During the last two decades, Peruvian Karim López made a life in the United States like many other immigrant women. Cleaning houses, she raised her three children with her husband, in an area of Maryland near the US capital. Her reality, however, changed nine months ago after being diagnosed with breast cancer.
General medical examinations after returning from a trip to her native Peru became, for the 51-year-old woman, the beginning of a fight against the diagnosis. “The doctor found something different in a mammogram, they sent me to do a biopsy and it came back positive for cancer. From there, it was a total transformation of my life,” López told the The Vermilion.
Karim received his diagnosis on a regular work day, while cleaning the house of a woman who had also suffered from the same illness and who, seeing her overwhelmed by the news, decided to refer her to a place where she could go for support: Nueva Vida.
The non-profit organization Nueva Vida is located in three strategic points in and around Washington. Its mission is to support, in Spanish and free of charge, Latina women who do not have the resources to cope with a cancer diagnosis or even receive preventive exams.
In its nearly 25 years of existence, the organization has managed to expand its services from psychological support to medical treatments. “The greatest thing about Nueva Vida is that it actually works at the population level,” he told the The Vermilion Astrid Jiménez, its executive director.
Each year, around 450 Latina women gain access to free mammography services through Nueva Vida.
Jiménez explained that Nueva Vida, through its community outreach program, travels to places “where the Latino population congregates” such as laundromats, supermarkets and parks. There, they establish a relationship with Latin women to “start talking about cancer.”
Women 40 years of age or older are referred to obtain a free screening mammogram, and if they need further examinations, “we help them get the free diagnostic test, which can be a diagnostic mammogram, it can be a biopsy or it can be be ultrasound,” Jiménez explained.
Those who are diagnosed with cancer receive assistance from Nueva Vida in navigating the appropriate treatment and “getting it for free or at a very low cost.” Services include transportation to medical appointments and interpretation in Spanish with doctors who only speak English.
In the Americas, according to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), breast cancer is positioned as the most common type of cancer among women and represents the second cause of death from cancer in this population group.
“We understand that a person needs to be emotionally and psychologically strong to fight any disease, but particularly cancer,” Jiménez said.
Through fundraising and foundation grants, Nueva Vida is able to fund its programs for Latina women. In addition, they collaborate with cancer centers in university institutions to offer medical services to these patients. This means that the ease and extent of the impact is limited to the help they can receive each year.
“The treatment itself is very expensive, so help is needed to make this free. It is saving a life, it is saving a head of the family. It is helping other people to have a quality of life,” said López.
Through chats, video calls and support groups, women share their individual experiences with cancer. Being able to form a community with other Latinas, López commented, was “the most important thing” at the beginning of her fight against cancer.
“Conversing it in Spanish is very important… you feel human warmth,” he said.
After the diagnosis, Karim decided to have a double mastectomy, which then led to reconstruction. From that moment on, he began chemotherapies that will end at the end of October to begin radiation treatment.
“I’m almost there. “I am very calm, very happy… it is a goal that we have set, that this year we have to finish everything and that next year begins with new and positive things,” she added.
For López, “there is no after” in his relationship with Nueva Vida once he finishes his treatments. “We are going to continue fighting and supporting other people, because the fact that one no longer has cancer does not mean that one does not have a family, and the family has to help each other, support each other, encourage us, because someone new always arrives,” she said. .
The Breast Cancer Research Foundation details that Hispanic women in the US are on average diagnosed at more advanced stages and are approximately 30 percent more likely to die from this type of cancer.
Hope after cancer, without fear of immigration status
Alba Durán, an immigrant from El Salvador, arrived in the United States “like many, walking across the border” about 17 years ago, accompanied by a cousin. At the crossroads, she said, “at that time she suffered, but perhaps not as much as today.”
Young and eager to experience life in the United States, Durán and her cousin made a future in this new country, in Durán’s case, working as a house cleaner.
Four years ago, discomfort in her left breast led her to seek care from a doctor, who “from the beginning she saw me told me it was cancer.”
“The first thing I did was worry because in the job you are in, what you earn…” Durán added, detailing that in addition to the diagnosis, his thoughts expanded to the cost of treatment and the language in which he would receive it.
Her doctor, however, referred her to Nueva Vida. “They spoke to me in Spanish, and that was another of my concerns, because I said ‘how am I going to do it if I don’t know that much English?’” said Alba, who filled out the application to enter the program and qualified to receive medical attention and treatments at no cost. .
The National Cancer Institute estimates that the average cost of medical care and medications exceeds $42,000 in the year following a cancer diagnosis.
“I was worried because I was worried about what I was experiencing, but at the same time I felt comforted that they were going to help me financially,” she noted. Alba also underwent a mastectomy and chemotherapy, all covered by Nueva Vida services.
Now cancer-free, Durán continues to receive support from Nueva Vida in his subsequent treatment. “Once a month I go to the doctor, once a month they give me an injection to prevent the cancer from coming back,” he said.
Jiménez explained that Latina women can access Nueva Vida services regardless of their immigration status. “We are not tied to the government… we do not have to give names or reports to anyone. What moves us is to provide service, help women and be documented or not be documented, that doesn’t matter,” she said.
October marks Breast Cancer Awareness Month in the United States, and in its honor, the survivors and leaders of Nueva Vida called on other Latina women in the area to seek help when necessary.
“It is extremely necessary because the Latino population has grown a lot and we come from a culture in these countries where we go to the doctor when we are sick, we do not go to the doctor for prevention,” added the executive director of the organization.
Jiménez explained that Nueva Vida focuses on Latina women because “we want to help our own Latina population… we want to give a hand to our Latina sisters who are suffering and who are going through needs that they don’t have to go through because we are here,” she concluded.