Elena’s Breast Cancer Scare

At MEDLIFE, we believe in preventative medical care. We promote preventative medicine by educating communities on how to lead a healthy life, and by creating healthier environments with our development projects—for example building safe staircases.

Another important aspect of MEDLIFE’s approach to preventative care is being vigilant to catch serious health problems early, so as to prevent their progression. For example, the breast exams and pap smears mobile clinic attendees receive are conducted to catch potential health complications at their start, so they can be addressed as soon as possible. People whose exams return positive or show signs of potentially serious illnesses are enrolled in our follow-up patient program to further investigate the issue.

336-1-Elena-HuacatocaThe additional medical attention for follow-up patients either reveals a legitimate health concern requiring further care, or it turns out to have been only precautionary. Regardless of the likelihood of the medical issue progressing, MEDLIFE always follows up with ‘red flag’ cases because of our strong belief in the power of preventative medicine and catching issues early.

MEDLIFE took exactly this level of precaution when they met 46-year-old Elena Huacatoca at a mobile clinic, near her home in Parroquia Cotundo del Canton Archidona, Ecuador.

A doctor working with MEDLIFE at the mobile clinic reviewed Elena’s general health. As a mother of two and a farm hand who helps cultivate yucca and plantains, Elena appeared mostly healthy at first, but her weakened state was revealed with further examination. The doctor noticed Elena’s frail appearance and low energy level, and that she was burning up with a fever. Elena lamented about not being able to lift her left hand without pain along the left side of her torso, a comment that directed the doctor to skip ahead and conduct the routine breast exam.

Elena presented signs of inflamed auxiliary glands and significant discharge from her left breast. Worried that she could be showing preliminary signs of breast cancer, the doctor ordered Elena to visit a specialty hospital where her case could be further reviewed.

Elena was very shy and apprehensive as she went for her appointment at a hospital in the nearest large city, Riobamba, Ecuador. She admitted being nervous, tense, and worried for the outcome—she feared having cancer. Elena’s young children depend on her dearly as she is their only constant caregiver. Although Elena is married, her husband works on a farm that is a great distance from their village and returns home only every four days. Despite Elena’s fear and hesitation, she agreed to have an ultrasound, mammogram, and cytology on the discharge to aid a diagnosis.


It turns out Elena and MEDLIFE had nothing to worry about; her results returned negative for breast cancer! Doctors at the hospital in Riobamba attributed her weakened physical state and abnormal breast presentation to a diagnosis of chronically inflamed cells and a benign abscess formation in her left breast. The doctor gave Elena the go-ahead to return home along with two prescriptions: a medication to treat the abscess, and strict orders to care for and monitor her health closely in the coming weeks. Equipped with the doctor’s orders and an encouraging prognosis, Elena left the hospital and returned home to care for her children and continue her work as a farm hand.

MEDLIFE staff in Ecuador supported Elena by accompanying her to the appointments and covering all of the related expenses along the way. Cases like Elena’s, where fears are put to rest and discouraging diagnoses disproved, are always what MEDLIFE hopes for. Regardless, MEDLIFE always takes the necessary precautions to ensure that more serious issues do not go unaddressed.  


Hear it From MEDLIFErs

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Reya Seby
Western University

This trip motivated me more to pursue a career in the healthcare field so that I can use my resources to help those who need it the most, similar to MEDLIFE’s mission.

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Victoria DiCanio
University of Connecticut

It was most enjoyable to finish the hard work and see how big a difference a group of individuals can make. It was such an amazing experience.

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Anita Woo
University of Toronto

I enjoyed the mobile clinics the most, especially the dental and triage portions. I would definitely recommend a MEDLIFE trip, it was a great experience.

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David Saff
Maclay High School

The most enjoyable part of my trip was hanging out with the amazing group of kids I was with. I would highly recommend a MEDLIFE volunteer trip to others.

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Sydney Sansone
Nova Southeastern University

This trip made everything that I was learning in my public health courses come to life and immersed me in a new culture while also learning about medicine.

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Abygail Youmans
College of Charleston

Being involved with MEDLIFE is not like joining another club - its bigger than that. It is about joining a movement that seeks to help change people’s quality of life for forever.

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Emi Hofmann
University of Central Florida

Not only was I able to participate in a week long Mobile Clinic, shadowing doctors of all types of specialties including pharmacy, dentistry, gynecology, and more, but I was also able to learn about the culture and visit incredible places.

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Julian Takagi-Stewart
University of Toronto

One thing that I really loved about this trip was that MEDLIFE made sure that the volunteers got an understanding of the complexity of issues that lead to underprivileged people in communities outside of the main city

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Hannah Van Hofwegen
University of Ottawa

Whether it was basketball with the local kids, assisting the doctors, talking with families, building washrooms, holding babies, or spending time with the people who were on the SLT with me, this was an amazing opportunity that I would do over and over again.

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Isabelle Holt
Cornell University

I loved learning about the patients MEDLIFE has followed and how they offer real help to people with chronic/urgent conditions. It is amazing how the organization formed real connections with the communities.

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Valerie Lindeborg

Our family had the privilege of participating in multiple trips with Nick [founder] and his amazing staff. Their expertise made the trips unforgettable while instilling in my boys the fundamentals of good character: selflessness, compassion, and empathy.

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Harry Vildibill
University of Georgia

As an aspiring physician, MEDLIFE motivated me to further continue my goal of becoming a doctor. In fact, I enjoyed the Tanzania Service Learning Trip so much that I decided to go on another trip to Cusco, Peru.