A Silent Disease

Breast cancer month. Give your support.

The month of October stands for breast cancer month. During this period, many individuals wear a pink ribbon on their coat, dress, hat, bag, etc. which symbolizes awareness, sympathy, and support to families and friends who have lost or have a loved one with breast cancer. Have you lost a relative or friend because of the silent disease?

According to a statistical report by the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in women and is the second cause of death after lung cancer for women in the United States of America. The report states that during 2012-2016 breast cancer increased slightly by  0.3% per year; however, the death rate has decreased. 

Yojaira in Solentiname/ Kimmo Lehtonen

Each woman’s body reacts differently to the disease; thus, for some women it develops fast and for others it is slow. In the case of Yojaira, my friend, who I lost 10 years ago to breast cancer, it was very fast. I remember her telling me about her diagnosis,  years after she was gone. Her cancer was invasive and aggressive to her body and mind. 

The news of her death was devastating. I remember when I got the phone call I was in the middle of documentary production, but at that moment everything shifted. I sat and cried. Hours later, I traveled to Managua (the capital) to be with her family and friends. I thought that I had cried during the flight so I wouldn’t cry anymore, but that was not the case, I continued for days and still today, I cry for her. 

Months after Yojaira’s death I found out that another friend named Alesseter also had breast cancer. I remember that I didn’t want to listen to her explanation about the stage of the disease because I was in a state of refusing and denying. Therefore, I didn’t want to listen anymore about this silent sickness. It is not that I didn’t care about Alesseter, no way. I was overwhelmed and still mourning the death of Yojaira. Aleseter had an aggressive breast cancer and was strong to overcome it. Today, she is free of cancer and I am lucky to still have her as my friend.

A selfie of Alesseter and I

One of the therapies or ways to overcome the death of Yojaira was to talk about her. I had other friends that listened to me and supported me. But what happens when relatives or friends don’t support the person who is living with the illness? This is cruel and shouldn’t be that way. From her experience, Alesseter recommends the following.

Aleseter voice

I found myself taking care of Yojaira at night, going with her to chemotherapy, and talking to her by phone even when she just listened to me. While being with her,  I was strong and never cried, but as soon as I got home, I broke down. Luckily I had the support of my spouse.

I am glad for each moment I spent with Yojaira. We traveled, danced, laughed, studied, discussed topics, etc. She is just one of the many stories of women who struggled with breast cancer. So as Aleseter mentioned, check yourself and remember that the silence disease doesn’t attack only women of age.

Photo by Dainis Graveris on Unsplash

Cancer Awareness

“Cancer is not your sickness, it’s our sickness; you need the moral support from the family”.

My aunt Daity Green Temple died of breast cancer. Hilda is one of my childhood friends. Her mother died twenty five years ago. Four years ago, I  presented her to another friend. Both friends’ mothers died of cancer. Yojaira, a university friend, passed away 8 years ago from cancer. A week after her death, I remember speaking with Miss Aleseter, a friend of mine from Corn Island, Nicaragua, who gave me the bad news of her breast cancer diagnosis. 

For sure, you have also lost a loved one of cancer illness, or know someone who has. Cancer can start anywhere in the human body since we have millions of cells. This disease has become part of our life  and has caused the death of millions of people, globally. 

It was a sunny Friday morning around 9:30 A.M. I had just finished an interview for the production of a documentary. I was sitting when I got the call from Arlene. She said, “ We lost flaca” (Yojaira’s nickname). I remember saying no, no, ¡no! and started to cry.  The following days were and still are sad when I recall vivid memories of her. I lost a dear friend, likewise, a mother lost her daughter, and a sister lost a sibling. 

Yojaira (2009) Photo: Kimmo Lehtonen

For many women and relatives, it is not easy to cope with this illness, because they don’t have the money for the treatment if it is not covered by a healthcare insurance. Some are ashamed to talk about it, and many others do not have access to a proper healthcare system.

