Address by His Excellency the Most Hon. Sir Patrick Allen at the Jamaica Cancer Society’s “Keeping Abreast Luncheon 2009” Jamaica Pegasus Hotel, New Kingston

“Early Detection:  Your Best Defense in the Fight Against Breast Cancer!”


Lady Allen and I welcome this opportunity to join with the management and members of the Jamaica Cancer Society in paying tribute to all those persons who have contributed to raising the awareness about breast cancer.  This October marks the 25th observance of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which is a time to recognize the importance of prevention and support those living with this disease.

I have seen the articles and columns in the daily newspapers and heard some of the interviews on radio and television; and, it is clear, that the initiative to motivate and influence women in our country to take responsibility for their health has achieved a new level of knowledge and understanding.

Since 1991, the pink ribbon has become a symbol of the celebration of life and on October 1st this year many men and women wore pink. Other persons read about breast cancer in the newspaper supplement on October 15, and many women participated in World Mammography Day, by getting tested last Friday.  It is this kind of personal interest, and action that makes the difference in understanding how we can prevent or survive any form of cancer.

I must confess that a couple weeks ago when I saw the invitation to address the “Keeping Abreast” Luncheon, I thought it was inappropriate and out of my league.  I really felt that this was Lady Allen’s call and not mine.  However, on reflection I decided it may not be so ‘bad’ after all.  So I accepted the invitation, and ‘got abreast’ of the information to relate the situation.


I discovered in the process that there are three (3) main functions of a woman’s breast.

i)                It enhances her beauty and her womanhood.

ii)              It is a means of nourishment.

iii)            It is a source of comfort.


i)        Beauty & womanhood:    When a young woman comes into puberty, one of the most significant changes in her body is the expansion of the chest area, and the growth of the mammary glands into breasts.  In many cases, the size of a woman’s breast is either a matter for elation or despair.  However, for better or worse, it is one of the most obvious, distinguishing features which separate a woman from a man.

ii)       Nourishment: The Creator so designed us that in the early stages of infancy we are sustained from the nourishment provided by  milk from the mother’s breast.  It has been proven that breast milk is the best for a baby. Breast feeding helps to speed up the healing process of a mother’s body after child birth, it is a means of contraception, and it helps to build resistance and fight diseases in the infant.

You will recall the interesting Campaign by the Ministry of Health some years ago which sought to persuade mothers that, ‘The breast is best.’  That campaign has continued in varying formats, and last month we observed National Breast-feeding Awareness Week.

iii)      Comfort: If they could talk, any infant would ‘tell’ you in no uncertain terms that they are comforted when cuddled in their mother’s arms.   After being fed, they become at peace, are relaxed and in no time fall off to sleep nestled on their mother’s breast.  We men can also attest to that wonderful feeling.   Nothing is more comforting after a hard day at work and stress to be able to relax and rest our heads, both literally and emotionally, on the bosom of our spouse.


As your theme says, “Early detection is the best defence.”  Early detection of breast cancer can result in a 95% recovery rate.  In 2008, some 454 cases of breast cancer were reported to hospitals in Jamaica.  That is 454 persons too many. Breast self examination (BSE), mammograms, MRI and ultrasound are some of the traditional methods of screening.  However, there are some newer less invasive, digital imaging methods that detect signs of abnormality in the breast and these procedures should offer some level of assurance to women.  Like any adversary, one has to detect, attack and destroy.  But to carry out these action, one has to become informed, and ‘be abreast’ of the situation.

Although very rare and accounting for less than 1%, men do get breast cancer.  The symptoms, and treatment and the modalities for prevention are similar to that of women.  The risk factors include:

–                  Aging

–                  Family history

–                  Inherited gene mutations

–                  Congenital birth condition (Klinefelter syndrome)

–                  Radiation exposure

–                  Alcohol

–                  Liver disease

–                  Estrogen treatment

–                  Obesity

–                  Conditions affecting the testicles

–                  Certain occupations e.g. persons who may be exposed to gasoline fumes.

Men, we are not as invincible as we would like to think.  We are just as vulnerable and so we have to take the necessary precaution and keep abreast of preventative methods, such as exercise and proper diet.


