by Alberto N. Jones
Commemorating the fight against breast cancer with our peers in Cuba, which went beyond our wildest dream
Our Pink to Pink tour (of Cuba) took place on October 10 thru the 17/2015 and was composed of a Radiobiologist and an ENT physicians, four breast cancer survivors and six well wishers to commemorate the fight against breast cancer with our peers in Cuba, which went beyond our wildest dream.
Shortly after arriving in Cuba on Saturday October 10th, we had dinner with leaders of the women support group Alas por la Vida and professionals involved in Cancer treatment and research. Sunday was dedicated to tour the city of Havana, visit museums and organize our small donation.
At 9:30 AM on Monday, we arrived at the Comandante Manuel Fajardo Clinical-Surgical Hospital in the Vedado neighborhood, where we were warmly greeted by physicians and members of Alas por la Vida.
During the next two hours, we received a detailed description of the incidence, prevalence, mortality rate, diagnosis, surgery, chemo, radiation, the critical lack of post treatment aesthetics and psychological resources such as prosthesis, bra’s, wigs, cream etc.
We heard moving testimonials from survivors about when they were first diagnosed, their anxiety and despair, which was compounded by the lack of basic resources to treat many patients during what is known in Cuba as Special Period following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Even today, breast screening has been drastically reduced because of a lack of mammography machines, spare parts or reagents, which brought some to tears.
We embraced, laughed, promised to stay true to the struggle and left them with a symbolic donation of cancer ware items. We were invited to come back on March 8 for the commemoration of Woman’s Day and their Anniversary.
The next morning at 9:30 AM we visited the National Institute of Cancer and Radiobiology. We were received by some of the highest ranking leaders of that institution, the head of Mastology, the leader of the group fighting breast cancer, physicists and nurses. We were treated to a wider, deeper Power Point presentation of this malady in Cuba with worldwide comparative stats, which was followed by an intense Q & A. We were invited to tour the hospital, but the limited of our heavy program allowed us only to visit the Radiology department.
At 3:30 PM after a quick lunch, we arrived at ELAM or Latin America School of Medical Sciences on the outskirts of Havana, where 2400 plus med students from across the globe, receive free medical training. The head of International Relations made an extensive presentation on why this educational center was created in 1998, how students from over 120 countries have gone through their classrooms, the way it is structured and how it is free of any race, gender, age or religious divisions.
The Dean gave us an in-depth explanation of how the school operates, how students needs of free housing, meals, books, lab service, transportation and a monthly stipend is covered by the government. The only out of pocket expenses the students have, are the cost of the airline ticket during summer vacation.
We met with approximately 12 US students enrolled in pre-med, first and second year for a long and extensive chat about how they feel in Cuba, their language skills, being home sick and inter students relations. We can contribute to make their student life easier, by reaching them through e-mail, helping with internship during their summer vacation and their post graduate residence.
On Wednesday, we visited a pregnant women care center in the Province of Cienfuegos, where we learned how this simple method of providing supervised lodging to women with predisposing miscarriage factors, contribute to reduce infant and maternal mortality.
We have returned more engaged, committed and determine to strengthen this bridge of love, which can benefit women on both sides of the Florida Straits and the Caribbean.