VIDA speaks to Gertrude Abela, who was diagnosed with breast cancer 17 years ago and is now one of the survivors who look back on their experience in the hope of encouraging current sufferers. Ms Abela is a delegate and board member of Europa Donna (the European Breast Cancer Coalition) and a representative for the Gozitan Group of Europa Donna Malta.
How’s life like for a cancer patient?
Their world is turned upside down, but with help and support from the family, breast care nurses and the support group, women diagnosed with breast cancer will be able to cope with the situation. However, there will still be many downs.
How are relatives, friends and colleagues to approach a cancer patient?
A cancer patient is very vulnerable in such a situation. Relatives, colleagues and friends should be there every step of the way, but they should avoid words like be strong, things will be fine, it will soon pass. Passing through cancer is very hard on the family too, and if young children are involved, one has to explain matters in words that can be understood. Young ones usually end up thinking that what’s happening is some form of punishment for their bad behaviour.
How’s life after the battle with cancer?
There will be moments of anxiety but one has to adjust to the situation, but priorities tend to change. Personally, I found that being a volunteer at Mater Dei hospital could be of immense support to the patients. An ex cancer patient can understand what other women are passing through, and can easily be a shoulder to cry on.
What frequent checkups must a woman carry out to ensure early diagnosis, if any?
One is to keep follow up appointments, and if something is worrying them, it’s better to check with a doctor. One can always phone the breast care nurse at the Breast Clinic at Mater Dei.
You are the representative for the Gozitan Group of Europa Donna Malta. What duties does such a role entail?
The Group in Gozo was set up by the then President of Breast Care Support Group Mrs Jackie Vassallo 14 years ago. Malta joined Europa Donna in 2004. My role is to organise support meetings with the Gozo group every month. At the moment, we have a very good number of members, who attend the meeting regularly, we organise fund raising events and awareness talks in schools, local councils and clubs.
Are such support groups only made up of women who in the past were diagnosed with cancer? What’s the atmosphere there? Do relatives have access to such groups?
These support groups are mostly open to breast cancer patients, but relatives and friends are actually very welcome. The atmosphere is very positive, we organise meetings in a very friendly way. Sometimes it is just a meeting between members. When a new member joins the group, we encourage her to speak about her experience which we think helps her come to terms with the reality of her situation.
What’s the public’s perception towards such support groups? Has it changed along the years?
In the 1980s breast cancer was still a taboo, so a group of women who were going through breast cancer felt the need to help. That is why a support group was set up. In1989 the Breast Care Support Group was founded. The aims were to offer support to women and their families going through the trauma and to raise awareness about breast cancer in general. Perceptions have surely changed for the better.
Is enough being done locally to promote breast cancer awareness?
There is quite a lot of awareness locally and Europa Donna Malta has surely been very active in raising such awareness, especially by offering support during the whole year, and not just in October – Breast Cancer Awareness month. Breast Cancer Awareness should be promoted more in schools, at the workplace and local councils, as well as women’s clubs.
Europa Donna Malta gives free talks and publishes awareness books which are then distributed free during events. Europa Donna Malta works very closely with the Breast Clinic at Mater Dei, the Directorate of Health Promotion and other health professionals. A lecture organised by the Health Promotion Unit in Gozo will be held on the 15th October – European day for Breast Health.
For more information about the Seminar in Gozo send an e-mail to [email protected], or call 22106341/214. Contact Europa Donna Malta on 27204403, [email protected] or visit www.europadonnamalta.org.mt
© 2016 – VIDA Magazine – Clifford Jo Żahra