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Roof fall alerted Ernest to bone marrow cancer

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Ernest Signor is working out again after a battle with bone marrow cancer (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)
Cancer survivor Ernest Signor (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)
Ernest Signor, shortly before his accident. He is pictured with his sons David and Ernest Jr repairing their neighbour’s roof after Hurricane Humberto in September 2019 (Photograph supplied)
The rod placed in Ernest Signor’s arm after bone marrow cancer was discovered there (Photograph supplied)
Doctors discovered cancer had eaten away a chunk of bone in Ernest Signor’s left arm (Photograph supplied)

Sinclair “Ernest” Signor believes Hurricane Humberto quite possibly saved his life.

The Category 3 storm battered Bermuda in 2019, leaving most of the island without power and damaging numerous buildings.

Mr Signor, the owner of Solid Rock Construction, was helping secure a neighbour’s damaged roof when his ladder slipped on September 19.

“I threw myself onto the roof, to stop myself falling eight feet,” the 60-year-old St George’s resident said. “I fell onto my left arm and hurt it."

An X-ray revealed a large chunk was missing from his humerus, a long bone that runs from the shoulder to the elbow. Bone marrow cancer was discovered to be the culprit.

“Nobody can say when it started and until I fell on it I didn’t feel anything at all,” he said. “And nobody in my family has a history of this type of cancer.”

He shared his story as part of World Cancer Day observations in hopes of raising funds for Bermuda Cancer and Health Centre. The Point Finger Road charity is down $500,000 in donations due to Covid-19.

Mr Signor believes it was “divine intervention” that saved him. Were it not for the storm, the multiple myeloma likely would not have been found until it was too late or, in a best-case scenario, the bone wore through completely and snapped.

“I said I am not getting chemotherapy because I have heard bad things about it,” he said. “I am not doing all those tests and treatments. I was just going to let this run its course and die when my time comes.”

His wife, Beatrice, talked him out of it.

Mr Signor had ten weeks of radiation at Bermuda Cancer and Health before surgeons operated on his arm at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in Boston. He then returned home for eleven months of chemotherapy before heading back to Massachusetts for a bone-marrow transplant at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center in Burlington.

Losing fitness was one of the hardest things for him. He had always carefully watched what he ate, and exercised religiously. Going from lifting 40lb dumbbells each day to barely being able to lift a shampoo bottle was difficult.

“Once we went overseas to Beth Israel to have a rod put in my arm, it took me almost a year to do physio to get the arm reinstated,” he said.

He still cannot lift his left arm above shoulder height, but he is working on it through exercise and massage.

Mr Signor is able to do push-ups and is part of a virtual spinning class although he as torn ligaments are a side effect of the steroids he took during treatment, he is moving gently.

Talking to other patients with multiple myeloma, he thinks he was lucky.

“Some have it in their hip, their spine or their leg,” he said. “I can still function with it in my arm.”

His relatives, along with members of Richard Allen AME, helped him through what was a difficult time in his life.

“Not only did it test my faith it increased it ten-fold,” Mr Signor said. “I have reached out to all my prayer partners and church folk and asked them to pray for me. But I don’t want to go through this like a pity party person. I want to be a shining example of what God can do, and what determination can do. Some people give up and get depressed. I am not that person.”

He finished having chemotherapy shortly before his bone-marrow transplant on November 19.

Again, he was lucky. Thirty per cent of people rely on donated bone marrow; doctors were able to use his own.

“I had never hit rock bottom before,” he said of the way the surgery impacted him. “But I felt like garbage. I had no energy or appetite for five or six days.”

Ultimately, the procedure went so well he was released from the hospital a week early. Eight weeks after recuperating in the US, he was back in Bermuda.

His arm is totally healed, and the cancerous blood cells have disappeared.

He is grateful for all that Bermuda Cancer and Health Centre did to help him get there.

“They always treated me like a celebrity,” he said. “They were always there and encouraged me. I would love to help them in any way I can. At least 80 people in Bermuda die from cancer each year. Why isn’t there more of a panic about that?”

He often donated money to the facility’s annual Relay for Life event in May before his cancer was discovered. He and his family planned to take part last year however the event was cancelled by the pandemic.

“They have said they are going to hold the event this year,” he said. “We will definitely take part.”

His hope is that his story inspires other people going through cancer.

“Just because you are afflicted with something doesn’t mean you will have it for life, and it doesn’t mean it will take your life or destroy your life,” he said. “This experience has enhanced my life. My mindset now is completely different. My connection with people around the world is different. My focus on the ministry has accelerated.”

Registration for this year’s Relay for Life can be found at runsignup.com/Race/BM/TBC/RelayforLife?remMeAttempt=.

Donations can be made at www.cancer.bm.

Multiple myeloma

Multiple myeloma forms from cancerous cells that build up in the bone marrow and form tumours in many bones of the body.

Age is the largest risk factor for multiple myeloma. Most people develop the disease in their mid-60s.

Black males are most at risk for developing multiple myeloma.

There are approximately 40 people in Bermuda with the disease.

Typical symptoms include bone pain, especially in the spine or chest; nausea; constipation; excessive thirst; weight loss.

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Published February 04, 2021 at 8:00 am (Updated February 03, 2021 at 9:43 am)

Roof fall alerted Ernest to bone marrow cancer

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