Dubai: A brave cancer survivor who beat the disease twice and is now involved in a fresh battle for her life for the third time, is appealing for help from the community to support her financially.
First diagnosed and treated in 2018 for triple-negative breast cancer, which metastasized into pulmonary cancer nodules in 2020, Filipino expatriate Maria France Vizcaya, 43, has been diagnosed with the dreaded disease for a third time. This time, it’s a brain lesion that was diagnosed last month. To make matters worse, she has tested positive for COVID-19, which means her treatment will be delayed.
However, she has not lost her will to fight this battle a third time. All she needs is a little help from everyone. Her diagnosis was of concern the very first time in 2018, as triple negative cancers are known to be aggressive. This type of cancer throws up negative test results for all three cancer receptors — namely progesterone, oestrogen and for the HER2 protein — and is tricky as it has a high chance of metastasis.
Mounting medical expenses
A Good Samaritan who has helped Vizcaya meet the expenses, but preferred to remain anonymous, told Gulf News: “Maria needs a lot of financial help to continue with her treatment at American Hospital. I am trying my best to meet her expenses.” However, with no insurance her expenses have only been mounting and she also has to support her family back home. Therefore, some volunteers at the St Mary’s church who have also been supporting her have appealed to UAE residents for help.
Vizcaya, — a single mother of four children, working in retail and sales in Dubai — is known among her friends to be a spirited, fearless fighter who has also been motivating other survivors.
On December 2 last year, the UAE National Day, she sold specially-printed T-shirts for cancer survivors, which said: ‘In this family, no one fights alone.’ Now Vizcaya’s friends are appealing to the extended family of UAE residents to help her.
A three-year battle against all odds
Recalling her ordeal that began in 2018, Vizcaya spoke to Gulf News about how she decided to conquer her fears. “I am thankful to that volunteer from Pink Caravan who convinced me to undergo a routine screening at a shopping mall where I was working. Had I not listened to her in 2018, it would have been too late. However, getting the diagnosis done and dealing with the fear are the toughest parts. I was alone then, but by keeping faith in God, I started to walk the journey and I underwent a left full-radical breast mastectomy and six cycles of chemotherapy. I survived it and in 2019 became active on different awareness campaigns and small cancer support programmes.”
BRCA 1 gene mutation
Later, when further investigations revealed Vizcaya had the BRCA 1 gene mutation, she was put on monthly monitoring. “I continued to be determined to fight this. I changed to a super healthy diet, managed stress and became active again with exercises, focusing on strength and endurance training. I even did boxing trainings.”
However, in spite of all her efforts, in April 2020, the cancer relapsed and this time some of the pulmonary nodules in three quadrants of her lung had the metastasis. Despite the setback, Vizcaya continued to fight this battle with all her might.
Coping with cancer
Vizcaya continued to fight the battle by distracting herself with other duties that she had to fulfil. She said: “During my first battle, work has been my refuge. It helped me cope with the pains and discomfort of chemotherapy by being preoccupied with work. During the pandemic, however, due to the restrictions and health-risk, I had to stay at home and had to file for unpaid leave at work. That meant that I had no source of income to fund my treatments. A charity campaign helped me get through the expenses in 2018. Unfortunately, I could not get the same in 2019. Luckily, a group of kind-hearted individuals pitched in to support me and I survived this challenge.”
Second battle with cancer was debilitating
Vizcaya said her second battle was tough. “The medicines and the pain were both stronger to a point where there were days when I could barely walk. Apart from it, finances were difficult to come by and I had to exchange or barter some of my pre-loved items and appliances at home for food and supplements. I began selling ‘T-shirts for a cause’ to help with my other medical and daily expenses. At the same time, I was still able to share some with co-patients and survivors. I was almost evicted from my accommodation — thank God for always being with me and sending His blessings. I was able to stay on, in my apartment. I carried on with my treatments despite being on unpaid leave. I tried to eat the right food with the help of Good Samaritans. Even then, it was challenging as I still needed to provide for my children’s welfare back home.”
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Battling the malignant demon — a third time
On January 8, 2021, a brain scan revealed that she had a cancerous lesion. Vizcaya was advised surgery, but she opted for radiotherapy. She first visited the Advance Oncology Centre (AOC) in Jebel Ali where she was prescribed ten radiotherapy sessions. However, she later came to know of the targeted therapy for cancer offered at American Hospital and has since undergone brain mapping and assessment to start the treatment. Vizcaya explained: “This is a special kind of radiotherapy treatment called Stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS) offered at the American Hospital. Since I am a self-paying patient, I found this treatment to be relatively less expensive.”
However, the treatment is going to be long-drawn and will require a maintenance treatment plan. Vizcaya is living with hope each day.