Until six months ago, for me cancer was something distant that always happened to others – an acquaintance, a friend’s sister, a friend’s friend.
Unthinkable, impossible, improbable.
Until one day it happens to you and you are faced with the disheartening reality that every 15 seconds a woman in the world is diagnosed with breast cancer.
And now you are part of that number and you begin to wonder why. Is it my genes? is it what I eat? is it the air I breathe or maybe karma? Many of us will finish our treatment without knowing the answer. That is why research is so important, because we need to understand and learn how we can protect ourselves, protect our sisters, our mothers, our daughters or maybe even a husband, because let’s not forget that breast cancer also affects men, although in a smaller proportion.
Once you realize that you are part of that statistic, you realize that your life has become an obstacle course. A race in which the goal is to survive and it is something you cannot win on your own. You need help. Help from a welfare state that will cover the costs of expensive treatment and allow you to stay away from work for months at a time. The support of your family, friends and people who love you. The understanding of your boss. The knowledge and care of doctors, nurses and other healthcare personnel. You need modern equipment and medicines to treat a disease of which little is known despite all we have learned.
Cancer patients also need the government and medical professionals not to forget that we are going through a disease and a treatment that affects every aspect of our lives, our entire biology, but also our mental health, our diet and our relationship with everything and everyone around us. Until this reality is understood, civil society and organizations such as the Spanish Association Against Cancer will be the only support and the only way for many patients to access services as fundamental as psychological care or access to a wig.
This obstacle course will also confront some of us with difficult decisions that in other circumstances we would have thought over more calmly. For example, whether or not we want to be mothers. Young breast cancer patients who have to undergo clinical treatment have their fertility compromised unless their eggs are preserved. We cannot make a decision of this magnitude without sufficient information and psycho-social support.
Having cancer is not easy and during 2020 it has become even more difficult. Patients who are going through chemotherapy or other treatments live with anxiety about going outside, fearing that their weakened immune systems will not resist a virus like COVID. But perhaps the worst part is carried by all those women who could not be diagnosed in time because they were confined, or because the public health system did not have the necessary resources to deal with a pandemic and diseases like ours at the same time, as well as those who have had their treatment interrupted or delayed. In the northern metropolitan area of Barcelona alone, 28,000 mammograms have not been performed during the confinement.
In 2019, more than 33,000 women started their race against breast cancer. We do not know yet how many women have in 2020 and of them, how many will be delayed in reaching the finish of the race due to COVID. What we do know, is that it will be a higher number than all previous years, because the number of new cases has followed an increasing trend over the last decade.
We need help, help so that more women reach the goal and get cured, but also help so that fewer and fewer women start this race. More mammograms, more research, more accessible genetic testing and lots and lots of education and information about breast cancer so that in the near future, we do not have to celebrate this day anymore.
Finally, to all the women and families who have already started this race or are at the starting line, I would like to tell you that you are not alone and that this race is today less hard and more achievable than ever. We send you all our strength and love. We will be with you all the way and we will celebrate together at the finish line which without a shadow of a doubt, you will reach.