Oct 31, 2018

Breast Cancer Survivors Share Their Stories

Thank you very much for continuous support of Partners In Health’s long-term work in Haiti.  We are very grateful of your partnership in our efforts to create a robust healthcare system in Haiti. All our progress has been made possible because of donors like yourself.  In solidarity with breast cancer awareness month, below is news of our progress in battling breast cancer in Haiti.

 

Five days a week at University Hospital in Mirebalais, Haiti, dozens of patients flow through the oncology ward for doctors’ visits, chemotherapy, and consultations with the team’s social worker or psychologist. The vast majority are women, and many—450 in 2018 alone—are in various stages of battling breast cancer.

For Breast Cancer Awareness Month, staff at Zanmi Lasante, as Partners In Health is known in Haiti, asked survivors to share their journeys with cancer. Some of the women started receiving care in Cange; others first went to University Hospital, which opened in March 2013 and is still the only facility in Haiti that provides free cancer care and psychosocial support. Each woman comes with a different perspective and background, but all share the scars of the same disease.

 

Here are their stories:

 

The lump in Laurie's breast never hurt, so it was easier to push its existence out of her mind. But one day, she noticed the lump had become much harder, and her concern grew. In 2011, she visited a doctor in Léogâne, near her home in southern Haiti. A biopsy revealed she had breast cancer, and her doctor recommended she visit the PIH-supported hospital in Cange.

Laurie was still scared and in shock by the diagnosis when she arrived. But PIH staff and clinicians “explained everything to me, provided me with information, and eased my mind,” she says. She underwent a series of chemotherapy treatments to shrink the mass, then had her first surgery in 2014.

Despite taking tamoxifen to prevent a recurrence, Laurie found another lump and has had two more surgeries since 2016—all while under PIH’s careful watch. She continues to travel to the hospital regularly for follow-up care.

“By the grace of God,” she says, “I feel good these days.”

Cita is a single mother of seven who has seen a lot in her 49 years. When she found a lump in her breast, it was one of several worries was juggling at the time, including occasional homelessness. She visited doctor after doctor and got no relief, just more bills.

Then, one day, someone told her about University Hospital, where cancer care was free. She visited shortly after it opened and met Dr. Damuse. After a biopsy and several exams, Damuse informed Cherie that she had an advanced stage of breast cancer. The doctor didn’t recommend surgery, but advised her to start palliative chemotherapy, which could prolong her life.

Five years later, Cita rarely misses her chemotherapy appointments. Damuse has shifted her to different lines of palliative treatment over that time, with occasional recovery breaks in between. Inevitably, she arrives with a huge smile, and is always in good spirits.

“If it were not for the Mirebalais hospital, I would not be alive today,” Cita says. “I get all my medication for free, and when I come to the hospital, the doctors take really good care of me. They welcome me and they really value me.”

Adriana  had a similar reaction to many women when they first learn that the lump in their breast is cancer. She was terrified and prayed that she would stay alive, for her family’s sake.

“I have six children,” Adriana says, adding that there are four boys and two girls. “My last one was in sixth grade, and I was worried that I would not be able to help him advance in school.”

The hospital she visited in Tabarre, not far from her home on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, referred her to another facility for surgery. But she knew she couldn’t afford the procedure. A friend recommended she visit the PIH-supported hospital in Cange, where she could get free care.

Following her advice, Adriana  traveled to Cange in 2010 and got the surgery she needed. But her cancer was persistent, and tumors reemerged. In 2012, she underwent a mastectomy, recovered from surgery, and began taking tamoxifen to prevent a recurrence. She remains in follow-up care at University Hospital.

 “I used to say: ‘As long as the girls are young, I would not want to die before they get married,’” Jean, now 62, remembers. “Today they are older, and if I die now, I am relieved that I would not leave young children behind.”

Philomena, 77, had a long journey to get the care she needed after discovering a mass in her breast more than eight years ago. It took a while, but she eventually got an appointment at the General Hospital in Port-au-Prince, where a clinician took a biopsy and sent the breast tissue away for testing. Months passed before she got results. When she learned she had cancer and would need surgery, she felt a pang of despair.

“I told Jesus I did not understand what was happening,” she remembers.

Again, Philomena  waited months for her next appointment at General Hospital, while the mass grew and formed a painful abscess that eventually burst. Desperate for help, she followed another doctor’s recommendation and turned to the PIH-supported hospital in Cange.

There she met Dr. Damuse, who wasted no time. Moise had her first appointment in February 2010, and by April, she was scheduled for surgery to remove the mass. She began chemotherapy in Cange and continued her care at University Hospital in Mirebalais. She has been in follow-up care ever since.

