September 13, 2005 No one knows what fate has in store as they travel through their life's journeys. Dorothy Nanton Straun was no different.
In 1964, as a young and impressionable 16-year-old, Straun arrived on St. Croix from her birthplace of Antigua in the British West Indies. She had been sent by her family to live with her aunt. Her goal was to continue her education and enter into the nursing profession. How could she know that in 20 years, a devastating disease would change the course of her life and lead her to establishing the Virgin Islands Cancer Society?
Young Straun supplemented her British education by attending night courses at St. Croix Central High's evening adult education classes. In1984, she began her internship at the Charles Harwood Hospital in Christiansted as a nurses' aide. She soon enrolled in nursing classes at the University of the Virgin Islands, St. Croix campus, but her education was suddenly interrupted.
It was 1986, and cancer was a disease that often was not openly talked about. Straun recalled her first encounter with cancer. "I went to visit a friend of mine who told me she discovered a lump in her breast," she said. Her friend, Carol Johnson, had surgery to remove the lump. Johnson taught Straun how to perform self-examinations, and a few months later, Straun discovered a lump in her own breast. It was cancer.
"I was devastated and depressed," Straun said. She would undergo several surgeries to remove that lump and a two more found in her other breast. "I fought the fight and I survived," Straun said. "I had two simple mastectomies."
Discovering that you have cancer is a "scary feeling," Straun said, "but it's better when you have friends and family around who protect and encourage you."
Today, Straun is a 19-year cancer survivor, and the No. 1 advocate for other cancer victims in the Virgin Islands. In 1987, she and Johnson applied for a local charter and started the Cancer Society of the Virgin Islands. Johnson died from breast cancer that same year.
Straun said back in those days, the only support for cancer victims was emotional support from other people who experienced it. "When survivors get together it helps," she said. Straun explained that survivors teaching survivors could give a sense of reality to each other. "They know the pain we have been through, and they know the painful struggle it will take to get back to yourself."
Straun, now a retired certified nurse, dedicates her life to raising money for and awareness of cancer. She said, "I push the Cancer Association to help others." Straun said she has seen a difference in the public's perception of cancer; it's no longer "in the closet."
"People are doing early detection. There are a lot more survivors," Straun said. The public takes advantage of the free mammogram screenings, and there is a lot more education and awareness about the disease. However, she said, more men need to get tested for prostate cancer.
"They are afraid of the examination, but they need to know that prostate cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in American men, and the majority of its victims are black men."
Straun was this years' committee chairperson for the Relay for Life held on Sept. 3 at the St. Croix Educational Complex track. She helped bring together more than 130 cancer survivors to be honored at the event. Each wore an orange t-shirt to signify their status as cancer survivors. Among the group were seven children – five boys and two girls.
Straun said as long as she is able to, she will continue to fight against cancer. "God gave me the strength to carry on, and I will continue to fight the fight."
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