May 15, 2015
Caribbean women urged to embrace self care, self-preservation

by Jason Browne

A lecture which spanned the gamut of modern women’s issues, filtered through the experience of a multi-disciplined young woman, was the focal point of celebrations of the St Vincent Girls’ High School to mark its 104th anniversary.

Delivering {{more}}a presentation entitled “Empowering Caribbean women to embrace self care and self-preservation,” Dr Arusha Campbell-Chambers, a member of the Class of 1993, presented to those gathered at Frenches House on May 7, tips on healthy living, ranging from the physical to social, psychological and spiritual realms.

Campbell-Chambers expressed her gratitude to her past teachers and schoolmates and conveyed excitement and respect for the nation’s oldest girls’ secondary education institution. Using the occasion to recall March 8th’s International Women’s Day commemoration, she stressed the importance of Caribbean women in democracy and the struggles of women which persist today. The need for women to be empowered to move “through difficulties to the heights” was a driving theme throughout her talk.

Speaking of the current state of Caribbean women in the workforce, the 1995 National Scholar cited International Labour Organization (ILO) statistics from a 108-country study, conducted between 2004 and 2012. According to the study, the Caribbean countries of Jamaica, St Lucia and Barbados were among the top 10 countries in terms of the percentage of female managers.

Acknowledging that these advances come with a cost, Campbell-Chambers, a medical doctor, then immersed the audience in an appeal to strive for excellence, remembering the holistic health of the woman above all else. Quoting Audrey Lorde, she declared: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation!”

A dermatologist by speciality, Dr Campbell-Chambers first focused on the skin and the importance of healthy skin in the overall wellness of the total woman. She outlined skincare routines: the use of products, such as toners, moisturizers and astringents; a healthy diet full of fruits, vegetables and lean meats; de-stressing and sleeping habits. She also recommended regular exercise and seeking medical advice where needed.

Moving on to general health risks prevalent in women, Dr Campbell-Chambers pointed to heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol as major risk factors. The audience was urged to employ 20-30 minutes of exercise a day and to monitor their Body Mass Index (BMI).

Cancer then became the focus of the talk, with its prevalence and impact not lost on any in the room. For breast cancer, she recommended early screening and annual mammograms for women over 50. By Dr Campbell-Chambers’ account, “as much as 97 per cent of the earliest stage of breast cancer in women can be cured, so early detection is key.” Annual cervical examinations and pap smear tests for cervical cancer and the detection of Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) markers were her next suggestion. Three years after beginning sexual activity or the age 21, which ever comes earlier, is the recommended start date for such exams. Colon cancer, with its high familial history, was also highlighted, but the evening’s speaker stressed a 90 per cent cure rate with early detection and urged that anyone in the audience with diagnosed relatives should start the screening process at an age 10 years prior to the relative’s diagnosis. She also suggested regular colonoscopies for women over 50.

As she wrapped up her discussion on physical health, Campbell-Chambers recommended regular thyroid, bone density, eye and dental exams. She advised that “despite our seemingly endless to-do lists, we should not neglect to take care of our own fearfully made bodies.”

In concluding her lecture, the wife and mother of two urged women to fight negativity, seek optimism and make emotions work for them. In seeking to counter negatives, she recommended controlling the impact of negatives in the media, writing down one’s blessings and affirming one’s self every day. She advised women to work “at adopting positive attitudes, positive emotions, positive coping mechanisms, de-stressing and gratitude.”

Dr Campbell-Chambers, a former teacher at her Alma Mater and a gold medal Duke of Edinburgh awardee, added that women can “be conquerors, and be well on [their] way to achieving happiness and emotional well-being.”

The very well-received presentation ended with an affirmation by Campbell-Chambers of the importance of spiritual health, even in the midst of pressures that make it “unpopular or politically incorrect to air one’s religious views.” She quoted Philippians 4:13, itself an affirmation of strength, and thanked retired GHS teacher Sylvia Jack, who taught Bible classes at school. She also expressed appreciation to both major political parties in the nation, for bringing into law the Domestic Violence Act of 2015, urging all affected persons to “utilize the enhanced protections and mechanisms.”

In closing, Dr Campbell-Chambers, now resident in Jamaica, acknowledged the presence and influence of her parents: prominent attorney Parnel Campbell QC and Bishop Juliette Campbell and implored her audience to think positively, stay strong and be happy.