God, family and my goals: UWI graduate speaks about beating cancer and staying positive

Andrew Jones will be graduating from the University of the West Indies (UWI) Mona on November 2 with a double major in Management Studies and Entrepreneurial Studies. Like many others just leaving UWI, he is weighing his options and making plans.

But Andrew is not just another graduate. He was diagnosed with cancer at age nineteen. Since then, he has been undergoing treatment, while at the same time completing his studies.

“I thought it was just school stress,” says the 23-year-old, after experiencing back pains and what he thought were asthma attacks. So, he ignored the pain. His mother persuaded him to get a checkup when symptoms worsened. When X rays showed that he had lymphoma Stage 2B (Stage 3 is the aggressive one) he had just finished his exams and started a summer job.

“Someone had to sleep beside me every night, for months. I legit couldn’t breathe!”

— Andrew Jones

“They told me it was inoperable,” he says. He did several months of intense chemotherapy, which made him nauseous. After that, daily radiation sessions for several weeks. It was very hard for him to sleep because of the pressure on his lungs. “Someone had to sleep beside me every night, for months,” he says. “I legit couldn’t breathe!”

“I kept doing my thing, making plans for my future, my family, my girlfriend…”

— Andrew Jones

The after-effects of his treatment were difficult but Andrew emphasizes, “I just couldn’t stay home.” Lying in bed staring at the ceiling was not an option. “I had to go to school! I wasn’t ready to stop.” So Andrew continued his studies. “I kept doing my thing, making plans for my future, my family, my girlfriend…” He just kept going.

He confesses he could not have got through it all without the support of his family — parents, sister and adopted sister – and his girlfriend. “And my friends, my community — they were always supporting me. Running jokes, sending me work and study material.”

It is very important to surround yourself with positive people, he stresses: “Pity is not good!” His family was always telling him to “hurry up and get better”. They encouraged him to keep taking his medicine, even when he felt a little down and didn’t want to. So what of the future? Andrew is having checkups every four months. He is finishing an internship. Now he is considering whether to start an entrepreneurial venture or to pursue a management career.

“Do not ignore the signs your body is sending you.”

— Andrew Jones

What would he say to anyone dealing with a life-threatening illness? Two things. “Have faith,” he says. Positivity is key. Faith helps. Secondly: “Do not ignore the signs your body is sending you.” He attributed his pain to stress for a year and a half. And speaking of stress, “Find a way to de-stress, too.” That can make things worse. He calls his cancer “random” — he had no family history, no lifestyle issues. “It caught me off guard.”

His fight with cancer has changed him. “It has made me more subdued,” he smiles. He pauses. “More…humble, more focused.” He actually had his best grades ever at UWI while he was undergoing chemo. Now, life is all about… “God. My family. My goals.”