiled with the establishment of additional regional wellness clinics and strategic educational campaigns within each community, One Eleuthera and its partners believe that a healthier path for Eleutherans will be created and a greater impact in the prevention of most cancers will be fostered.

It has been said that one ounce of prevention is better than one pound of cure. Which do you prefer?

For more information on The Pathway to Wellness and The One Eleuthera Foundation visit www.oneeleuthera.org, email info@oneeleuthera.org or call 242-334-4630.

Participants and Presenters of “The Pathway to Wellness: Reversing the Trends Health and Wellness Symposium.” Shown in the front row from left to right are: (standing) Dr Robin Roberts, (sitting) Dr Graham Cates major sponsor of the symposium, Dr Pearl McMillian, Shaun Ingraham, Juanita Pinder, Nurse Anita Cates, Lavern Wildgoose. Other presenters and participants included: Lisa Krupp, Maisie Pinder, Sara Tomaso, Meaghan O’Connor, Alannah Kittle, Dr Homer Bloomfield, Dr Laundette Jones, Dr Norad Morgan, Dr Kathryn DeSouza, Kathryn Johnston, Superintendent Ismella Davis.