Survivor travels the globe to show how cancer victims are linked
Updated 12:35 pm, Saturday, May 21, 2011
Cannula. The word is foreign to most, save those in the medical field.
But for professional photographer Carolyn Taylor, the small tube used to administer chemotherapy is all too familiar.
So when she and her husband learned the cancer hospital they were visiting in Tanzania was out of cannulas, they rushed out and purchased as many as possible.
"Some of these people traveled some five days on a bus and couldn't get their chemo," she said. "They would have to take a taxi or walk to the pharmacy."
Taylor knows firsthand the suffering brought on by cancer.
In April 2006, when she was 43, Taylor was diagnosed with Stage 1 ovarian and endometrial cancer.
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"I was incredibly lucky," she said. "Generally, ovarian cancer is not diagnosed until the last stages."
Three years later, she found herself traveling across the globe to learn how cancer was tackled in developing countries.
It all started with a "random email" she received in 2009.
British Airways was offering a small business grant to women. The prize: 10 free flights to any of the airline's destinations. The challenge: Explain how the flights would help the winner's business.
Taylor, who works in advertising shooting food and beverages, quickly scribbled down the three required essays.
"I know that photography is universal, and I wanted to use my talent and skills to show the face of cancer throughout the world," she said.
Taylor understood that no matter the distance or culture, women suffering from cancer are "intrinsically connected" and face many of the same fears and struggles. She wanted to document these women and their experiences through photography, to show that cancer "has no borders."
She said her essays just poured out of her in a stream of consciousness.
"I didn't even keep copies," she said. "When I won, I had to call the woman back to have her send me a copy of my own essays."
And so began her 96,000-mile adventure around the world.
She first flew to Geneva, which was helpful in giving her contacts and access into various countries. Her itinerary then included trips to Kenya, Tanzania, Nepal, Bahrain, Israel, Jordan, South Africa, Thailand, Vietnam, India, Italy and back to Switzerland.
According to Taylor, 70 to 80 percent of cancer patients in third-world countries are diagnosed in the later stages, and since those countries don't have the proper treatment, the mortality rate is higher than in more developed countries.
"Residents of Nepal have to leave the country to get cancer treatment, which is only possible if they have the funds to do so. Most do not," she said.
She said Tanzania, a country with a population of 42.7 million, has 100 beds for cancer patients in the entire country.
"What we have [in the U.S.] -- we're so fortunate and lucky," she said.
During her trip, one issue that stood out was the lack of knowledge and awareness.
"While I was in Vietnam, a man came up to me; his dad was a patient, and the man said, `I don't want to catch cancer.'"
Taylor said there is a lot of stigma and myth surrounding cancer in third-world countries.
While in Tanzania, she met a woman who went to a tribal doctor who told her to drink a specific type of camel urine.
"I want to help create an awareness program to educate people about what cancer is and what's needed to fight it," she said. "In the U.S. we know to get checked regularly and that our chances are better with early prognosis."
In addition to the lack of awareness, there's a severe lack of care for cancer patients.
"In Vietnam, there are two to three patients in a bed," she said. "Some are on the floor, and others are outside on lawn chairs. The Vietnam hospital doesn't feed you. The family has to come with food. They don't have the resources."
And with the lack of care comes a lack of hope.
"Some people never met a survivor," she said. "I met a 12-year-old boy in Tanzania who was diagnosed early and had a good prognosis. He couldn't believe I had cancer. `Maybe I'm going to be OK,' he said. When there's so much sadness around you and you see that, it makes a difference."
Since embarking on her journey, Taylor has become more involved in cancer research and support. Through a mutual friend, she became involved with the Connecticut Challenge, a 501(c)3 nonprofit that works with cancer survivors by creating and funding programs and offering resources as well as support.
According to Julia Pemberton, director of communications and network at the Connecticut Challenge, the organization manages issues after remission so survivors will have the best possible plan for long-term wellness.
"When survivors are finished with treatment, the question is `Now what?'" Pemberton said.
Through CT Challenge, survivors can find support groups, hospital programs and everything from nutritionists to yoga classes.
CT Challenge is helping to promote Taylor's latest endeavor, sharing her photographs and her journey with the community.
On June 2, from 7 to 9 p.m., The Connecticut Challenge and the New Canaan Public Library will host "Without Borders: The International Face of Cancer -- Photographs and Stories of Cancer Survivors From Around the World." During the show, Taylor, who lives in South Salem, N.Y., will describe her travels and offer a slideshow of the people she met throughout her journey.
Taylor hopes her discussion will show people that the world "is a really a small place," she said. "I want to raise the level of compassion on a global scale to help other people."
For more information on Taylor, or to learn more about her story, visit www.carolyntaylorphotography.com/blog/
For more information about the CT Challenge, visit www.ctchallenge.org.