In 2020, breast cancer affected 34,088 people -also men- in Spain. Approximately 30% of the cancers diagnosed in women originate in the breast, being already the most diagnosed tumor in the world and surpassing lung cancer for the first time, according to data published in 2021 by the Center for Cancer Research
María José cries while listening to her partner Cecilia speak. Because they have suffered. And they suffer. Both they are survivors and they know it. It is what has to pass for something fat, very fat, which makes the memories crowd in the form of tears in the eyes. It is not for less. Both can say that they have won the battle, the former, by breast cancer in the middle of a global pandemic and all that that entails.
“With these therapies they obtain the part of normalization of the disease; they establish a bond with which they unintentionally support others and by listening to other patients they draw resources that otherwise would not be possible”
From the loneliness added by restrictionsEven the brutal physical changes that a breast cancer patient undergoes, both recall something that happened relatively recently, but they can tell about it and that is priceless.
It has been through the therapies and workshops of the Spanish Association Against Cancer, where María José and Cecilia have been able to rely on colleagues with the same problems, uncertainties and fears. “Group therapy in any phase of the disease is part of the offer of the association. They have been in a group for patients in active treatment,” he explains Julia Díez Fonte, the oncopsychologist who has helped these women – also a man – for months. “With these therapies they obtain the part of normalization of the disease; they establish a bond with which they unintentionally support others and by listening to other patients they draw resources that otherwise would not be possible “, he points out, adding that” emotional issues are also normalized: how they feel, how they face it. Sometimes, in the close environment of the patients messages of optimism are sent, of fighting, and they do not identify with this and with these support groups they normalize it more. It helps them deal with the process in a more adaptive way. ”
“If pandemic and cancer are tough separately, at this time, therapy has been paramount for them,” he adds.
Emotional management, communication with the family, communication with healthcare personnel, personal image and self-esteem or sexuality are some of the blocks that are dealt with in the AECC support groups.
A) Yes, people like Cecilia or María José have been able to carry their drama in a more bearable way. “For me it was the second time that I have suffered breast cancer, in the same breast as eleven years ago. I wish I had known the association then as I know it now“says Cecilia. At 45 she has already experienced the same illness twice, but that does not seem to prevent her from losing her smile. The drink has been hard, but she feels more than grateful to be able to tell her experience to other people and to be able to rely on other patients in a process that does not end with chemotherapy. “When I was diagnosed with this second cancer, my only fear was that I would not be able to endure the whole process again., not be prepared, “she says. On the first occasion in which she was diagnosed, at only 33 years old, the treatment and the operation were harder for her, especially physically, despite the fact that she has now undergone a double mastectomy with reconstruction to starting from the flesh of her belly. Nine hours of operation to eliminate some tumors that reached her body due to hormonal issues. Without losing her joy, she assures that she was freaking out with her intervention: “They took the meat out of my gut and left me like a Schiffer”She laughs while ensuring that she shows her new breasts with pride to all her friends.
“The Internet is not a source of information”
It is not the case of Maria Jose. She found out she had breast cancer after several months on a tour of specialist doctors complaining of pain. In the confinement a lump was noticed while soaping in the shower. “Nobody teaches you to feel yourself to find this and, furthermore, my cancer had not turned up. When we finally discovered it, after the general confinement, it had spread to both breasts and the entire left gangrional chain. It was a genetic cancer in phase three, pre-metastatic, “he relates.
With just 43 years of age and four dependent children between the ages of 4 and 9, the world fell on Maria José. “I broke down and needed tools to be able to manage the situation with four children at home confined, without school and a mother with cancer, “he says. He is constantly excited. No wonder. He had already experienced the disease closely with his own parents and he only thought about one thing:” not leave my children alone. ”
“In AECC they offered me workshops, sessions … you hear about everything and also the internet is not a source of information, you have to go to professionals”, he explains to add that “they offered me a lot of nutrition tools, how to exercise, they helped me to understand the diagnoses. You go to the doctor alone because you can’t go in with someone, they tell you things you don’t understand, because they just told you that you have cancer, that you could die and that it is in a very advanced state...I entered blocked “.
