Cancer survivor organizes ‘healing hope’ fundraiser

By Lincoln DePradine

From Left:Letna Allen-Rowe and her daughter, Yanique Williams

Jamaica-born Letna Allen-Rowe, a businesswoman and an author, is a cancer survivor with strong optimism that a cure for the disease will be discovered.

“It might not happen in my lifetime, but I’m sure, as there is a God, it will happen,’’ Allen-Rowe told the Caribbean Camera last Sunday at a health care fundraiser in Scarborough.

The “Ms Letna Healing Hope Fundraising Brunch’’ was inaugurated in 2013 by Allen-Rowe  after  she received treatment for breast cancer at Scarborough’s Centenary Hospital.

“I have the heart of giving and the desire to make a great difference in the lives of cancer patients and survivors,’’ said Allen-Rowe, founding-president of the “Healing Hope’’ organizing committee. “I just want to thank God for giving me the strength each and every day to do what I do.’’

Over the years, the brunch has raised more than $50,000 that have been donated to cancer care in Canada and the Caribbean.

This year’s event – the seventh edition – was a variety program that was supported by a wide cross-section of community members and political representatives, including Toronto Mayor John Tory.

“When people like Letna step up, people who themselves have benefitted from good health care that oftentimes saves their lives, I want to be here to say thank you to them for the fact that they have taken an interest in making sure others can receive good care, especially in Scarborough but also in other parts of the world,’’ Tory said in an interview.

“I just want to say thank you to Miss Letna for drawing attention to this and to all the people attending this fundraising event,’’ he added.

“Scarborough has had a significant underinvestment in healthcare, relative to other parts of the city and the province. While it doesn’t make up for it, having events like this is great, seeing people in community getting behind the Scarborough Health Network.  I hope it sends the message that the 625,000 people who live in Scarborough need more investment in healthcare.’’

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in a message commending the “Healing Hope Fundraising’’ committee, told members that “by supporting critical services and treatment, you are also building stronger and healthier communities. I believe this type of generosity truly embodies what it means to be Canadian’’.

Sunday’s brunch included live entertainment and addresses from cancer survivor and Member of Parliament, Salma Zahid, and by Jesse Delaney, a Rouge Valley Medical Centre doctor, who says he is “passionate about developing a more comprehensive palliative care service’’ for cancer patients.

Allen-Rowe said the event’s fundraising target was at least $10,000, with $5,000 earmarked for the Scarborough Health Network (SHN). (Centenary Hospital, Scarborough General Hospital and Scarborough Grace Hospital comprise the SHN.)

Of the $10,000, the Jamaica Cancer Society will  receive $2,500. “As a Jamaican , the Society is dear to my heart.It offer a mammogram program, where ladies can come in and get free mammogram done,’’ Allen-Rowe said.

The remaining $2,500, she explained, will be donated for pediatric cancer care at the Georgetown Public Hospital in Guyana. The hospital was chosen, Allen-Rowe said, because of Guyana-born Pam Joseph, a member of the “Healing Hope Fundraising Brunch’’ committee.

“I said to her it’s unfair for me to be raising funds for Canada and Jamaica and you’re working so hard on the committee to get things done.’’

Allen-Rowe  who has lost family members, including her mother and a sister, to  cancer, said

“everywhere I turn, the disease is there, but we’re going to find a way to get rid of it.’’

Allen-Rowe  also spoke of the support she received from her daughter. Yanique Williams, who is on the organizing committee of the brunch.

“Yanique has been behind me 24/7  since I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011 and she’s never stopped praying,’’ Allen-Rowe said. “She’s my one and only baby and one of the hardest working young ladies I have ever known.’’

Allen-Rowe said she’s  now “cancer free’’ and  “very, very grateful’’ to the doctors and the rest of staff at Centenary Hospital where she was a patient.

“I’m doing great. I feel good in my body,’’ she said.

“Cancer is not a death sentence anymore, unless you find it at stage 4. But if they find it early, as they found it early in me, there is the possibility  that you could be living a much longer life. Instead of dying three months after you’re diagnosed, you could live up to 20, 30, 40 years.’’