a civil society alliance for combatting chronic disease in the caribbean

HCC - Heather Reneau - A Retrospective Reflection: The Effects of NCD’s on My Belizean Family Past & Present

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Heather Reneau

My name is Heather Reneau, I am a 28year old Belizean who is currently employed as the Senior Administrator of the Belize Cancer Society. I would like to share with you briefly some of my life experiences in dealing with NCD’s. The issue of Non- Communicable diseases are close to my heart not only because I have family members that are affected by NCD’s but the fact that in my capacity as Administrator of the BCS, I have been exposed to the significant burden NCDs are currently placing on my economy especially the youth population. It is evident to me after attending many meetings, assisting many young Cancer patients in my profession, partaking in numerous advocacy campaigns and spear heading booths at almost all secondary schools and community fairs in my city, it clearly shows that there is a significant need for increased emphasis on education and preventative strategies at the National level for the increased life expectancy of the youth population of Belize of which I am a part of.

Belize is a unique country with more than half of our population being below age 30yrs, in my perspective this can be considered a strength as well as a weakness within our society. As a young person it peeks my interest when I look at my Society, I talk to my peers, I talk to the youths some younger than myself and some older and I have realized we are in-equip to fight the current and future battle of NCD’s. We discuss many topics in our discussions and I listen to their answers and some of them absolutely scares me. Some say “Oh I don’t have to worry about now, I’m young”, some say “Mein I don’t think of those things that’s old people stuff” other say “Gial you worry too much”. But I say not true, I have to worry now so I don’t have to worry later unless it’s the Father will and I get something beyond my control.

My life experiences might be different from others and they may not have been exposed to the effect of NCD’s on their families like I have, but I tell them regardless aren’t you worried about you when you get older? What if we get sick tomorrow because of the way we have been living now, the way we eat, our lifestyle practices, our culture who do we have to fall back on? Does our family have the financial ability to handle that situation? Do our country have the facilities to treat the diseases? What quality of life will I live after my diagnosis? How long will I live being affected with NCD’s? These unanswered questions keep going through my mind. This is one of the reasons I try so hard in my small capacity to try to advocate for young people to take up the charge, educate yourself, get in the knowing, sometimes we are nonchalant about life and act as if everything will always be alright and we will be young forever. But the reality is, this is not so.

At age 9, I remembered when my mom was first diagnosed with Breast Cancer, I remember her crying at night and trying to act as if everything was ok in the day, even as a child I could see the sadness in her eyes the pain and fear she felt as she held me in her arms and told me she loved me just before she being wheeled into the operating theatre at Jacksonville Memorial Hospital in Florida, we were blessed that she was able to access surgery and treatment in America partly due to the fact that in those times there was no Treatment facility in our country, there was no Belize Cancer Society providing education and guidance to patients with emotional support to families and children there was nowhere to go for help besides your general practitioners where help and guidance were very limited. Looking back now I wonder what happen to those other women who had no means of accessing treatment who had no financial ability to pay for treatment and were diagnosed with Breast Cancer, did they die? Who assisted them with treatment? Who gave their families emotional support during that rough time? Who facilitated palliative care & pain management in the end stage of their disease? Who educated them about their diseases? My conclusion is there was NO ONE!!

At age 18 my Dad suffered his first massive stroke while in Jamaica attending a meeting, our family was hit once again with a devastating disease that would change the way our family operated. This came as a shock to us, although at that time he was over severely weight, he did not eat properly, but to us that was nothing out of the ordinary that was just a part of our culture, besides a little blood pressure we didn’t think it was noting so serious, he was never sickly, almost never had a cold so when he had a massive stroke it frightened us, we made arrangements to take him to the USA and our family came together and tried to access the best treatment for him. The first time I saw him when he got to the Hospital in Oklahoma, for me honestly it was then, it hit me. Oh my I couldn’t believe it, my Dad was unable to talk, walk, feed himself or do anything for himself. Seeing him almost crippled me, this big 6ft 4ins man extra macho, never sick highly educated man just lying there as a vegetable all because of a stroke cause by contributing factors that could have been avoided. After that our family made a collective decision we would make huge changes to the way we lived from now on. After 1 month in the Hospital and 2 months of therapy we returned to Belize, he was visible thinner but he was walking, talking his mobility was limited but Thank heavens he was doing much better.

Since 2005 I can say my MOM and DAD have changed there life, they plans own meals, they set out their own medication, they go on walks, take vitamins, research there diseases and try to learn as much as they can to assist in the care of themselves etc. We have realized that these are lifelong disease, and we are not without little surprises every now and again health wise but we are working together to support each other. So through my experiences I guess I have learned a valuable lessons and I would like to pass them on to you.


Heather is an active member of te Youth for NCDs movement click here to find out more.