Cancer and the pandemic
Thus, María José began in individual therapy and later moved on to her group, where she thought that she, in a more advanced phase of the disease, could help her colleagues. “They gave everything to me, we hit it off pretty well and it is very true that I went to therapy with a lot of desire to be able to talk because it has been a year and a half in which it is no longer that you cannot go out, it is that nobody can come see you, “he says.
Because going through cancer and all that it entails is hell, but adding the coronavirus pandemic makes it even worse. Loneliness, loneliness and loneliness. That is the only thing these two women repeat, who during their treatments and operations practically did not leave their home for fear of contagion.
“One of the hardest things about this disease is the metamorphosis, your image in the mirror daily”
“People in general have not been aware of the fear of contagion from the sick. When you do not have a disease, you do not realize that the pandemic has done much damage to the most vulnerable, the sick, that the contagion can be worse and, above all, that these people need much more hugs, affection, going out … “, says Cecilia.” When they operated on me – they performed a 12-hour intervention – I was only in the hospital for three days. You are alone, unable to move, without a mobile and without anyone being able to see you. When you get home without being able to move, with four small children and a husband who goes out to work … It has been a very hard year and a half. If we had not had to go through this with covid, it may have been different. Of course, although the people could not be in some way they were. The whole world turned to me, “says María José.
“Mom, are you going to die?”
María José and Cecilia, with two very different ways of being, with two opposite lives and two totally different ways of facing things, have become part of a group of people who, living the same, uncertainty, illness, afraid… They have been able to heal themselves inside and out, and that cancer does not end with chemotherapy.
In the case of Cecilia, suffering from hormonal cancer, they have caused her a preventive menopause. At his age, still young, he has bone pain and every time he exercises – something that is essential – he suffers intense pain. “I always end up crying,” she says through tears.
“When there are days that it hurts and like this … I always end up saying: but I am”
María José continues to go to the physiotherapist because in her left arm, where most of the cancer was, she has lost part of her mobility, “I can’t button my bra.” In addition, the aftermath of chemotherapy remains and the neurologist and cardiologist keep going to monitor, chemotherapy causes long-term heart problems.
Both will have to take medication for at least five years, and the two will never be the same again. “As much as they have made me a work of art,” says María José.
Because the physical change is indelible. They are no longer the same and they know it. “When I had no hair, no eyebrows or eyelashes I looked at myself in the mirror and it was not me. It is very unpleasant. After the operation and the radio I am not the same and never will be. My body is not the same, and by far that you have a partner who loves you because of how you look, you look. One of the hardest things about this disease is metamorphosis, your image in the mirror on a daily basis, “says María José.
Cecilia, for her part, decides to take it with humor, although she admits that seeing herself with that aspect is difficult every day, she feels very grateful for how it turned out. Actually both, being able to be here, with their families, is what makes them realize that what they have experienced does not weigh on what remains to be lived. And when faced with a specific question, it is clear to him and they do not hesitate. What weighs more, trauma or being able to be alive? “The happiness of being here”, they say in unison and without thinking. “When there are days that it hurts and like this … I always end up saying: but I’m“, says Cecilia.” Thank God I have had the cancer with the highest level of cure and although it was advanced they have cured me, not only the doctors, the help of the association and the people is invaluable. Getting out of this alone is impossible, “adds María José.
Both recognize that the consequences are there, that “it is useless to be brave” and that the AECC tools, beyond the therapies, “should be mandatory.” “The first thing my 9-year-old boy told me was that I was going to die,” recalls María José, who makes it clear that external help such as that of the association is essential to carry this out.
They feel privileged, happy and grateful, always grateful. “Gratitude for being able to get out of this hell”, they say.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.