PATRICE Dwyer Davis has always felt that she had responsibility for other people, and today she ensures that a large aspect of her life is spent helping people battling cancer.
Born in St Andrew, but raised in Above Rocks, St Catherine, Dwyer Davis told All Woman that she grew up witnessing her mother, an educator, opening her home to many children, which at one point made her interested in being a teacher or a nurse.
But a high school education broadens interaction and socialisation for most children. In the case of Dwyer Davis, her time at Immaculate Conception High piqued her interest in business subjects, and she had visions of becoming an accountant.
After leaving fifth form she went to the Hill-Murray School, a private institution in Minnesota, USA , where she pursued courses in international business.
She returned to Jamaica after Hill-Murray, worked for a few months with the then Workers' Bank, and then left for Barry University where she started studies in international business before returning home and completing her undergraduate degree in management studies at the University of the West Indies (UWI). At that time UWI did not offer an undergraduate international business programme.
From there Dwyer Davis worked at the Jamaica Institute of Management as the programme coordinator, but had problems with asthma and her stress levels.
She recalls watching a programme on television where a lady spoke about herbal medicine and reflexology. That struck a chord, because at a younger age she had read a book called Body Reflexology.
“I visited the woman. She worked on me and my asthma issues, and from my questions she realised my interest in the profession, so she gave me the name and number of the [reflexology] teacher in Jamaica. Work got stressful and I said I'm too young for this and I quit. A week after making that decision, I was changing out my bag and the number fell out. I called and enrolled in the class. At the time I was in a master's programme at UWI, and after the first semester I quit and went with reflexology, starting with a massage therapy course first,” she said.
Today Dwyer Davis, a certified professional cancer coach, patient navigator, certified lymphodema therapist and complementary therapist, has been practising reflexology for over 15 years, which led to her business called Life Touch, and which opened the door to other modalities in the profession such as reiki and vertical reflexology therapy.
But what stood out most during her practice was a phone call from a young lady who had breast cancer and lymphedema, and who wanted to know if she could help her.
“At the time I knew nothing about lymphatic drainage massage, and she said there was no one else in Jamaica who could assist, so I read up on it and became certified in 2006 as a lymphedema therapist,” she said.
This experience, she explained, gave her a new awareness. Being able to sit with people, understand their story and what it meant to be working with those who had cancer changed her outlook on life.
This further deepened when her aunt died of cancer in 2011. That experience, Dwyer Davis shared, brought her to another dimension.
“I saw how beautiful it could be to spend the last days with someone, being there for them. And I started to look at cancer as an experience and not a battle, and it was now helping people to make the most of the experience,” she said.
Subsequently, Dwyer Davis, who is also involved in the Palliative Care Association of Jamaica, eventually began working with the Hope Institute, a cancer hospital in Jamaica, with another colleague conducting a number of reflexology sessions for both patients and staff.
“Service was always a part of my life. I was heavily involved in the Reflexology Association of Jamaica, I volunteered at the SOS Children's Village for a number of years, and doing this meant a lot to me. Once a week we would go there: three weeks would be dedicated to helping patients, and one week to helping staff members. My involvement is not so heavy now because of my motherly duties, but once they call me in, I go,” she explained.
She added: “As a navigator I assist people to get through the complicated health system and remove barriers for them. Being a cancer coach has helped me to provide support for people with cancer, whether it is nutritional, practical support or emotional support. Sometimes these people have no one to accompany them to treatment or a follow-up doctor's visit, and I go with them.”
Dwyer Davis further stated that doing this work was no easy feat, as she was once afraid to hear the death announcements on the radio, but after someone she worked with told her how the sessions helped her prepare for the death of her loved one, she realised the privilege she had of working with people preparing for death, and helping them and their families.
Apart from her work, Dwyer Davis enjoys going on outings to Hollywell and Robin's Bay, and spending time with her daughter Laila. For her strides in life she credits her mother Elsie Dwyer, her reflexology teacher Monica Marsh, her late grandmother, her aunt Ann Dwyer, and Myrtle Picart.
Her future plans involve writing a book about working with people who have breast cancer to show that the journey goes deeper than a physical issue.