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Diagnosed at 32, Shamara Morrison shares her breast cancer journey

BY KIMBERLEY HIBBERT

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Shamara Morrison is a jovial, fun-loving, and very frank person and on any given day, Morrison enjoys making people laugh and caring for children in her role as a registered nurse at the Bustamante Hospital for Children (BHC).

Having spent some time there as a child, the 33-year-old told Your Health Your Wealth that the experience on the ward with the nurses made her fall in love with the profession.

“I was badly bitten by dogs and spent some time on the ward. The only people I responded to were the nurses and from then I knew that's what I wanted to become,” she said.

Whilst a student at Gaynstead High School, this desire never left Morrison, but her struggle with Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) mathematics led her to do practical nursing overseas before enrolling in a local pre-nursing programme. The struggle to pass maths prolonged, which delayed her entry to nursing school, however, with the persistence of her father she eventually passed the subject and matriculated to nursing school at the International University of the Caribbean.

After leaving nursing school Morrison worked at the Beth Jacobs Clinic in St Ann before moving on to BHC where she currently works in the burn unit. But, despite the early difficulties with her journey into health care, her most challenging road with health was receiving a breast cancer diagnosis in 2020.

“My dad died in 2019 and, after his death I noticed a fluid coming from my breast, but it alternated during my periods. I went to the doctor for back pain and mentioned it to him. I was sent to do a mammogram and sonogram in October 2020. I remember because of the various discounts I got. When I did the mammogram everything was fine as they only saw a few dilated ducts. When I did the sonogram, that's where they saw the nodules. They subsequently biopsied the nodules and that's when I found out I had the cancer,” Morrison said.

At the time she was 32, and the news brought a heroes' weekend celebration to a halt.

“I was getting ready to go on a trip and I was worried. My friends said Shamara you have nothing to worry about. If doctor call yuh, yuh know is bad news, if doctor nuh call yuh, you alrght. Well, doctor call mi. We dropped everything we were doing in Portmore, we tek the toll and fly to Hagley Park Road. I got there, sat down and my hands were cold. I went in by myself and my doctor's first words were, 'You know Shamara this is not the results we were expecting.' I heard him talking but I wasn't hearing him. I sent a text to my cousin and my two friends outside. I left the doctor's office, sat in the vehicle and travelled to Portmore. It was dead silence travelling as we went back to Portmore, picked up some clothes for my friends as they decided to stay with me in Kingston. It was the longest drive from Kingston to Portmore as we said nothing,” Morrison said.

Following the diagnosis, Morrison asked her cousin to inform her mother, Verma Morrison as she had just lost her dad and could not find the strength to tell her mother herself.

Morrison said her mother remained positive and was her biggest cheerleader during her journey, which comprised a mastectomy and lymph nodes removal in November 2019 and chemotherapy.

“I had surgery in November 2020 and started chemo in January 2021. I must also say I am happy I had insurance with Sagicor as I was able to move quickly with treatment instead of joining a wait list. I did four cycles of chemo, which was completed earlier this year in March. I also have dilated cardiomyopathy, so I opted against reconstruction as that was a risk I was not willing to take. So I now wear a prosthesis. However, chemo was rough and in my second cycle I had an allergic reaction. My final dose was on March 17,” she said.

However, it was a bittersweet moment for Morrison as her mother passed three days later from COVID-19 complications.

“She died the final week of my chemo due to COVID. I am still trying to cope with it as I have radiation to complete. I have started hormone therapy, which also has its challenges,” she said.

Throughout the process, Morrison said her friends have become family and her pillar of strength.

“I know of people who don't survive breast cancer and being in the situation I can understand why. God and my family keeps me going. When I think of where I am coming from, I am extremely grateful. My mother – the memory I have of her pushes me as she would want me to be strong,” she said.

Morrison also stressed the importance of having an insurance policy.

“The support and financial stability is everything. Many don't survive breast cancer because they caught it late or they don't have the support and the financial help.

“I started working in 2015, the Sagicor rep came and I didn't sign up. She came back 2016, I took out a policy then she came back 2018, again, and I said, 'Lady mi can't afford it,' and she said to me, 'Do two sessions,' and I did, and went up on the premium a bit. It's a good thing I did because, if I didn't I would've been in trouble,” Morrison said.

“Don't sit and watch anything. Doctor say mi fi do mammogram and sonogram, mi do it. Doctor say mi fi go do CT, mi do it. I remember when I had the first CT [computerized tomography] scan my mother gave me that money and it was almost $200,000 with the regular Sagicor health insurance I pay for every month. Surgery in itself cost $900,000 before the insurance. I have Medigap and the regular health insurance and it saved me a whole lot. I only ended up paying maybe $175,000 out of the $900,000 plus. When I made the claim from Sagicor I was able to start chemo, which is not cheap either. It's $200 and add 1,000 per cycle. That has to be paid upfront before the treatment. During that time you have repeat CT scans, mammograms, blood tests. So insurance makes a difference,” she said.

Now making the most of her journey, Morrison has taught herself to swim. She is also grateful for her work family who, she says, has been very supportive thus far.

“When I just went back to work I couldn't do a lot as I couldn't use the affected arm, and they understood and were supportive,” she said.

In addition, Morrison reiterated that cancer is not a death sentence and appealed to women to get their breasts checked.

“I thought it was a death sentence and when I heard, I thought I was going to die. But, it is not a death sentence. It is costly, and that's why you need insurance. I did not reach the age for screening and many people younger than 40 are being diagnosed. Women, don't bank on getting to 40. If something feels off, talk about it and ask for the referral, if need be,” she said.