The Malta Independent 17 October 2019, Thursday

A battle won and still fighting

Marika Azzopardi Sunday, 15 September 2019, 09:48 Last update: about 2 months ago

Marika Azzopardi

Twenty years ago she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She entered the operating room with a pea-sized lump in a breast and emerged with a mastectomy. At the time there was nobody to give her psychological help at the hospital but fortunately she discovered the Breast Support Group. The rest is history. Gertrude Abela has been involved in efforts to support women (and men) who experience breast cancer first hand, since.

Today, she can speak with tons of experience. Previously Vice President and subsequently President of the Group, she saw it becoming affiliated with Europa Donna to become Europa Donna Malta. Presently she holds the position of President of this NGO once again. "I can say I was there practically from the start, rubbing shoulders with incredible and inspiring women such as Helen Muscat, Laura Bajada and Hilda Schembri. All three unfortunately lost their battle with cancer, but their staple work and unceasing efforts made the creation and growth of this group possible."

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Initially, when it started out in 1987, it had been called 'The Mastectomy Group' a name which speedily changed to 'The Breast Care Group' in 1989. It was Hilda Schembri who began organising the first lectures specifically geared for health professionals, in order to better explain to them how women experience the sad circumstance of living with breast cancer. Eventually the talks were also delivered with other varied and less 'medical' issues and aimed at the general public. Indeed, the Hilda Schembri Memorial Lecture still happens every year, despite Hilda's passing. Today Europa Donna Malta forms part of the National Cancer Platform which includes some 15 NGOs.

"The group is active in varied ways. There is the Fashion Show which was resumed this year after a short absence, and was held last June. The first one we had way back had included fashion models as well as two breast cancer survivor ladies who also modelled on the catwalk. This year we had 11 models, nine of whom are survivors and two if whom are the daughters of survivors. It was quite an emotional feat for all involved. We make it a point to see that all profits from this event go directly to support local cancer research which is pretty active, although not many know about it."

Europa Donna Malta meets every first Thursday of the month and this meeting provides members the opportunity to attend a social event where diverse topics are presented every month, and not necessarily ones related to the illness. "Members also receive free counselling services which are immensely important in this delicate phase of a woman's life. As we approach Pink October, we are increasingly busy but our aim is not to speak about breast cancer just once a year but to keep up awareness campaigns throughout the year, every year."

The group is not involved in lobbying but rather in keeping women and men knowledgeable about the illness, how to avoid it, how to recognise it early. "The aim is to help people nip breast cancer in the bud.  We work to provide support, increase advocacy and intensify awareness. We have had previous experiences where we successfully collaborated with other groups in order to make something significant become reality. A case in point was the concerted efforts put in in order to get national breast screening in place. This was way back in 2009 and it was a successful effort."

Gertrude says, "Whilst the incidence of breast cancer cases has increased, I strongly believe it is due to an increased awareness, which allows new cases to be promptly identified. In fact the death rate from breast cancer has decreased on a national level, since early treatment does not need to be so aggressive."


Breast Cancer is not just visible as a lump on a breast. Here is a list of irregularities to look out for and have investigated:

Asymmetry, orange peel, nipple retraction, growing veins, skin erosion, redness or heat, invisible lump, lump or bump; dimpling, new fluid from nipple, hardening, indention

 


For more information on Europa Donna Malta: [email protected]org.mt or call 99994666/ 99330330/ 2720 4403


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