Elena's Breast Cancer Scare - MEDLIFE

Elena’s Breast Cancer Scare

The question of “why is early detection of cancer important?” gets easily answered after listening to the stories of our patients. 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.