Take Charge

Fears of Cancer and Storms Take a Toll on Moffitt Patient

September 15, 2019

Dorian Satellite imagery of Category 5 Hurricane Dorian on Sept. 1, 2019. [National Hurricane Center]

By Ann Miller Baker


Fearing a diagnosis of endometrial cancer, Karen McIntosh won’t know for sure what she’s facing until her next appointment later this month at Moffitt Cancer Center.

McIntosh’s damaged seaside home, as seen from the air.
McIntosh’s damaged seaside home, as seen from the air.

But right now, that does not top her worry list. A second storm is taking aim at her home.

A resident of Green Turtle Cay, McIntosh left the Bahamian Abaco Islands just days ahead of Hurricane Dorian’s landfall there. Her family urged her to leave, fearing she would miss her Sept. 6 appointment with Moffitt specialists if she stayed. McIntosh and her husband, Luke, are usually in charge of the evacuation center whenever Green Turtle Cay is under storm threat, so she wasn’t easily convinced to go.

Damage inside Abaco Ceramics, McIntosh’s business.
Damage inside Abaco Ceramics, McIntosh’s business.

Now facing a protracted stay at her daughter Jillian’s house in Riverview, McIntosh has been glued to news coverage of storm damage at home. She had no word of her husband and son until three days after Dorian’s landfall.

“Right now, I have such joy in my heart knowing that all of my family is still alive,” McIntosh says. Husband Luke and son Andrew rode out the storm in a small closet under a stairway in a friend’s house. When the couple finally reconnected by satellite phone, Luke told his wife there was nothing to come home to. “But he said we have more than others on the island,” McIntosh added. At least the walls of their two-story home, which he built, are still standing. He’s a contractor with plans already underway to rebuild it minus the second floor. McIntosh’s Abaco Ceramics shop on Treasure Cay, on the other hand, is probably a total loss.

McIntosh and daughter Jillian
McIntosh and daughter Jillian

The tight-knit island community of Green Turtle Cay set up a storm check-in page on What’s App and were able to account for all 550 residents after Dorian, says McIntosh. Many have now evacuated. The horrors they’ve seen, including bodies among the storm debris on neighboring cays, will no doubt haunt them as they struggle to recover. McIntosh worries about more damage from a new storm, Humberto, buffeting the islands this weekend. And she fears it may be a year before she sees her home again.

In the meantime, she’ll become one of some 350 patients treated at Moffitt over the last 12 months from throughout the Caribbean, 29 of them from the Bahamas alone.  Martha Sanz, manager of Moffitt’s International Referral Services, anticipates her staff will handle an uptick in the number of calls from possible patients in the storm-impacted areas, just as they did in the weeks and months following Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. “Patients come to us from all the corners of the world,” she explains.  “Not only do they have the anxiety of facing cancer but also face being away from home, a different language, different culture, and all this can be difficult.   To think some of our patients have lost their homes and have to rebuild their lives is just heartbreaking, and my team and I work closely with other Moffitt departments to do our part and provide as much comfort as possible during these trying times.”

Moffitt is doing what it can to provide relief on the ground to those impacted by Hurricane Dorian. Collection bins have been placed across the campus for team members to drop off much-needed supplies like tarps, batteries, bug spray and sunscreen. A blood drive on the Moffitt campus specifically for Hurricane Dorian victims has been coordinated with OneBlood for Sept. 26. Moffitt’s Community Relations Department is gathering names of volunteers, both to pack donations and to potentially volunteer for medical mission trips to the islands in the near future.

For those interested in making financial contributions, Moffitt is suggesting direct donations to the Red Cross or the Hope and Health Project, which purchases medications and other medical supplies for transport to the Bahamas.