Women of all ages are encouraged to conduct self-breast exams at least once a month. Despite the age-inclusive recommendation, however, pre-teen girls are not usually expected to monitor their breast health as closely as, say, middle-aged women. Generally speaking, girls on the brink of puberty seldom have to worry about finding lumps in their newly emerging bumps; younger women are at a much lower risk of developing breast-related health complications. Therefore, when 13-year-old Maricielo Garcia felt soreness and a small growth in her right breast, she thought nothing of it.
She thought, “maybe it will go away with time,” but the pain persisted and the lump grew, as did Maricielo’s concern.
The pain Maricielo started experiencing in early 2014 caused her mild discomfort, but she was not sure what to make of the occasional soreness and small bouts of unfamiliar nipple discharge. She thought, “maybe it will go away with time,” but the pain persisted and the lump grew, as did Maricielo’s concern.
Maricielo’s fears were confirmed in the spring of 2014 when her aunt brought her to a MEDLIFE mobile clinic in their district of Villa Maria del Triunfo near their home in Lima. After passing through the general medicine station at the clinic, Maricielo was directed to visit the obstetrician/gynecologist. She placed herself in line alongside her older female neighbors who were waiting their turn for pap smears and breast cancer screenings. Needless to say Maricielo felt out of place.
When it was Maricielo’s turn, the gynecologist investigated the area in pain and identified the existence of a lump. For Maricielo, the situation became all too real when the gynecologist said she would need a follow-up appointment at a nearby hospital.
MEDLIFE enrolled Maricielo in the follow-up patient program and scheduled her a visit with a specialist at a hospital. Young Maricielo maintained a mature composer as she patiently endured ultrasounds, mammograms, and long hours through meetings with doctors, all to arrive at a diagnosis. Maricielo was told she had a fibroadenoma in her right breast; it was a large, benign tumor composed of connective tissue, liquid and fat that continued to grow and cause her pain. The tumor would need to be removed with a surgery.
Although the tumor was not causing any internal damage to Maricielo’s body—it was simply an annoyance—the pain she was in merited a surgery on its own, let alone the side effects being extremely embarrassing for a girl of her age. The nipple discharge constantly stained her shirts and the pain from the tumor inhibited her from partaking in physical activity with other children.
Developing a breast tumor was certainly not something Maricielo expected when she moved ten hours away to Lima from her home in Trujillo, Peru in 2013. Maricielo was relocated to Peru’s capital for access to a better education and more lucrative job opportunities. Maricielo’s father back in Trujillo struggled to provide for all of his children after his wife past away five years ago. His sisters in Lima, Maricielo’s aunts, sympathized with his situation and offered to lessen his financial burden by caring for his eldest daughter. So, Maricielo moved to Lima.
When MEDLIFE met with the aunt Maricielo currently lives with, she explained that she wanted to support her brother in any way she could afford to; in this case, that meant being a mother figure for her niece. Maricielo’s aunt has four children of her own, so she and her sister share the financial responsibility of taking care of Maricielo. They are splitting expenses for food and school until Maricielo is old enough to support herself and start sending money back to her family in Trujillo. Although more financially stable than Maricielo’s father, her aunts certainly could not afford this unexpected medical expense related to their niece’s health, so they were grateful for MEDLIFE’s support.
Maricielo, her aunts, and all involved parties hoped for a swift and painless process— a meeting with the doctor, the diagnosis, a surgery, and speedy recovery. Unfortunately, a series of external factors overthrew the projected timeline.
The hospital that was initially in charge of Maricielo’s case entered into months of widespread and tiring employee protests, which essentially barred access to any medical care that was not an emergency. Not wanting to reopen Maricielo’s case at a new hospital, everyone waited hoping the strikes would subside after a few weeks. Unfortunately, the strikes dragged on, the hospital remained closed, and Maricielo’s case could not proceed for several months.
The delay not only diminished Maricielo’s spirits, but also incited a feeling of mistrust in MEDLIFE. Maricielo and her aunt’s inherent skepticism of aid organizations in general began to shape their opinion of MEDLIFE. People in these communities are all too used to other NGO’s and political organizations that often promise support for new beginnings, but seldom deliver. In their minds, MEDLIFE was just another organization getting their hopes up only to disappoint.
Despite the obstacle, MEDLIFE would never abandon Maricielo’s case. When it became apparent that the strike would not be resolved anytime soon, and impatience levels continued to rise, MEDLIFE pulled Maricielo’s case from the idle hospital and started it anew at a fully functional one. Doctors at this hospital treated Maricielo’s as they would any new patient and started her case from scratch. After a stretch of repetitive exams, Maricielo’s new doctors boiled their findings down to the all-too-familiar diagnosis. This time, however, no hospital strike would inhibit Maricielo from finally getting the benign but obtrusive tumor removed.
After months of anticipation, the wait was finally over; Maricielo went under the knife in December of 2014 to shed the undesirable fibroadenoma. In this case, MEDLIFE covered all related expenses including the operation, appointments and transportation, and coordinated all hospital visits to ensure Maricielo received the best care.
As doctors predicted, the operation went smoothly, and within a week Maricielo was going about her life as a normal 13-year-old girl again. Though residual soreness from the operation incision still lingered during recovery, no pain lessened Maricielo’s excitement to have overcome this obstacle.