I met Aleseter while I was working with a project that enhances journalism knowledge and production. She is tall, strong, likes to joke, friendly, a baseball lover, and sincere. We became friends and still maintain our relationship. I asked her to share her story with us as a cancer survivor.

“ In 2012, I discovered a small lump on my left breast. I am from a  small island which had only a small health center in those days; so, I had to wait for some specialist to arrive. They did an ultrasound on my breast, then recommended a biopsy which I got done in Managua (the capital). The result was negative. I flew back home, but deep in my mind I knew something was wrong. A week later, I did a second biopsy and waited 12 days for the result. It was positive. The third biopsy also was positive. 

The doctor told me, “it’s not good news”. I said to him, “anything can kill me except this cancer, because with the help of God, I will overcome it”. I remember he looked at me and said, “those are the words of a warrior”. 

My cancer was stage 1 when it was discovered. A  surgery was done to remove the malignant cells, and then I started my chemotherapy in May. However, when I was on my third chemo session, they discovered more spots in the same place, so I underwent a second surgery and continued my treatment. It was then December, but things didn’t improve, so in January, I had a mastectomy done. 

Aleseter and I (2018) Photo: Aleseter

At the beginning, I didn’t mention it to my son nor the rest of the family, because we grew up thinking that cancer is a taboo. Nevertheless, I told one of my brothers. He said to me:,”cancer is not your sickness, it’s our sickness; you need the moral support from the family”. 

During my chemo treatment, I heard a lot of comments about what would happen to me, but the reality was another, since everyone has their own experience; what is good for you, can be bad for me. For example, I saw a lot of women vomiting during the treatment, I didn’t. The doctor told me that I will lose my hair. Indeed, 16 days after the treatment, I lost it. My brother helped shave the rest. It was a ball of hair. 

On the island, the rumour was that I was dying. So when I got off the plane, people were surprised to see me in such a good condition. However, people’s attitudes changed toward me, I felt bad. I didn’t realize the impact cancer has on ignorant people who think  that it’s contagious. When I saw this reaction, I decided to get on the radio station and talk about it. I said these words. 

Aleseter voice

Days after, Mr. Siu, the owner of a hotel, told me, “I had always admired you, but now I double admire you, because not everyone wants people to know about their sickness; you were very brave and courageou’s. But on the other hand, some people also mocked my illness. 

Aleseter story

My advice to the ladies is to check yourselves, examine yourselves, know your body. If you discover something that is not normal, look for professional help. 

Have you lost someone of cancer? Share your story.

Friendships Stages

How many friends do you have?

A few months ago, a friend asked me, “How many friends do you have”? I responded: a lot, but I also explained to him that my friends are from different life stages, for different needs, and with whom I do varieties of things.  

I am a social person who likes to talk and meet new people; thus, it’s not difficult for me to make new friends. However, I also had learned to keep those friendships that are valuable for me, and give them a special place in life. Once I saw a friend posted on Facebook this quote: 

I said to her that I agreed with this post, and that she was one of those important friends. Yes, I do have many friends, but less than before because I have decided to keep my relationships with those who are loyal, those who do not use me,  nor are toxic, not manipulating, and are willing to listen and talk with me.  

I have friends from my childhood with whom I grew up, from high school-teenage, and my adulthood. For sure, I will have another stage to meet new friends, but always taking into consideration that I am not a doll, I am a human being.  

Months ago, I heard a podcast titled “Call your Girlfriend”, hosted by Ann Friedman and Aminatuo Sow. A piece of information that drew my attention was that the utterances of friendships and freedom have the same linguistic roots meaning: beloved and dear.  

If I had the opportunity to do something different in choosing my friends now, I would surely put less of my energy in keeping those who can inflict harmed or use me. Presently, I just have energy for friendships that have a positive vibration.  

If  there is something I also like about my friends, it’s that they have different age, nationalities, personalities, and energy. Thanks to all my marvelous girlfriends and sisters. I will surely call you to check how you are doing, but I’ll also call when I need you.  

What are your friendships experiences?