Sandra Rolle

Dying to Live: Cancer Survivor Hails National Health Insurance Bahamas Programme

On a tranquil Saturday afternoon, Sandra Rolle strikes a quietly confident pose for the photographer. She is days away from another birthday and wants to capture this milestone for her daughter and grandkids who live in the United States.

Her slight 5 feet 1 inch stature betrays nothing of her truly resilient nature. After two brushes with death, hearing six dreaded words nearly shattered her world again.

“You have stage three breast cancer,” the doctor had told her.

That was 13 birthdays ago, but Sandra remembers it as if it were yesterday.

“All that came to my mind was ‘I’m gonna die’. Instantly that’s all I felt. ‘I’m gonna die. Cancer is a killer’ and then I just started crying.”

Suddenly, the mother, daughter, sister and friend who had always been there for everyone was the one in need; in need of support, comfort, reassurance and prayers.

Moments later, she made the tough decision to have her breast removed.

“It was a good thing, they said, that I made that decision because everything was confined right there in one sac and the doctor told me had I waited another week or two the sac would have ruptured,” she recalls.

What followed was many agonizing months of recovering from a major surgery as well as chemo-therapy and radiation treatments.

Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer affecting women in The Bahamas. Scientists and medical researchers have been investigating how a specific gene mutation, BRCA, is contributing to its prevalence.

Screenings, like mammograms, have played a critical role in detecting breast cancer at an early stage and can truly save lives. Such procedures for cancer, heart disease, diabetes and sexually transmitted infections are covered under the primary care benefits of the National Health Insurance Bahamas (NHI Bahamas) plan which will start this year. It will be one less expense that patients have to pay for at the point of service. Annual physical exams, specific diagnostic procedures and blood, cholesterol and glucose testing will also be covered under NHI Bahamas.

“NHI Bahamas is about extending to Bahamians who struggle to afford health care costs a measure of comfort in knowing that they can access vital medical procedures, testing and treatments under this plan,” says Dr. Delon Brennen, NHI Bahamas Project Manager.

“These Primary Care services have the potential to positively impact not only individuals who access them but also improve the Bahamian health care system on the national level. By removing the need to pay for these specific services from the equation, it means more Bahamians, many of whom do not currently have health insurance, will be able to get the kind of health care they need,” he adds.

Back then, as a nurse at the Princess Margaret Hospital, Sandra was more knowledgeable than most about what she would likely endure after her cancer diagnosis. Nevertheless, she survived one of the single biggest challenges she has ever faced.

The expenses associated with cancer screenings and treatments is a familiar complaint for Sandra, now Vice President of the Sister Sister Bahamas organization, a support group for Bahamians who have experienced breast cancer. As a survivor, she has helped to counsel other women who faced similar circumstances.

Sandra and many other Bahamians are eagerly anticipating NHI Bahamas.

“It could help save many more lives. NHI Bahamas means a brighter future for my daughter and granddaughter because they will be able to have their screenings done free of charge,” she says.

As she prepares to celebrate another year of life, she is hopeful about the future of the health care system under NHI Bahamas, which will provide modern, affordable and accessible health care services to all Bahamians.

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