A young man's revenge over cancer
'He is my head boy' says mom as Calabar deputy Anthony Parker aces eight CSEC subjects despite medical setbackSunday, September 19, 2021
BY ROMARDO LYONS
At age 15, Anthony Parker missed almost one year of school while he battled acute lymphatic leukaemia.
Parker had to sit out three terms — the last two terms of grade nine and the first term of grade 10 — at Calabar High School and grappled with severe hair and weight loss. His mother feared that he would've died.
At 17 he sat his Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations while undergoing treatment, and scored six ones and two threes, sending him and his family into celebration mode. But last Monday all the pain he endured in the past three years was eclipsed when Parker learnt that he has been selected as a deputy head boy for the 2021/2022 academic year at Calabar High School.
“I am very happy, but definitely not surprised. I worked hard for it so I know it was going to be either the head boy position or a deputy. I envisioned myself as a head student from grade seven. I have been a student leader from my very first year at Calabar. So three years ago, being hospitalised for treatment did not change my outlook on life or the goals I have set,” Parker, 18, told the Jamaica Observer in an interview.
“While sitting CSEC and being treated for leukaemia, my academic expectations were very high. I wanted eight CSEC ones but I got six, so I'm still grateful. At school my academic goals were to top my classes and make the principal's honour roll which I did, of course,” he continued.
Parker's mother, Karleen Francis, told the Sunday Observer that she is stunned by her son's journey.
“I'm proud of him for still being on top, regardless of what he's really going through. I'm really overwhelmed by his performance and the fact that him nuh make nothing bother him. He is my head boy and he is my star,” she said.
Recalling the days of his chemotherapy treatment, Francis said she would break down when she saw the toll it took on him.
“The chemotherapy used to mash him up. He couldn't do anything. Sometimes when I looked at him and saw the changes in his face, the way how him walk and talk, it saddened me. I worshipped, prayed, and continued to trust and beg God to give him some more time because him nuh accomplish everything weh God want him to accomplish.”
Acute lymphatic leukaemia is a type of cancer that affects the blood and bone marrow and can progress quickly, and if not treated can be fatal within a few months. Parker told the Sunday Observer that, being treated at Kingston Public Hospital (KPH) demanded constant mental grit and faith.
“It was draining and difficult. There was never a point during my sickness, though, where I questioned God. I knew that He was in control and that He would carry me through this test. I remember clearly one day the head doctor of William Ward was doing his routine bed visits and when he was at my bed and looked at the notes, I recall him saying I was the sickest one on the ward.”
And then, a few days later, a patient who was next to Parker died.
“I was like… 'I'm the sickest one here and persons dying and I'm still here, so who can it be but God protecting me?'” he said.
He added, however, that the most difficult time of his illness was keeping up with the intensive phase of treatment.
“I remember going to the doctor three days of the week and doing a lumbar puncture about every Tuesday during that phase. That was the most painful phase of treatment and the side effects were severe. I lost all my hair and I was very skinny. I could hardly walk and move my hands at one point. I had to be inside the house in a mask all the time and when going for treatment, I had to be well clothed and in a mask. I had to change my diet. It was very strict. I had to change my lifestyle as a whole. It was difficult at first, but I got used to it.”
Parker has since maintained a strict vegan diet and has had to start using herbal products like lotion and soap.
Francis said merely looking at her son at that time was a tear-jerker.
“I believe we all have a purpose. But sometimes I used to be presumptuous and ask God what could be the reason why my son has to be suffering like this — to a point where I don't even know how to look at him without a tear falling from my eyes. But he's always encouraging and positive. When I look beyond how he looks on the outside and look in his eyes, I was encouraged. It just make me nuh bother wah cry because me know him a go pull through,” she said.
Further, there was never a time, Parker said, when he felt as though he was fighting a losing battle.
“God was literally there with me. I felt His presence every day. When I'm doing the lumbar and bone marrow procedures, I would cry for Jesus, and at some points during the procedure I'd feel a presence and I'd feel so calm and relaxed like someone greater was there. He has never left my side. I have been a Christian since 2017 and it was as if He was preparing me for this time in my life.
“There was never a time throughout where I felt I'd die. I was in severe pain but all I wanted to do was to get out and go back to school. I missed my friends and teachers. I was going through the intensive phase of treatment at that time and I was not allowed to go out,” he recalled.
Parker told the Sunday Observer that he was given clearance to return to school in January 2019, while still being treated. At that time he was 16.
“Going back to school I had one main goal — and that was to prove that, no matter your challenges you can still achieve your goals. I topped my classes [on] returning to school.”
But, by January 2020, he was out of school again. Parker caught a cold that compromised his already-weakened immune system and doctors then discovered that his white blood cells were abnormal.
“I was supposed to do a lumbar puncture and my blood cells had to be at a specific level to do the procedure. The doctor was saying that, if I do another test the following week and the cells were still abnormal, they would have to do a bone marrow test to ensure that everything is okay. My mom and grandma were worried, and they found every bush remedy possible for me to get rid of that cold. After the remedies, I got rid of the cold and when I did the blood test my blood levels were back to normal,” he said.
Francis said she became a “bush doctor” to get Parker back to a comfortable state.
“I blend ginger, garlic, honey, and molasses and put it in a jar, like medication, to cure him. To strengthen him now, I blend up the greens. Things like parsley, broccoli, kale, cured seaweed from the sea. I give him that like three times for the week. Thank God for my two sisters… one is a nutritionist and one is a nurse. So it wasn't me alone.”
When COVID-19 cases were confirmed locally in March 2020, Parker faced, yet again, another roadblock on his quest to return to school. Even in late 2020, when face-to-face classes were reintroduced, he had to stay at home because of his underlying condition.
“I had to avoid face-to-face classes, even though I was in the clear healthwise, because my immune system is vulnerable and I am susceptible to catching any little thing that's going around. I have to be very careful, so when the ministry gave the green light for the exam groups to go back to school to prepare for their exams, I had to stay home and do my preparations,” he explained.
“The teachers, staff, and my friends at Calabar are the best,” added Parker. “They showed love and support throughout my entire sickness and for this, I am extremely grateful. I remember my grade nine form teacher, Miss Walters, visiting me at the hospital and coming to visit me at home, bringing me documents and ensuring that my education was still a priority. I'm extremely grateful for all the teachers and staff.”
Parker has finished his treatment and will do another lumbar puncture and bone marrow procedure on September 28 to be sure that there are no traces left in his system.