I share the story of my amazing, strong and brave friend Keisha.

It was first published on the Trinidad and Tobago Newsday. Read it here: http://www.newsday.co.tt/features/0,226144.html

Defeating all odds
Tuesday, April 5 2016

THE YEAR 2015 was a blur for Keisha Callender-James. It was a complete life-changing experience that all happened so quickly. Friday, April 24, 2015, is a day she will never forget, because it was the day she got diagnosed with non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is a cancer that starts in cells called lymphocytes, which are part of the body’s immune system. Lymphocytes are in the lymph nodes and other lymphoid tissues (such as the spleen and bone marrow). IMG_4062

“It was an eye-opener for my spiritual and family life. If the things in 2015 never happened, I would have never known how much support I had and how much my family and friends appreciated me. So despite the fact that I was really sick, I realised I was really loved.”

Before her diagnosis was confirmed, Callender-James began doing her own checks and balances on both the conventional and herbal side. She did tests for a lump under her left armpit which she thought was due to switching deodorants in 2014.

“It never bothered me, so I left it alone.” To her dismay, when she returned from vacation in December, the lump started to grow and shortly after, her stomach began to swell.

After having to wait six to eight weeks on the public health services for results from her ultra sound, she turned to a reputable herbal doctor for advice. During this time the Holy Spirit pointed her to research Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.

When she told her husband Jason what she found, he confidently reassured her, “We will rebuke that in Jesus name.” By the time her diagnosis confirmed her worse suspicions, Callender-James received the news very calmly. “God is so good. I could have gotten this cancer anywhere else, but I didn’t, since non-Hodgkin Lymphoma B-cell type is very treatable.”

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At the Arima Diagnostic Centre she learnt that her lymph nodes were engorged and highly vascular, so the nurses and radiographers told her she was fighting something major. She had a large tumour in her stomach which was causing fluid to collect both there and in her chest, causing her left lung to eventually collapse.

That day the staff told her that she could not go home. Their words echoed in her mind. “They said to me, you need to park your vehicle and we need to take you by ambulance to Mt Hope Medical Complex.”

Again her husband gave her support: “that’s small thing, we will fight this,” he said, as his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer ten years ago and conquered the disease. Callender- James drew strength from two other inspiring survivors she knew, one of whom was Joan Griffith whose words she remembers to this day: “just pray and fight.” They propelled her to heal mentally, which accelerated her physical healing.

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She was later diagnosed with Stage 4 non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, but remembers her friend’s words: “He told me I am young, I have a healthy lifestyle and I can beat this. That was my turning point and I said to myself Keisha girl, there are so many survivors…yes there are people who died…but why do I have to be one of them?”

Callender-James was discharged after two months in the hospital, on June 24, 2015 – the day before her ninth wedding anniversary. She stayed with her aunt Monica Campbell who along with other family members took excellent care of her. She remembers not being able to walk properly and experiencing a lot of pain, but this was short-lived.

Through the help of her parents, a close family friend and church fund-raisers, she was able to travel to Colorado and visit the Eden Valley Institute in September 2015.

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By the third day, she was able to do a two-mile hike without gasping for breath and after nine days, she completed a four-mile hike, up a mountain – 11,000 feet above sea level! The method of healing was a holistic treatment – mind, body and soul – a combination of hot and cold water therapies including eight health principles: “nutrition, exercise, water, sunlight, temperance, fresh air, rest and trust in God”. She learnt how to eat properly (mainly raw, organic foods) and took short hikes after every meal.

Callender-James hopes to raise more funds to visit this clinic again which made a world of difference in her healing process.

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Keisha & I

After chemotherapy, her stomach tumour has shrunk to quarter of its original size and her doctors say that she is much improved.

She enjoys going out into the sunshine and gardening which she says is very therapeutic since the sun now gives her energy, instead of zapping it as in earlier years.

She drives and collects her son from school and it’s business as usual for this determined survivor who made me laugh out loud throughout this interview.

Her advice to anyone who may be going through the same thing is to keep checking on your health, be in tune with your body and listen to what it is telling you.

She says that her trust in God was phenomenal and seeing Him work, claiming His promises and seeing Him answering in different forms was very empowering.

She was also glad that she did not hide and stay to herself because she got a lot of people to pray for her and be inspired by her strength.

About her goals in life, Callender- James declares triumphantly,

“I am living to see my grandchildren and cancer is not going to stop me!”

To contact Callender-James can email: kacallender@hotmail.com

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