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Cancer Society can count on Stewart

Alex Stewart is a cancer counsellor

By Lindsey Turnbull

When someone is given the diagnosis by their doctor of any sort of serious illness, and in particular cancer, getting support

on a multitude of levels is critical to their ability to fight the disease.

Alex Stewart has been counselling cancer patients through the Cayman Islands Cancer Society for many years and Janette Fitzgerald, chief administrator with Cayman’s Breast Cancer Foundation, felt it fitting to recognise the incredible work that she does as a volunteer.

“The Breast Cancer Foundation has been eternally grateful for Alex helping all cancer patients including the breast cancer patients that we help out directly and via our sponsorship of the Cayman Islands Cancer Society,” Janette said. “Cancer is a devastating and terrifying disease. To have someone like Alex who can help the patient come to terms with their diagnosis is a huge factor in giving them the mental strength to fight this disease and manage their families. As one breast cancer patient said to me very recently: ‘Words alone cannot express how much help seeing Alex has done for me – thank you’.”

Alex is originally from Canada. She first visited Cayman in the 1980s on a dive vacation and later moved to Grand Cayman in 1993. She was a registered nurse for 20 years. She then went on to study psychology in Canada, completing a master’s degree at the University of Victoria in British Columbia. She has worked in counselling psychology for more than 15 years and is registered with the Cayman Health Practice Council as a

Psychologist – Masters Level. She works at Seven Mile Medical Clinic in Queen’s Court on West Bay Road. Concerned with animal welfare, she is also a founding member of the Protection of Animal Welfare Society of the Eastern Districts – often referred to as PAWS – and she, and her husband, Rick Elder, volunteer with this organisation helping animals in need.

Alex said her involvement with the CICS came about for many reasons.

“The biggest influence was my late husband’s diagnosis of cancer in 1994 and experiencing first-hand the emotional rollercoaster that is unleashed for the person with the diagnosis, for their family, their friends and their caregivers,” she said.

“With education and experience in counselling psychology I wanted to support others through this challenging journey. Dr. Sook Yin was my family doctor and the medical director on the board of the Cancer Society so I approached her to see if they would be interested in having a volunteer counsellor and,as they say, the rest is history.”

A volunteer counsellor with CICS since October 2004, Alex has been providing emotional support to people impacted by cancer.

“I have taken some short breaks from this volunteer role but eventually find my way back. For a number of years I spent two days a week providing volunteer counselling and now I spend a few hours each week,” she said.

Alex said the Cancer Society is so important in Cayman because, like many places in the world, cancer is a big issue.

“It seems everyone knows someone who is dealing with cancer. There are many resources available but it isn’t always easy to navigate through the system. CICS helps people find their way and provides support in many ways: financial assistance, patient equipment, educational information, vouchers for cancer screening, as well as counselling for emotional health. While CICS cannot be everything to everyone, they strive to help each person in some way,” she explained.

She feels that the need for counselling is ever growing as more people are impacted by cancer.

“We are currently looking for other registered counsellors and psychologists who are willing to volunteer a few hours a month to provide support for the people in need. Anyone who is interested in providing volunteer counselling can leave their name and number with the CICS and I would be happy to speak with them to give an overview of the role.”

People can volunteer with CICS by contacting the office at 949-7618 and talking with the staff about their desire to volunteer or alternatively they can go to the website cics.ky and download the volunteer form.

She added: “The team at the Cancer Society is amazing; they give from their hearts.They truly make people feel welcome and as more people learn about all the support they offer the demands grow. Being part of this fantastic group of dedicated people is an honour.”

Cayman Islands Cancer Society information:

* A small non-profit organisation established in 1995, the CICS has one part-time and two full-time staff members, tremendously supported by community volunteers. It is overseen by Jennifer Weber, Operations Manager.

* The Cancer Society receives no money from the government and exists through generous donations received from individuals and corporations.

* CICS provides education and awareness to help prevent cancer through presentations to companies, churches, schools and community groups

* It promotes early detection by providing free mammogram vouchers, pap test vouchers and prostate exam vouchers year round to people who have no insurance or have insurance that does not pay for preventative diagnostic testing.

* The Society also provides direct assistance to people with cancer in a variety of ways, including giving them access to a lending library of books and lending and renting them hospital beds, wheelchairs or walkers.

* It provides free counseling to cancer patients, families and friends.

* Throughout the year, there are designated cancer months, when the Cancer Society places articles in local media and holds presentations.

* For women who have lost their breasts to cancer, the Cancer Society is the exclusive retailer of prosthetic breasts and bras in Cayman.

* They provide direct financial help to cancer patients who qualify for aid, helping patients with everything from payments for surgeries and treatments, to airfare and accommodations, to food and rent.

* The number of patients who need their help is increasing, so their need for funding is great.

* The Cancer Society partners with the Cayman Islands Health Services Authority to support additional large scale

public health initiatives, such as bringing the HPV cervical cancer preventing vaccine to Cayman.

* They pay the salary of the registrar who is creating a National Cancer Registry so the Islands can finally know the real statistics about cancer in Cayman.

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