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Sun's Person of the Year, Kathleen Jno Baptiste Cornelius
Sun's Person of the Year, Kathleen Jno Baptiste Cornelius

Cancer. No disease is more frightening; no disease takes such a devastating toll on a patient's physical, emotional and financial wellbeing; no disease makes a victim literally fight for her life. And if she survives cancer, she becomes stronger, her strength gives others hope, her shoulders broaden as others lean on. There's, after all, strength in numbers- and the numbers are growing.

That's the story of Kathleen Jno Baptiste Cornelius, the president of the Dominica Cancer Society (DCS). A group of cancer patients and their friends formed the DCS 24 years ago to provide emotional and financial support to Dominica's cancer patients.

In 2009 Kathleen Cornelius was diagnosed with an invasive carcinoma breast cancer, says the DCS website.

"After, experiencing the many difficulties and hardships of treatment, and having firsthand knowledge which was experienced by patients during treatment, has led her to become an advocate for cancer patients," the DCS says.

"Cancer puts you to the test and it also brings out the best in you," Cornelius says.

That test motivated Cornelius to establish the Roseau Cancer Support Group which provides a forum and support for cancer patients and survivors. Additionally, in 2011 she served as the Public Relations Officer for the DCS and was elected president in 2013, 2014 and 2015. Since then Cornelius has battled the cancer epidemic along with equally motivated soldiers of the DSC but apparently the battle has just began.

Cancer is increasing at an alarming pace.

"In Dominica cancer is also the leading cause of illness and death," Dr. Rickets said in 2014 after a walk-for-cancer event. "Prostate cancer, however, is the number one cause of death in Dominica, period. And the trend in prostate cancer death is upward… Among women breast cancer is the leading cause of death and the trend is upward."

But what makes cancer such a devastating disease is the high cost of treatment and that cost is mountain that the poor especially find hard to climb.

"Many people do not have basic health insurance and the treatment of cancer is very, very, very expensive. When you are diagnosed you have to act fast, and many people do not have the money," Delia Cuffy-Weekes, the DCS public relations officer told The Sun.

The problem is complicated by the fact that there is no full-time resident oncologist and treatment options are limited to chemotherapy. So anyone diagnosed with the disease must seek treatment abroad, mostly in Barbados, Guyana or Trinidad.

"Some people who have their own savings, they run out of it very quickly. . . what you thought was a nice next egg, you go through it (in a hurry) and you run out," Cuffy-Weekes said.

So apart from literally begging for financial assistance to help the growing number of cancer patients around the island, Cornelius and the DCS have been major advocates for the establishment of a national health insurance scheme because fund-raising will always be inadequate.

Through her advocacy and enthusiasm for the cause of poor cancer patients, Cornelius and the DCS have brought the high cost of medical care as well as the growing menace of cancers in Dominica into sharp public focus.

For these reasons the Sun has selected Cornelius as its 2015 Person-of- the-Year.

Read her story elsewhere on the Sun website.


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