Aug 30, 2018

Haiti Earthquake Recovery - Aug 2018 Update

Photo by Cecille Joan Avila / Partners In Health
Photo by Cecille Joan Avila / Partners In Health

Above: Lunie, a 2-year-old malnutrition patient, plays peek-a-boo while standing by her mother at their home in rural Lascahobas, Haiti.

Thank you very much for supporting Partners In Health’s long-term work in Haiti. Since the earthquake in 2010, we’ve been able to expand many of our programs including treatment for childhood malnutrition with your help.

One of Partners In Health’s goals wherever we work is to eliminate all deaths due to malnutrition in children under five years of age. Malnutrition in Haiti contributes to an estimated 30% of all child deaths in the country. Stunting affects roughly one-quarter of all children, with a greater burden in rural areas.

And yet, we know the solutions: Provide children with adequate calories for growth and development, through food that won’t spoil over several weeks and doesn’t need to be refrigerated. Bring malnutrition screening and care closer to communities to increase frequency of treatment and prevent moderate cases from becoming severe. Build systems for patient tracking and follow-up including regular home visits from Community Health Workers to improve linkages between the community and health facilities.

With help from generous supporters like you, PIH reaches thousands of children in need in our catchment areas in Haiti. Through mobile clinics and health centers around the country, we see improvements every day. “Since they started mobile clinics, the number of hospitalizations (for children with severe malnutrition) has decreased dramatically,” Dr. André says. “I think it’s the best thing we could ever do.”

Once enrolled in a PIH malnutrition program, children and their families often receive information on the kinds of nutrients children need and links between food and clean water and hygiene. If parents don’t have access to clean water, children with diarrhea won’t be able to gain weight – so household water and sanitation measures are also integrated into the program.

After the presentation, caregivers and their children line up to be seen. Auxiliary nurses measure each child’s height and weight and upper arm circumference and compare results with charts from previous visits. In addition to a two-week supply of Nourimanba, some children also receive iron supplements, oral rehydration salts, deworming antibiotics or cream treatment for scabies. It’s one of the benefits of the mobile clinics: While children are enrolled to improve their nutrition, they’re also accessing broader medical services. 

Between January and March of this year, the team ran 108 mobile clinics in rural, remote, hard-to-reach places over a three-month span. Each mobile clinic holds dozens and dozens of daily success stories: infants and children who live hours from a doctor or a road or electricity, and who are receiving health care and nutritional support that will give them a chance at a future not impeded by stunting or wasting or developmental delays.

Jun 4, 2018

Summer 2018 Haiti Earthquake Recovery Update

Photo by Cecille Joan Avila / Partners in Health
Photo by Cecille Joan Avila / Partners in Health

Thank you for your continued support of PIH’s Haiti Earthquake Recovery project!

A large part of PIH’s efforts for earthquake recovery in Haiti involve rebuilding the health system, including ensuring that women have the resources that they need for safe childbirth. We are pleased to share with you the following story from Haiti- about a mother named Natacha, who benefited from the services offered at the maternal waiting home at University Hospital in Mirebalais, Haiti:

This pregnancy was different.

Natacha had already given birth to three girls, so she thought she knew what to expect while expecting. But the 39-year-old mother began feeling unbearable pain while seven months along. No matter how she shifted her body, her baby lay in an awkward position.

Natacha was unable to get the help she needed in her home of Port-de-Paix, so her sister, who is a trained nurse, recommended she travel to the closer University Hospital in Mirebalais, Partners In Health’s 300-bed teaching facility in the Central Plateau that offers free care.

She arrived at University Hospital on Sept. 18, 2017, and was seen by an OB-GYN, who confirmed that her baby boy was breech, or not head down. She also learned he was hydrocephalic, meaning his head was abnormally large from a buildup of fluid on the brain. The doctor recommended she stay nearby so that staff could monitor her risky pregnancy.

Normally, staying nearby would have been impossible for Natacha. She had no family in Mirebalais, and she definitely couldn’t afford two months of lodging as she waited for her Nov. 23 due date.

Luckily, Zanmi Lasante, as PIH is known in Haiti, had a new maternal waiting home to accommodate women in situations like Natacha’s by providing free lodging at the University Hospital campus. She was admitted that same day, given a welcome kit including basic toiletries, and settled into a room she shared with two other expectant mothers.

For her part, Natacha had faith that everything would turn out alright. She was five days away from her due date and feeling heavy, but hopeful. She had enjoyed her stay and marveled at how much it would’ve cost if she had had to pay for the free, comprehensive care she’d received so far.

“The care found here,” she said, “is priceless.”

 
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