Dubai: If not for early detection and a persistent medical volunteer, Filipina expat Maria Francia Vizcaya, 42, would not have handily won her big battle against breast cancer.
Sharing her story with Gulf News on Monday, Maria said: “Two years ago as I was taking my lunch break, a Pink Caravan (Pan-UAE breast cancer awareness drive) volunteer invited me to their booth in the mall for a free physical examination.
“I was hesitant at first but the volunteer was courteously persistent so I gave in,” added Vizcaya, who works as a store manager at a mall in Dubai.
A lump was found on her left breast and Vizcaya was referred to a hospital for mammogram and ultrasound. The lump was found highly suspicious and she was referred to another hospital for a biopsy.
It was March 28, 2018 and Vizcaya was found positive of breast cancer Stage 2B. Vizcaya said she was caught off guard – she felt healthy and strong and there were no symptoms except for the occasional lump she felt on her breast.
But doctors said the malignant cancer cells were spreading fast and an aggressive treatment plan was required. Vizcaya was also found positive for BRCA Type 1 or strong hereditary ovarian and breast cancer syndrome.
A major surgery was required so Vizcaya underwent a full left radical mastectomy or removal of her entire left breast tissue. After 45 days of recovering from the operation, she started her chemotherapy to kill the cancer cells in the nearby lymph nodes.
Vizcaya had to go through six cycles of chemotherapy with an average interval of 21 days per cycle. The drug treatment and powerful chemical made her lose her hair but not her willpower to survive.
She said: “My recovery was fast and in between those cycles of chemotherapy, I was able to go to work – it took my mind off my illness and the company of my colleagues and friends gave me strength. Balanced diet and regular physical exercise also helped in my fast recovery,
Vizcaya, a mother of four kids, finished her chemotherapy and was declared cancer-free in January last year.
At present, she is undergoing monthly monitoring of her blood and given quarterly injections for hormone treatment to suppress any cancer cells.
As a breast cancer survivor, Vizcaya can attribute her victory over the Big C because of early breast cancer detection and the persistent medical volunteer who invited her to avail of the free examination.
“We should not be afraid of breast cancer – it’s not a death sentence. We can beat it. The good news is 98 percent of breast cancer cases are curable if detected early,” said Vizcaya, who is also now an active volunteer at Sharjah-based Friends of Cancer that runs the annual Pink Caravan.
Vizcaya said she is also thankful to FoCP for sponsoring all her medical expenses. “They helped me from the start and all I had to do was to commit myself to survive.”
Pink Caravan rolls off on Wednesday
Sharjah: The Pink Caravan Ride (PCR), now in its 10th edition, rolls off its annual medical awareness drive across the seven emirates from February 26 until March 6.
The breast cancer awareness initiative of the Sharjah-based non-profit Friends Of Cancer Patients (FOCP) – will be the biggest one so far. Over 350 doctors will be available for consultations at 70 fixed and mobile clinics, while 150 riders will join the caravan in spreading awareness about breast cancer with the aim of providing at least 10,000 free medical examinations during its 10-day run.
This year’s slogan is ‘Plenty is not Enough’. Reem BinKaram, head of Pink Caravan’s Higher Organising Committee, explained: “The slogan serves to remind us that as long as there is even one individual in the community who needs care and attention, then plenty is not enough.”
“The idea of the PCR stems from the fact that since cancer is a taboo subject, most people would rather ignore it than take action,” said BinKaram, adding: “That is why we chose to go beyond awareness programmes and take early detection and screening tests to the people without waiting for them to respond to our appeals to get tested.”
“The fight against breast cancer means doing whatever it takes to ensure that everyone has the access and education to get tested as often as medically suggested, and treated, regardless of their gender, age, background, financial situation, and location,” she underlined.
FoCP has offered free early-detection screenings to over 64,012 people of different nationalities and ages, including around 10,000 male residents. The total cost of free screenings was over Dh 30 million while around 670 volunteer riders have traveled over 1,800 kilometres in the past nine rides.