T&T: Cancer society head advises Govt: Make Children’s Hospital a cancer care centre

By Yvonne Baboolal
Chairman emeritus of the Cancer Society of T&T, Dr George Laquis, is suggesting that the not yet opened Children’s Hospital, Couva, be designated as a centre for a national cancer programme.

He said the Government should set up a committee to come up with a national cancer programme.

Laquis made the suggestion during an interview with the T&T Guardian yesterday at his Diego Martin office. October is Breast Cancer Awareness month and the event is commemorated globally today.

He said cancer was increasing exponentially in developed countries and in T&T, with a very high numbers of pancreatic cancer and lymphoma patients.

Laquis said, to date, there was no national cancer programme in T&T which encompassed the whole process of treating with a cancer patient, including screening, psychological support, medical and surgical treatment, radiotherapy and taking care of a dying patient.

He said while the State provided cancer patients treatment at the St James Infirmary, it was not adequate.

Laquis said after 15 years the national oncology centre being constructed at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex is yet to materialise, despite $100 million being pumped into the project. Work began on the project late last year.

Responding to questions on whether the Children’s Hospital was outfitted to be a cancer centre, he replied: “That is irrelevant. It is not outfitted for anything. Of course, it has to be retrofitted but that’s a small item in the context of what I am suggesting and the cost is minimal.”

He said the treatment of cancer was only one part of a proper cancer programme.

“It’s so much more than that,” he added.

Laquis said the Children’s Hospital, a pet project of the Kamla Persad-Bissessar administration, remained unopened when the new Government came into power in September 2015. The building was only recently handed over to the State from the Chinese contractors.

He said it was the perfect use for a cancer facility.

“The location is ideal. There is a large land mass for a hotel next to it for people coming in from the islands and Guyana for treatment here. We cater, at present, for the whole Caribbean outside Jamaica. Cancer patients from the islands and Guyana end up here for treatment. Residence will have to be built for staff and a hospice,”

he added.

He said he started the Cancer Society’s Vitas Hospice in St James for dying cancer patients because he felt death was something that should be handled with dignity.

Laquis said there was no official record of the number of people diagnosed with cancer in T&T and, therefore, it was difficult to give a precise number. He said only cancer deaths are recorded.

“For the last 20 years I have been pushing for legislation to make cancer diagnosis a reportable disease,” he added.

Laquis said cancer treatment was very expensive, even for the wealthy, but said intelligent, cost-effective screening is needed.

He added: “All Third World countries, like us, still have to practise cost effectiveness. It costs the State millions and millions of dollars but it’s not only about the money. There is a huge indirect cost in productivity.”

Laquis said there were non-medical ways to battle cancer but it took tremendous courage.

“A lot of research has been done on the power of positive thinking on patients. They do better than those who are negative but it takes tremendous courage to be positive,” he said.

Laquis said he “almost sees cancer as a willy foe, trying to outsmart me” and described the disease as “the emperor of all maladies.”

Himself a healthy 74, he said he lived a healthy lifestyle and that was a key preventative measure. Cigarette smoking and alcohol combined, air pollution and certain foods all contributed to cancer.

“It’s all about what I eat,”

he said.

Stress, Laquis said, was also a killer.

“Essentially, it’s our responsibility to change our lifestyle and environment individually and as a people so we could prevent the disease as opposed to trying to find it early,” he said.(Trinidad Guardian)

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