Cop with cancer heads to India for surgery, still needs $

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Cancer patient PC Zelia Castello (right) musters a smile with family members who accompanied her to the Piarco airport, early on Sunday morning, as she left for India for bone-marrow transplant surgery.

EVEN as she left for India on Sunday morning for life-saving surgery, police constable Zelia Christiana Castello, 27, who is battling cancer, made a last minute appeal for help.

“Please TT, my life is in your hands. Without the funds to complete the surgery, I could die.”

Castello left TT on Sunday morning, bound for India, with a mixed sense of optimism and trepidation.

Optimism that the bone marrow transplant surgery she must undergo will be successful, but apprehension that the money needed to save her life will not be sufficient or get to her on time.

Woefully short of the $1.4 million to offset the cost of her treatment, Castello said the Apollo Hospital in India has bent backwards to take her in because her situation is dire.

The money collected through fundraisers, a First Citizens bank account: 2283611, plus US$3,000 through a GoFundMe account, is only enough to start the process.

The disease has left the mother of one unable to work as a Municipal Police officer at the Siparia Regional Corporation where she was last assigned. After she got ill, she was told her insurance policy does not cover cancer.

“I have been under some financial strain because cancer medication is expensive.”

First diagnosed in January 2021 with cancer of the lymphatic system, a part of the body’s germ-fighting immune system, Castello was being treated at the San Fernando General Hospital (SFGH).

However, her cancer progressed to stage four, requiring urgent bone marrow transplant, which is not available in TT.

“Chemo puts the cancer to sleep. It stays in the body for one month. As soon as the chemo wears off, the cancer wakes back up. My last treatment was eight weeks ago and doctors said there is nothing more they can do for me here.

“All the symptoms have returned: body pains, muscle spasms. I can’t even hold my spoon to eat. My hands shake like a leaf.

“My lymph nodes are swollen, my neck, everywhere is starting to swell up. I can’t hold on much longer, I really need to leave for treatment,” she said. She revealed having to cancel arrangements to leave in early September, owing to the lack of funds.

“Without the treatment, “there is every indication that I could die.”

Her Point Fortin family woke up early on Sunday to pray with her and send her off with optimism, that somehow she will receive the financial help for the surgery.

The first procedure she will need when she gets to India, she said, is high-dose salvage chemotherapy, which will be done privately.

A US$15,000 down payment had to be made for this aggressive form of chemotherapy before the transplant can be done. This involves removing the patient’s bone marrow, clearing out the cancer cells and re-implanting it.