Granma | 31 October, 2016
Receiving the news that one has cancer has a significant psychological impact, generating sadness and concern in the patient, as well as family and friends.
For this reason, joining a social circle which has as its purpose supporting those facing the disease is important to maintaining self-esteem and appreciating the value of life until its final moments.
This is what members of the group Alas por la Vida (Wings for Life), breast cancer survivors, told Granma International. The organization was founded in March of 2003, on the proposal of health care professionals at Manuel Fajardo University Hospital’s mastology department.
The principal objective is mitigating the impact of the diagnosis, providing information, offering advice, and promoting health activities, according to Erlinda Disotuar Cobas, retired professor and founder of the group.
She explains, “I learned about this opportunity through a convocation made by Dr. Alexis Cantero Ronquillo, and 17 women attended the first meeting; now we are 500 with branches in all of the country’s provinces. Also participating are family members, caregivers, and healthy young people interested in being well-informed on the issue.”
At first, the group organized activities with patients who had undergone surgery, to ensure their full rehabilitation and promote their reintegration into social activities, without fear or stigma, to enjoy their personal wellbeing to the fullest.
Currently activities are being carried out to promote healthful lifestyles for all women, encouraging participation in the breast cancer early detection program and awareness of measures taken by the Ministry of Public Health to assure access to medical services and meet needs.
The organization uses tradition mass communications media and online social networks to make the existence of Wings for Life known, and share educational messages on the importance of regular check-ups, self-examination, and periodic mammograms.
“This way of re-integrating ourselves makes us feel great,” Erlinda Disotuar Cobas commented, adding, “I’m 70 years old myself, and had surgery 20 years ago. I feel fully integrated socially. Otherwise I would have been at home devoting myself to domestic chores. Our doctors come and help us overcome doubts, and are always attentive to our needs.”
In addition to receiving information from professionals, the group promotes concerts to attract a greater number of people and build interest in the issue, organizing walks, and exhibits in different museums.
Artist Bertha Dora Lemus contributed 12 of her best oil paintings for an exposition in Old Havana’s Rum Museum, as part of activities scheduled to commemorate International Breast Cancer Day, held October 19 every year.
“I work in naïf painting, an unaffected, natural type of method. It does not require academic studies and seeks to engender emotion in the viewer. I recreate topics of Haitian culture and paint women socially interacting with other persons; I depict different religions in which they seek their faith,” she explained.
Also a retired PhD in Pedagogy, Lemus was diagnosed with cancer seven years ago, and has now been told she is entering the terminal stage. Another surgery is not an option. Nonetheless, she talks about several projects to be completed shortly with much joy, and says, “I cannot stop the disease, but, yes, I can struggle, and without struggle there is no victory.”
Agreeing with her is Milagros Hernández Alonso, who faced surgery in 2002, and relates that she joined the group in 2006 after friends told her about it, and gave her the telephone number that had been publicized. Since then she never misses activities.
She adds, “The group has given me so much life. Like everyone who has had surgery, I was going through a difficult period with depression and psychological isolation. Having the disease transforms our lives, but in the workplace and within the family, as well. Once you participate in Alas por la Vida, you can see a world in which people share many similarities.”
Among the group’s objectives are building self-esteem; improving quality of life; reducing stress; achieving social re-integration; making available specialized, updated medical information on breast cancer and related topics; offering advice; conducting group therapy; and reaching out to women who have had breast cancer surgery.
Milagros recalled her that her medical treatment has been entirely free of charge and very timely. When she noticed an anomaly in one of her breast, she went directly to Havana’s Oncology and Radiology Institute, and, at the information desk, asked to make an appointment. She was seen that very day for an initial evaluation.
After quickly conducting a series of tests, the doctors recommended immediate surgery. A large malignant tumor was removed, followed by chemo and radiation therapy. She recalls, “There was no delay of any kind; they treated me like a patient who needed help, and I wasn’t the only one. We all received the same kind of attention.”
Dr. Alexis Cantero Ronquillo, Alas por la vida coordinator and president of the Cuban Surgery Society’s breast section, emphasizes that being alert for early diagnosis allows for a greater probability of survival, and timely intervention to remove tumors.
He notes, “Breast cancer is a health problem globally, the first cause of disease among women and the second most common cause of death, after lung cancer. Today we are confronting an issue of great dimensions from the human, medical, economic and social point of view. We know this disease requires treatment and leads to delicate economic conjunctures, since it implies rest, and affects the woman’s work situation.”
This high level of incidence is seen in Cuba, as well, which has led to the Ministry of Public Health’s early diagnosis program, with active monitoring efforts by neighborhood clinics, in addition to educational campaigns on regular self-examination, and the provision of all resources needed to combat the disease, including research and clinical trials on new therapies and preventative medications.
Dr. Cantero, also an adjunct professor at Manuel Fajardo Surgical University Hospital, stated, “Cuba is carrying out multi-partner work to combat breast cancer with the Federation of Cuban Women, the Ministry of Education, and other institutions and social organizations participating. The Wings for Life project is another grain of sand in this sense.”