Giovanna Watson refused to let colon cancer get the best of her when doctors told her she had the disease last year. She was 37, and had never heard of anyone her age having the condition.
Adamant that she was a fighter, not a victim, she underwent 18 months of treatment here and in Boston. She endured two surgeries, eight IV chemotherapy treatments, 26 bouts of radiation, took more than 500 chemo pills and suffered months of painful side effects.
The 39-year-old has now been given the all-clear, although she still requires annual CT scans to check for tumours.
She’s now determined to use her experiences to help other patients — and reinforce the message that cancer is not necessarily a death sentence.
“I decided to share my diagnosis and journey with family and friends through social media and radio interviews and live life the best I could,” she said. “I mainly did it so everyone could learn with me what the ‘C’ word entailed.
“Afterwards I heard consistently from others that I should do something with all of my Facebook posts and pictures because people felt that it would help others.”
Ms Watson is now writing a book about her journey, Dear Cancer, Let Me Introduce Myself.
“My goal is to have the book on coffee tables in waiting rooms and healthcare facilities around the world because there wasn’t anything positive for me to read before getting treatments,” she said.
The book details the trauma of a cancer diagnosis, the strength you need to battle the disease, and the emotional roller coaster that patients face. It also includes timelines of appointments, tests and public events, before and after pictures with her colostomy bag, a poem, Facebook posts, a chart showing how her body was affected, lessons learnt and the reactions of family and friends.
Ms Watson said the latter was important to her because “it’s easy to have a book just about me, but I didn’t do it alone”.
“First, I was very public with my diagnosis, so it’s an exercise that allows everyone to see that it’s not easy to write your thoughts down, let alone articulate them to the world,” she added.
“Some people were able push through their emotions, good, bad or in between, and contribute to the book. I’m so proud of them because by doing that it will give everyone else a different perspective that I couldn’t bring alone.
“Second, it will help to bring closure and, third, this will be our legacy because collectively we were able to create something beautiful out of something negative.”
Ms Watson has also launched her own Facebook page, www.facebook.com/hellocancerbermuda, and a website, www.hellocancer.org.
She is hoping the website will be a comprehensive source of information for cancer patients and their families.
As well as outlining her experiences, it contains a calendar of events and details resources such as support organisations.
She intends to expand it to include resources people can utilise without leaving home, such as cleaners, nurses, fitness trainers, dog walkers and food-delivery services.
“I also want it to include organisations that help those without insurance or you can find out where you can rent medical equipment,” she said.
“Even if you do hair or nails at home let me know — sometimes we still want to treat ourselves.
“I was fortunate enough to have support but some don’t.
“It’s more than just having a hotline to call but having access to an easy but well-rounded support system.”
She also wants to work with groups such as Vitals, founded by Janice Mullings for nurses and caregivers.
“Caregivers deal with many cases every day that can take a toll on them emotionally, so it’s important for them to know that there are groups out there to support them as well,” she said.
The website also shares images of Ms Watson’s journey.
“I took pictures at all my appointments and took fun ones with my radiation team to mark the end of each week of treatment,” she said.
“I took a lot of pictures and recorded everything because people usually talk about their experiences after the fact and not during.”
Ms Watson is also aiming to set up an empowerment support club.
“I didn’t have anyone to talk to who had similar experiences,” she said. “For example, I was cold-sensitive. One day I didn’t have any groceries so my aunt took me to the store. I had on sneakers, pants, a sweater, jacket and scarf just to walk into the store. It was only August. I wasn’t in there ten minutes and by the time I got to the register I almost passed out. It was a very scary moment.
“My goal is to create an eight-week support club for all types of cancers. Eventually people with similar types of cancers will network and could have their own night of the week. But we have to start somewhere.
“I’m looking for a venue to hold meetings and people who are looking for something new and creative to break up the monotony of treatments and surgeries.”
Ms Watson is very thankful to the staff at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital for their support, and for allowing her to do the book cover and promotional video in the new oncology department.
She is working with SJDWorld on the graphic designs for the book and is exploring publishing options.
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