All Woman

Cancer survivor, amputee creating positive impact

Determined woman wants government campaign for disabled

By RENAE DIXON Sunday Observer staff reporter dixonr@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, March 09, 2014    

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Losing a leg was not easy for Eunice Christine Benjamin. However, she has not allowed that experience to dilute the quality of her life.

"I don't let my foot dictate to me where I go," she told the Jamaica Observer during an interview recently.

Living by the words that "what does not kill you, makes you stronger," she has been a woman of great strength, creating an impact at work, home, church or wherever she goes.

"When I was diagnosed with it (cancer), it took a toll on me for sometime but I realised that when you are diagnosed with cancer it is not a death sentence and persons tend to take it so hard that they give up on life," Benjamin said.

Six days after losing her leg, Benjamin was driving again.

Since losing her leg in 2006, the manager at the Pat Chung Texaco Service Station in Ocho Rios, where she has worked for the last 17 years, has achieved many of her goals and intends to work to achieve others in spite of her physical challenge.

"I have finished building my house since losing my leg," she said.

She continued to be active in her church and is set and accomplishing the many other goals that she has laid down.

"I still plan to go back to school and finish my studies," she revealed.

The cancer survivor said that being strong mentally and spiritually helps to fight the illness.

"Mentally you have to fight back to survive this disease," she said.

She added that the support of family and friends is also necessary to overcome, as having no support can increase the pressures.

"My mother and father, Gloria and Matthew Benjamin, my boss Gregory Chung and his parents Mayling and Patrick Chung were very supportive," she said.

She also lost several friends. However, a number of people stood by her and supported her fully. These she said included members of her community, her pastor Benjamin Gayle, and her co-worker Anthony Harrison, the latter who travels with her daily to ensure that he is there for her in case of any emergency.

The Jamaica Cancer Society and the Ocho Rios Police were also praised by Benjamin for the roles that they played during the challenging time.

Her fight with cancer started when she hit her left leg on a coffee table at her home in 2006. Her leg became swollen, but she did not know that that would have changed her life completely.

"After a week or two I realise it wasn't going down, so I went back to Dr Bruce Ardenne and he sent me to do an x-ray," she explained. The results of the x-ray were not normal and so she was sent to another doctor.

"He sent me to Kingston to Dr Christopher Rose," she said.

Dr Rose told her it looked like cancer and to know whether or not that was so, he sent her to do several tests.

A tumor was found in her leg, but it was not thought to be cancerous. A surgery was done to remove it and further tests showed the tumor was malignant.

The news that she had chondrosarcoma, grade two was a shock, but even more shocking was the realisation that she would lose a leg. However, being a woman of faith, she did not give up.

Six days before her birthday in November 2006, her left leg was removed. Along with it went cancer from her body.

Benjamin believes that she is completely healed and does not think that cancer will be the cause of her death when she eventually passes on.

She does a CT scan yearly and so far, all have shown that she does not have the deadly disease.

"June will be eight years and I am still here fighting," she said. "There are times when I pray and I say 'Lord, I command all the cells in my body to be well," she added.

She explained that in fighting cancer, it has to been done through all avenues of life.

"You have to fight this thing mentally, spiritually and financially," she stated.

"I really want people to know that this is not the end when you are diagnosed with cancer; it's not the end," she reiterated.

Although her sister was diagnosed with cancer two years after she was, and eventually died, Benjamin remained faithful and never doubted that she would be healed.

She explained that it was challenging, as people were thinking that she would be next, but she remained positive.

While she has remained strong, Benjamin believes that more should be done for the disabled in Jamaica. She said that visiting Cuba and the United States, the level of regard shown for persons with disability is not the same as in Jamaica.

"I want the government to have a radical campaign about persons with disability because of the way that (ordinary) people deal with people with disabilities, the way you are being treated with scant regard," she said.

She pointed out that simple gestures, such as holding the door for the physically challenged, are often ignored by others.

Benjamin recalled needing some assistance to cross the road one day on her way to the bank.

"I wanted to cross the road and saw a lady and I said to her, 'can you help me to cross the road' and she said 'no' she is late for the bank," Benjamin recalled.

"I really felt disheartened because I needed help at time and the lady told me 'no' bluntly," she added.

Benjamin said that she does not seek pity, but believes that the Jamaican people need to show their fellow citizens, especially the disabled, compassion.

"We tend to stereotype people with disability," she said.

While she remains strong and rises among the challenges, Benjamin wants people to be aware of the disabled and treat them with respect and kindness.

"People need to love people," she stated.

"Life is an echo, and whatever you do will come back to you," she added.

She believes that it is the good that she has done which allows people to give her all the attention that they have been giving over the years.

"We need to love people; we need to care for people," she reiterated.

She added: "It is nice to be important but it is also important to be nice."

Benjamin said that many need to realise that persons with disability are normal individuals who are also seeking to live to their full potential.

"One of the problems I have is that you don't find disabled parking most places that you go," she said, arguing that going into health facilities is a challenge for her when it relates to parking.

She explained that even with a disabled sticker on her vehicle, she faces a challenge, as persons, including security guards, do not know the sticker.

"We need to be cared for," she insisted.

Although faced with challenges, she is grateful for people around her who continue to treat her well.

She highlighted one such as Sherline Martin, whom she referred to as her left foot for the last eight years.

"God has been good to me and that is why I am here today to tell my story," she said.

"I am still moving from the transition of able body to being disabled. Life has been challenging but I face my challenges," she stated.

The staff at Pat Chung Texaco had high praises for her.

"Words can't explain the kind of person she is," Nicoda Bailey said, "She is always there for you no matter what. She is a people's person," she went on.

"She is very nice, caring, she puts others first. Inspite of her disability she is always helping people," another employee, Terry Pryce said.

Benjamin was also referred to as a confidential person.

Pamella Earl added: "When God was making her, he made no mistake."

"She is superb," Shantia English stated.

"I was at home sick and she bought the medication and sent to me," Pryce said.

According to Earl, Benjamin is one in a million.

Benjamin is one who is known to put a smile on the face of employees at the service station. She is also known to have a good relationship with customers.

According to Gregory Chung, losing her leg has made her a lot stronger. He spoke of her as a highly devoted employee.

"Christine is a dedicated employee for the last 17 years," Chung stated.

"She moved from entry level to top management," he continued.

Referring to her battle with cancer, Chung said: "I think it has made her a lot stronger, and she has learnt a lot from her experience".

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