'Many don't get to see another day'

Woman thankful for second chance at life as stomach cancer disappears

BY INGRID BROWN Associate editor -- special assignment browni@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, May 29, 2014

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TWENTY-FOUR-YEAR-OLD Sasha-Gay Lewis has been given a second chance at life and one which she fully intends to make use of now that the cancer of the stomach which took her to death's door is in recession.

But this charming, young woman, whose personality captivates those she comes in contact with, could not have done it without the support of well-thinking Jamaicans who contributed to the $1.7 million she spent for chemo and radiation therapy.

Lewis' plight was first highlighted by the Jamaica Observer last August after her family's effort at sourcing the money through various fund-raising events failed to yield the required amount
for her to begin radiation therapy.

Following the article, individuals and organisations reached out to assist her, making it possible for her to begin treatment a few
weeks later.

"Now I don't ever wake up one morning without saying 'thank you, Jesus, for one more beautiful day', because many don't get to see another day," Lewis said, explaining that her close shave with death has given her a new outlook on life.

Now the ever-smiling Lewis said the happiest day was receiving the news that the cancer was gone two months after completing the therapy.

"When I went to UHWI (University Hospital of the West Indies) to collect the report, I was as nervous as ever, and so I had to ask a friend to open the envelope and read it, and then when I saw him smiling I just jumped up and screamed with joy," Lewis told the Observer when the team visited her at her Port Antonio home
in Portland.

And, although she still makes monthly visits for medical check-ups, Lewis' only restriction is to manage her diet and to eat mainly fish and vegetables.

"The doctor said I must go and enjoy myself, so that is what I am doing, although I still do everything in moderation," she quipped.

Lewis had high praises for the staff at the Radiation Oncology Centre of Jamaica, who she said helped to make the experience of undergoing chemo-radiation more tolerable.

She said she is extremely grateful and happy that so many persons reached out to help her.

"I felt so happy that people reached out to help, especially seeing how the economy is now and for people to reach down in their pockets to help little old me, it's just overwhelming," she said. "I was so elated that sometimes I just lie in the dark and smile
to myself."

Lewis specifically wanted to single out some individuals and businesses who helped to give her this new lease on life. Topping her list was the Observer, whose readers reached out to her. She also thanked Sista P from Style FM, National Commercial Bank, Cornwall Regional Hospital, National Insurance Scheme, Development Bank of Jamaica, Caribbean Cement Company, Juici Beef, Port Antonio Baptist Church, and the numerous friends and family members.

"I also want to thank all the businesses in Portland that supported me or allowed me to leave a tin to receive donations," she said, even as she singled out a 'Mr Hill' who allowed his staff to prepare refreshment for the artistes who performed at one fund-raising events. She also thanked a number of artistes who performed for free, including Taurus Riley, Dean Fraser, and Dwayne Stephenson.

She was recently the guest of honour at the Cement Company, whose staff wanted to meet her.

Accounts clerk at Caribbean Cement Company, Rayon Markland, said his colleagues were so touched by Lewis' plight that they immediately set about donating money to help her.

As the finance department leader of the internal group, Generating Respect Integrity Professionals and Passion (GRIPP), Markland said he spearheaded the initiative to collect the donations and the company willingly matched the amount that the staff contributed.

But Markland said for GRIPP members, it was more than just making a donation but to have been able to
speak with Lewis and encourage her.

"We had a health and safety talk, and so we wanted to invite her to hear her story and it went very well, because we could see that it is her attitude which helped her to get through this," he said.

Lewis, meanwhile, said she will forever be grateful to everyone who helped in giving her a second chance
at life.

"I just want to thank you all for the help and support when I needed it the most," she said.

The young woman, who was forced to discontinue her preparations for Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate exams when she was diagnosed with stomach cancer, said she wants to use this second chance to pursue a lifelong dream of becoming a make-up artist.

"This is really what I want to do, because I just love to make people beautiful [for them], feel good about themselves," she said.

However, Lewis may delay fulfilling this goal as she is currently unable to afford the tuition to attend an institution in Kingston, since the course is not offered in Portland.

"I have had to put it on hold for now as it is very expensive. But, I hope I will eventually get to do it because this is my dream," she said.

Meanwhile, her mother Irene Moore said words cannot adequately express her gratitude to all those who contributed to raising funds for Lewis' treatment. She recalled the struggle it was for the family who undertook various initiatives to raise the money.

"I was putting on all these fund-raisers, and when I went to Kingston Public Hospital with what we had, the doctor said it is not enough and I remember the tears just started to roll down my face and Sasha said 'Don't cry, mommy'. So, you can imagine how the stress level went down when we finally got the money to do it," Moore said.

According to Moore, it was faith that caused her daughter to live to tell her story given how close she came to death's door.

She said it was overwhelming for the family, especially since other people around them were dying from cancer.

"Words can't express what I want to tell all the persons who helped, because I am so thankful for the support they gave us and it could not have come at a better time for her to be cancer-free," she said.

Lewis' stepfather Norbert McGregor agreed that it was her faith and personality which helped her to recover as well as she had.

"Mi feel one hundred per cent to how far mi see she go and to how some people have the sickness and die; me was just fretting," he shared.




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