In terms of cancer survivors, there are many persons in this room and across this country who, based on their real life experience, can attest to the fact that it is possible to survive cancer. I am told that one of the biggest fears that women have is that of being diagnosed with breast cancer.  It is a particularly traumatic time for women who are often the driving force in their family, if not the sole bread winner. Everyone turns to them for care and advice, but at this juncture, when they must make the decision about keeping a breast, it is then that others in the family need to rally around them.

It is in the recovery and survival phases that there is need for support from spouses, brothers, sisters and the entire family to strengthen women affected by breast cancer. It is then that the love and appreciation for that mother, wife, sister or friend must be meaningfully demonstrated, to provide the bridge that leads to survival.

I can only imagine how frightening, difficult, devastating and isolating an experience it must be for a man,  when the woman he loves is diagnosed with breast cancer,  whether he be husband,  father, grandfather, son, brother, uncle or friend.

The website breast suggests I0 ways in which men can support a spouse with breast cancer:

  • Be there       –         She needs you now more than ever.
  • Advocate     –         Ask the hard questions and act in her best interest.
  • Organize      –         Keep track of appointments, medication, test reports, bills etc.
  • Encourage    –         Hold her, cry with her and have the hankies or tissue ready.
  • Act normal   –         This is not the end of the world and doing things you both enjoy may even be a form of therapy. Practice acceptance.
  • Be honest     –         Face the facts together and act together.
  • Don’t leave  –         If you do, the emotional injury may be even more unbearable than the physical scar of surgery.
  • Ask friends for help         –         You can’t do everything by yourself.
  • Expect weird reaction from some people        –         Everyone reacts differently.  Don’t volunteer too much information, but try not to make it a deep dark secret either.
  • Pray, mediate         –         Draw on your faith and spirituality to fight this adversary.


I am particularly inspired by the work of the Cancer Society in its annual fundraising drive, Relay for Life.  Each year, since its establishment in Jamaica in 2003, hundreds of Jamaicans gather at the Police Officers Club on Hope Road, to bond with survivors and others, to lend their personal support to the effort to raise funds for cancer research and the delivery of the services provided by the Cancer Society throughout Jamaica.

(Optional to relate this story)


The story of Relay for Life is an example of how one person can make a difference. In the mid-1980s, Dr. Gordy Klatt, a Tacoma colorectal surgeon, wanted to enhance the income of his local American Cancer Society office. He decided to personally raise money for the fight by doing something he enjoyed-‘running marathons.’

In May 1985, Dr. Klatt spent a grueling 24 hours circling the track at Baker Stadium at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma for more than 83 miles. Throughout the night, friends paid $25 to run or walk 30 minutes with him. He raised $27,000 to fight cancer. That first year, nearly 300 of Dr. Klatt’s friends, family, and patients watched as he ran and walked the course.

While he circled the track those 24 hours, he thought about how others could take part. He envisioned a 24-hour team relay event that could raise more money to fight cancer. Months later he pulled together a small committee to plan the first team relay event known as the City of Destiny Classic 24-Hour Run Against Cancer.

In 1986, 19 teams took part in the first team relay event on the track at the colorful, historical Stadium Bowl and raised $33,000.

Like those who contributed to Dr. Klatt’s early efforts, this spirit of “giving” by companies and their employees and by Jamaicans from all walks of life, demonstrates that we are indeed a caring people and that we understand the implications of being, “our brother’s keeper.”

I am also impressed by the work of the support group, Reach to Recovery.  This small band of brave women who had have radical surgery  are  a loving, caring, empathizing group who bond with their sisters to encourage them when they face this traumatic period in their lives.


Today, I commend the members of the Jamaica Cancer Society for the exemplary work that they have done over the years to encourage our people to be tested for all types of cancers. I also applaud the work of the Society’s mobile unit which travels throughout rural parishes to facilitate access to “testing,” for all kinds of cancer for both men and women and spreading the message of healthy eating and pursuing a healthy lifestyle.  I look forward to the day when scientists will discover a cure for cancer.

I wish you success in all your endeavours and extend an appeal for others to join the Cancer Society in its work to enhance healthy lifestyles and provide professional care and emotional support for those who are affected by cancer.

I thank you.