Tuesday, May 20, 2008
MUSIC ICON, BYRON LEE, HAS CANCER
SOCA 'TIL I DIE - Byron Lee says cancer won't stop him
By Jonique Gaynor, Staff Reporter
His battle with bladder cancer, made worse by the unpleasant effects of chemotherapy, is not enough to keep 73-year-old soca monarch Byron Lee away from his true love.
Although his doctors encouraged him to rest for a year, Lee simply could not stay away from Jamaica Carnival, and especially not the road march.
"Music is a vitamin," he said, "The doctors say I'm a crazy fellow, but they don't understand what it means to me. The road is my life, so I will treat it that way. If I have to die, what better way than on the band playing Tiney Winey. There's nothing better to me than playing. The adrenaline pumps because I'm doing what I love."
He continued: "This year, I was in the middle of chemo, but when I went on top of the truck and saw the people, I forgot about that until I got home. Now I'm paying for it."
Lee was diagnosed with stage three cancer in November 2006 and did surgery a year later. This caused him to miss a December 2006 performance in China, the land of his forefathers. Lucky to have caught the disease before it got to stage four, Lee immediately underwent chemotherapy. He told THE STAR, "We did the chemo, but it didn't work 100 per cent. One or two cells got away."
Although a CAT scan, bone scan and biopsy, told him that the treatment had been successfully completed, a decision to do a PET scan may have been the one that saved his life as this revealed that a few cancer cells had survived. "I'm so lucky. God has blessed me," he said, "There are two little dots that they're trying to eradicate now."
Lee left the island for Miami yesterday, both to work and to seek treatment. He is scheduled to do another PET scan next Tuesday and Wednesday to "see where the cancer is, where it's heading and if the treatment is working." He said doctors have advised him to rest for two consecutive months and although this might seem impossible with so many shows, he has delegated most of the physical work to his 14-member team
Lee, who also suffers from kidney stones, said of his disease: "It is very rare, but it is getting prevalent. A lot of people have it but don't know. I would encourage people to go to the doctor.
It is more prevalent in men and it creeps up on you without warning.
It is an aggressive cancer. My cancer was stage three, but it could have been fatal at stage four. That's why I'm not taking any chances. I've got to take every precaution so no cell gets away." He said in most cases, as with his, the only symptom is blood in the urine and problems urinating.
But even while fighting a potentially terminal illness, Lee's main focus is on providing top-quality entertainment for the Jamaican people. He said: "What thrills me is when I look behind the truck and see the people and not one person has a scowl. To see people who don't know each other come together like that is a phenomenon."
Less than a month after Jamaica Carnival 2008, Lee is already planning for the 20th anniversary, which will be celebrated next year. He plans to introduce mini-road marches to all 14 parishes and revive the Kiddies Carnival. Though Jamaica Carnival's main distinguishing factor is the concept of 'Affordable Carnival Attire' (ACA), Lee is planning to introduce a 'pretty mas' aspect as well. This is to accommodate those who appreciate the 'glitz' and 'bling'. Lee was quick to point out, however, that these costumes will still be very affordable. "I don't think you have to tell people to pay $10,000 for costumes," he said, "So, next year, some people will be in pretty mas, but it still won't cost $10,000. I want people to be able to say I played mas with Byron Lee. It is called Jamaica Carnival and that can't be if only a section of the people can participate."
He continued: "I was in Trinidad for 36 years and it was phenomenal. Regardless of their profession, nationality, the people came out as one. I would like to see our motto played out. The rich and poor, boy and master and the maid and her boss can come out as one."
So strong is his love for carnival, that he has made provisions for its continuation in his will. He said: "If tomorrow morning, God forbid, I pass away, carnival will still be there. There are two things that I put in my will. They must never change the route. They must start by Liguanea Prep and then when they get to Andrews Memorial, cut the music so the patients can see it and at least clap their hands. They must never abandon Half-Way Tree as this is the meeting point for uptown, downtown and midtown."
Another of his requests is that carnival never be 'de-Jamaicanised'. He said, "We have to try to make costumes available, so the people are not left out."
He said the support of the Jamaica Tourist Board could do much to push carnival forward. "Jamaica is magic, carnival is magic, both of them together - phenomenal," he said.
He is also confident that his daughters would carry on his legacy. Lee, married for 44 years, said his wife, though she would like to see him rest more, has given in and travels with him. "She makes sure I take my medication."
When not focused on carnival, Lee travels with his band, Byron Lee and the Dragonaires. He told THE STAR that the band has about 33 jobs this year. "We've been entertaining people for 50 years and we have another 50 years to go," he said.