Seeking Care for Breast Cancer in Haiti: Reflections from Patients
In recognition of October’s Breast Cancer Awareness month, Project Medishare is sharing reflections from patients in our cancer program at Hospital Bernard Mevs. This program opened in 2013 and has treated over 200 women with cancer. More than 120 women in the program are being treated, or were treated, specifically for breast cancer using surgical and chemotherapy interventions.
The cancer rate is currently unknown due to a lack of a national cancer registry; however, the need for treatment is clear as attested to by the testimonies of these women. Despite considerable challenges, these determined women continue to overcome obstacles in order to gain access to treatment.
The options for public and private cancer treatment in Haiti are limited. Project Medishare is collaborating with the Ministry of Health to develop and strengthen locally appropriate solutions to detect and treat breast cancer in Haiti. Medishare helps to provide low-cost chemotherapy to women in the public hospital in Port-au-Prince. We also provide training to the nursing staff and offer personal protective equipment so that chemotherapy can be administered safely.
The cost of treating a woman with cancer in our program, including surgery and chemotherapy, is only $1,500 per patient. Please consider making a donation so we can continue to expand our services to additional Haitian women seeking diagnosis and treatment.
The patients below were photographed by Nektarios Markogiannis in a series demonstrating the impact that the disease has had on their bodies, but not their spirits. All of the women pictured gave us permission to use their photos for fundraising and awareness, adding their reflections, in hopes that they will inspire others to seek early detection and care.
“I think that the pictures of me look normal. What you are doing for me is for my own good. I was thinking that I was the only one suffering with the disease and I was very worried for a long time. I could not eat. I was thinking about the disease and I think I started treatment a little bit too late. I’ve had the tumor in my left breast for about five years. Maybe two years in my right breast. I started treatment so late because there was a period that I was too scared to see a doctor. I have always thought that I was the only person with the disease but when I came to Hospital Bernard Mevs Project Medishare, I saw many others fighting cancer and that gave me strength. Seeing the pictures of other women encourages me because they had treatment and surgery and they are still alive. The chemotherapy has helped me to feel better. I have less pain and itching in my breast. I’m very happy with the results of the medicines. Cancer is dangerous and people say that you may live or you may die. My disease is very severe and I don’t know which way it will go for me but I continue to fight.”
“When I see the picture of myself, I think that it will be a good reminder in the future of the time when I was sick. When I look at the pictures of the other women, I think I am worse than them–not because of my facial expressions but because of my illness. There was nothing I could do about it because I got sick suddenly. I did not avoid going to the hospital. In fact, before I came to Hospital Bernard Mevs Project Medishare, I was at the public hospital. Before that I was at another public hospital. I could not find any treatment options and then people told me about this hospital so I came here. The doctors and nurses here are giving me treatment so I can recover. I don’t feel bad, but when I walk a lot, I have some difficulties breathing. I feel some chest and breast pain but I eat normally. If I kept the rhythm, making efforts to eat, I would feel better now.
“In my opinion, my picture means to encourage people. When you’re looking at the picture, it should remind you to not fear your disease, to not be distressed and to not let the disease take you away. I encourage the people suffering of the disease to go see a doctor. The pictures of the other women mean almost the same thing because we are all in the same category. Their objectives are to help the sick people and to teach them how to overcome the cancer that they have and how they must manage it. Doctors told me that the disease I have on my breast is cancer. I can feel that my breast is hard, painful and itching. Sometimes I used to ask myself if it is not an abscess because the breast is hard but they told me that it is cancer. I have had the bump in my breast for around 12 months. I think it started when I was pregnant for the first time, in the seventh month of pregnancy. I felt some pain in my breast and then a couple drops of blood came from the nipple. I went to several doctors who thought it might be a cyst. Then I came to Hospital Bernard Mevs Project Medishare where they did a biopsy on my breast and then he told me that it was cancer. When I found this out, I was thinking that my life was over. I was thinking that it was something that would give me no chance of survival. But the doctor told me that at the stage the cancer is now it cannot kill me. Only if I overlook it, can it cause my death. I think that once I finish all of the chemotherapy sessions everything will be better for me.”
Marie Nicole, 52
“I came to see a doctor when I realized that I had something wrong with my breast. I saw the small bump showing up in my breast about a year ago. Maybe it was there for a longer period of time and it was inside of me and I did not know. I was not a small person, but the illness made me thinner over time. I can say I detected something wrong in October. It was not a small bump that appeared first but my breast was itchy. I started itching it and a small wound appeared. Sometimes after that, the wound was about to heal and then a small bump appeared. When I saw the bump it was not big, it was very small and I started showing it to people and they told me that it was a cyst and the bump was getting big. I went to the doctor and he sent me to do many different tests, including taking a small piece of the bump, and he put it in a small container and gave it to me so I could take the sample for studies. When I had the sample in my handbag, thieves on the street took my handbag with the container in it. The doctors didn’t take another piece because I couldn’t pay them again. The bump continued to get bigger over the next three months. Finally, I went back to that doctor and he sent me to Hospital Bernard Mevs Project Medishare. They diagnosed the bump as breast cancer. The doctors and nurses now give me medicine that goes into my veins and eat up the germs of the disease.
For me, the pictures of me can be an example to show other women that they should pay attention to their bodies. They should not disregard disease. Take the symptoms seriously and go to see a doctor as soon as possible. Combined with the pictures of the other women, I hope that they can be used to study these diseases to help other women.”