Suzanne Ahow, 46, of Belmont, remembered being a very shy young woman, “an introvert” as she described herself, but after coming close to death’s door, having been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, her life has drastically changed for the better.
“I have always been very shy...I was not in a good mental place. I was just existing. I wasn’t really living life. You never really know what people think of you until something bad happens,” Ahow said.
In October 2017, Ahow was diagnosed with hiatal hernia, which is a condition in which the upper part of the stomach bulges through an opening in the diaphragm, causing acid reflux. As a result, she had to change her diet.
Five months later, in February 2018, Ahow began experiencing loss of appetite, loss of taste in the taste buds, severe thirst and excruciating pains on the left side of her body, straight down the left leg. The pain, as she explained, is what prompted her to go to the doctor, who in turn encouraged her to go straight to the hospital.
“On February 21, I went into the hospital at 168 pounds. On the 26th after a surgery to remove numerous masses I was down to 125 pounds. An ultrasound had revealed a mass but by the time of the surgery masses were spread throughout my entire inside...all over...they were all over. They had to remove my ovaries, womb, spleen and appendix...it was all over...I had Stage 3C ovarian cancer which is the stage just before Stage 4,” Ahow said.
“When I went to the hospital for the pain and even when they saw the initial mass the idea of cancer didn’t come up...after three to four weeks after the surgery I went home and that’s when it hit me. I was devastated beyond...I started chemotherapy on March 6 where I did six sessions,” she added.
Ahow recovered and went back out to work where she is employed as a computer operator at a financial institution in October 2018. Since the bout every three months she had to undergo tests.
In February this year, the cancer returned. Six sessions of chemo followed thereafter.
Ahow’s experience has made her a different person today. As explained before, always working, saving her money and not doing anything for herself including having not many friends. During her chemo sessions last year May, Ahow went on a trip to Belize with a friend she had re-connected with. On that trip, Ahow was able to climb ruins 130 feet high by herself and a second time, with her friend and her group, this time by horseback riding. “I shocked myself and it felt good. I wasn’t well during the trip but I made it happen. I even hiked holding a tube to go river tubing. This experience has made me a lot braver and more determined to fight this,” she said.
“I think people knowing about my situation and seeing the outpouring of support, love, hugs and kisses...hugs is a feeling thing in truth and reconnecting with friends and making new friends has worked for me. I started adult colouring, drawing, photography and even karaoke with my brother...recently, I have found serenity in looking at the clouds...Cancer I would say was an answer to a prayer. When you reach a point something got to give,” Ahow said.
Last Tuesday, on October 8, Ahow left T&T for Miami to have a PET scan done.
Clinical director Dr Jacob Hadeed explained why most patients have had to leave T&T to go abroad to have the PET scan done.
He said it has never been done here before because of the huge capital outlay and the highly difficult technical issues both in the set up and the maintenance of the equipment. Added to this, is the heavy running costs because of the numerous consumables to keep it running smoothly.
“It is also requires a lot of micro intensive management for the operation and is extremely expensive to run with profits not very big and with a very high risk of failure. This is why no one has gone into it before.” Dr Hadeed added.
“It’s a lot of expense to produce a dose. The scanning aspect is not the prohibitive part. To scan, you simply have the outlay of the purchase of the scanner and the installation and site requirements, however to produce the isotope requires the installation of a Cyclotron and this is where it becomes highly technical both in terms of the set up and the management,” the doctor further explained.
There are only a few places in the world where there are Cyclotrons and Trinidad is now one of them.
Just a few weeks ago, Dr Hadeed began conducting PET scans at the new private medical facility in El Socorro, Alexandra Imaging Centre.
Alexandra Imaging Centre opened its doors on October 1, 2019 with a heavy patient waiting list.
Located at the corner of Churchill-Roosevelt Highway and Don Miguel Road, El Socorro, Alexandra Imaging Centre is now the first facility to offer this in the region with the latest technology, clearer images and shorter scan times.
“Whole body scans are done in a shorter time period using the power of the GE Discovery PET-CT Hybrid Scanner, to deliver unmatched spatial resolution and superior fine-detailed images, allowing greater diagnostic accuracy from our Radiologists” Dr Hadeed said.
Previously, doctors had to rely on plain CT and MRI to attain this information, but these are vastly inferior to PET-CT in relation to cancer. Although hugely expensive to set up, requiring massive technical expertise, we wanted to provide a cost-saving, hassle-free solution to the Caribbean population, that eliminated time and monies spent on travelling, visa, accommodation and all other essentials required.
“The closest facility is located in Miami and our pricing is significantly lower, especially in consideration of the additional costs,” he further stated.
Having a PET-CT scan done is simple and involves consultation, fasting, monitoring of blood glucose levels and injection of a radiotracer. Patients are placed in a relaxed environment and attended to by internationally-trained staff. All activities are done in-house with quality and safety protocols followed by the Technologists, Nurses, Radiologists, Nuclear Physicists as with all others.
“While this is good news, the industry still has a long way to go but we are confident we are heading in the right direction,” Dr Hadeed said.
“For the month of October we are offering all patients a discounted price on PET-CT scans. We are committed to improving the health and wellness of all our patients and understand that when cancer is detected and treated early, patients have a much higher chance of survival,” Hadeed added.
Dr Hadeed said at the moment they are trying to keep the pricing very much in line with the US pricing without the additional expenses of travel and accommodation which is around US$15,000-$20,000, but currently, there is an introductory price of $9,500.
He also disclosed that several free cases per month have been allotted to the Ministry of Health for it’s Regional Health Authorities given the fact that at present the ministry actually pays to send critical patients abroad to get it done.
According to Dr Hadeed, cancer has become the biggest burden to human life. It is now the leading cause of death surpassing heart disease. Over the years the incidence of new cases have risen dramatically. The good news, however, is that the Detection and Management of Cancer has also improved significantly. Enter PET-CT Scanning (Positron Emission Tomography-Computed Tomography). This modality for detection of cancers has dramatically changed how we treat cancers.
PET-CT involves scanning a patient after the injection of a specially modified glucose molecule, and is able to detect the cancer at a very early stage.
Not only is this a giant step forward in making the diagnosis, it also allows for the accurate assessment of the progress of the cancer during and after treatment, thus, giving the doctors the advantage of modifying treatment much earlier in the stage of the cancer before it becomes too late and ineffective.