RYAN Bowen was days away from starting second form at Jamaica College (JC) when he began experiencing severe pain to the neck.
So severe was the pain that the 14-year-old could not turn his head.
After two months of numerous testings, painkillers that seemed to have lost their effect, and an inability to attend school, Bowen was diagnosed with stage-two nasopharyngeal cancer.
Nasopharyngeal cancer is a disease that starts in the nasopharynx – the upper part of the throat behind the nose and near the base of the skull.
“His neck started hurting him. But I never took it seriously,” Bowen’s mother, Marcella Buckeridge, told the Jamaica Observer in an interview from their Spanish Town home on Wednesday. “But it started getting worse, his neck even looks twisted like an S, so I had to take him to the Spanish Town Hospital. But it was a public holiday (National Heroes’ Day) so they never looked after him. They said I should take him to the health centre.
There, she said, an X-Ray was done and he was sent to the Kingston Public Hospital (KPH) for further tests.
Two months later, after sending away samples of tissues to be tested, the cancer was discovered.
“It’s very stressing,” Buckeridge said. “Very, very stressing. Three days straight I didn’t eat and I couldn’t sleep.”
She said that during the waiting period while the tests were being done and before the doctors confirmed Bowen’s condition, her son attended school but had to stop a few days later as a result of the intense pain.
The youngster, too, admitted that the situation is taking a toll on him, especially since he has been forced to stay away from school. However, he has accepted that the matter is out of his hands and has great hopes of overcoming the illness.
His dream is to become a scientist or an entrepreneur.
“I feel like I can fight this and move on to achieving my dream,” Bowen said. “I just need to do the radiotherapy now, because I
have completed the chemotherapy.”
Despite the cancer, he said that he tries as often as he can to get notes from classmates so that he can keep up as much as possible with what is happening in school. This, however, was hindered a few weeks ago after he lost his cellular phone and has been unable to make contact with his peers.
Bowen was given three sets of chemotherapy, each of which saw him spending eight days at the Hope Institute in Papine, St Andrew, a non-profit, non-governmental organisation set up by the Jamaica Cancer Society.
“I know he has made a lot of progress because the swelling is not there. The pain is not there,” Bowen’s mother said.
“I just want him to get better to live his life and fulfil his dream. He has high hopes, because there was this little girl on TV who died from cancer recently, and his response was ‘it’s not going to kill me’,” she said laughing.
“Where it is located is a delicate area. The brain, the eye, the spinal cord can be affected. But he is not feeling any pain now. Man, this child used to feel a lot of pain, the pain would drive me crazy… a lot of pain – headaches, pain in the neck and the neck was swollen. I am really thankful, even though you get a lot of discouragement from people about the chemotherapy, but it really helps him,” she said.
But Buckeridge said that the treatment was not easy on her son, as the first treatment left him in a state of uselessness.
“I looked at him and I said to myself, ‘Jesus Christ him not going to make it’,” she said. “He was so weak. But thank God he is feeling much better now.”
Having done the required amount of chemotherapy, Bowen is set to begin the radiotherapy. However, this poses a challenge for the family which is unsure of when this will be done as they were given an invoice for a little under $2 million for radiotherapy treatment.
This, Buckeridge said, they are unable to afford and are in the process of seeking help so that her son can be treated as soon as possible.
“As soon as I get the money he can start it,” she said. “They will set the date as soon as the money is paid and hopefully he will be back in school by September.
“Sometimes I feel like I am going to pass out,” the mother of three said. “I worry a lot because it’s not like he was sick before. It’s like it happened so sudden. And I did not expect that word … cancer. When I saw his neck getting twisted I believed it was some muscle problem but there was this great pain and nothing could help him. He cried a lot. He fainted at KPH one day when I took him there before we found out it was cancer,” Buckeridge said, shaking her head.
But while Bowen has been fighting off cancer for the past seven months, two weeks ago another problem developed.
“I started feeling some pain in my side and I had fever for about three days and the pain wouldn’t go away,” Bowen explained, as he sat on a chair, seemingly staring into space at times.
“So I went to the doctor and they said it was appendicitis, and that they wouldn’t bother to do any more tests but just take it out. They said the infection could spread so they took it out the same day,” Bowen explained.
This proved another source of distress for the family.
“Even now I cry daily – every day,” Buckeridge said. “Last week when he did the surgery I had a very hard time signing the papers … very hard time, because when I took him to KPH I had to hold him up because he could not walk by himself. So knowing that he was so weak and not having enough blood and going into surgery, I had a very hard time. It was the hardest thing for me to do. Eye water wet up the papers when I was signing it,” she recalled.
Buckeridge explained, too, that when he first started crying for abdominal pains she thought it was a side effect from the cancer, only to find out that it was something else.
“The doctors said that they had no option but to remove it. He spent three days in the hospital after that surgery,” she said.
Buckeridge said that it is only over the past week that her son has started recovering enough from the surgery to walk around, bathe and dress himself.
“Praise God, he can bathe himself now and he has begun to walk!” she shouted.
As the family pleads for help, Buckeridge said that the situation is even more stressful because while she works at a pharmacy her small weekly income is far from enough to properly care for her son and provide him with the necessary medications, needed, especially since Bowen’s stepfather, who is a carpenter, is currently unemployed and spends his days desperately seeking a job so that he, too, can help out.
“So it is extremely difficult,” Buckeridge said. “The travelling is very expensive because to travel up and down I have to charter a taxi for he is weak and cannot walk. Sometimes you call a taxi to take him to the hospital and they don’t take into consideration that it is a sick child. So each trip will run me $4,000 from here to Kingston. Even to feed him is very expensive because he cannot eat everything,” she said.
But she said that help is on the way.
“Help is on the way,” Buckeridge said confidently. “We have contacted agencies such as the CHASE Fund, Ministry of Health and Jamaica National Building Society. So help is on the way.”
Buckeridge said that those wishing to contribute to her son’s cause can do so at the National Commercial Bank (NCB) Ryan Bowen cancer fund, account number 371-382 -879.