New radiation oncology centre is a ‘game-changer’

Woman of colour smiling at camera

It was a check Ari Underwood had done many times.

“I had been doing self-exams from the age of 16,” said Underwood, an elementary school teacher at Camana Bay's Village Montessori school. “I suffered from cysts.”

One day in June of 2021, she felt a lump that seemed irregular, and so she made an appointment with her doctor to have it checked. That led to an ultrasound, mammogram and biopsy, followed by the bad news – it was cancer and it would require both chemotherapy and radiation therapy. In the past, chemotherapy could be administered in Cayman, but the only options available were overseas if radiation was necessary.

Underwood is one of many Cayman Islands residents who have had to put their lives on hold in order to seek radiation therapy overseas. However, the new Gene Thompson Radiotherapy Centre and its first phase that includes state-of-the art oncology radiation therapy technology means that Cayman residents now have a local option for such treatment.

“The fact that you can now get radiation [in Cayman], it’s a game-changer,” Underwood said. “You don’t have to travel, you don’t get as stressed… [the centre] is a blessing for this island and the people on this island who suffer with cancer.”

On 16 March, Health City Cayman Islands officially opened its new oncology radiation centre with a ribbon-cutting ceremony that many hope will mean the end of cancer patients' needing to travel overseas for treatment.

Underwood, who was diagnosed with Stage 1 ductal carcinoma breast cancer, says access to such an option will make a huge difference in the lives of cancer patients. She knows firsthand the difficulties of seeking radiation treatment in the U.S., and the extra costs incurred.

“I was going to go to Miami at first, as Baptist was in my [insurance] network,” Underwood said, “but I would have had to stay there for a month, with multiple rounds of radiation. It would have meant a hotel, getting food and other expenses.”

In the end, she went to Austin, Texas, to a facility that was out of her network, but near to her brother's home, meaning she had a place to stay and a car to borrow. There were extra costs, but having a family member for support helped her make the decision. While that was the best option for her at the time, Underwood believes the experience of getting local treatment would have eased what was already a difficult situation. She hopes having this facility will make the road to recovery that much easier for those in Cayman.

This article was originally published in the May 2023 print edition of Camana Bay Times.

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