Claudia Pinto never worried about her health. She has a resilient immune system, she says. She has never become sick enough to merit a visit to the doctor. Claudia’s priority is not her own well-being, anyway. She became a mother when she was 23 years old, and since then, has always put her children’s needs before her own.
Claudia’s children never had a father figure; she supports her small family single-handedly. To accomplish this challenging task, Claudia works unforgivingly long hours as a housemaid in order to feed her children and afford very basic living expenses. Without a moment of free time to assess her own physical condition, let alone manage time off from work to visit the doctor, Claudia never had the resources to even consider the possibility of developing a serious health problem.
When a MEDLIFE mobile clinic came through Claudia’s neighborhood in San Juan de Miraflores in August of 2014, she initially hesitated, assuming it would conflict with work. Before the clinic, however, Claudia managed a few free hours from her commitments, and found it too convenient to pass up. She join her neighbors and attended the clinic with her son, his health being her priority, of course.
Claudia visited the OB/GYN station to take advantage of the free breast exam and pap smear, of which she has only had five or six in her life—a number incredibly low for a woman in her forties. During her check-up, the OB/GYN informed her of two discoveries Claudia would need to attend to. Claudia was first told she had a urinary tract infection, something easily remedied. The doctor’s second piece of news caught her off guard a bit. Claudia was informed of a small lump in her breast. The doctor at the mobile clinic expressed her concern and told Claudia to follow-up as soon as possible.
“Well, this simply won’t work,” Claudia thought while her mind immediately skimmed over a whole host of reasons for why a growth in her breast was an utter inconvenience: lack of finances, the need to constantly work, responsibility to care for her children, etc. Claudia left the mobile clinic in a hurry, attempting to run away from the new discovery, though she did acknowledge her breast had been in pain for a while. Regardless, Claudia wanted it to disappear so she started by ridding it from her mind and went about her routine as usual.
Though Claudia tried to escape her new reality, she somewhat confronted it by confiding in a friend, one who could lend her some guidance. Claudia’s friend had suffered from breast cancer for ten years and felt very strongly about Claudia’s new discovery. “Please take care of yourself,” pleaded Claudia’s friend. “Don’t suffer if you don’t have to. I don’t want what happened to me to happen to you.” And with that, Claudia was convinced to visit a nearby medical “post” to ask for medical advice.
At the small community clinic, Claudia found out the cost to remove the Fibroadenoma, a non-cancerous tumor, from her breast would be 210 Peruvian soles, or 70 USD, which Claudia simply did not have. She makes enough money to feed her family and pay for household expenses but is never able to save that large of an amount.
Feeling trapped in her situation, Claudia began to panic. She was frightened for her health and for her children’s well-being. Most of all, Claudia was afraid of the possibility of not finding a resolution. She thought there was no way out.
Her luck changed in October 2014. Claudia reconnected with MEDLIFE at a community meeting in her neighborhood that was held to discuss upcoming projects and winter mobile clinics. During the meeting, Claudia approached MEDLIFE staff explaining her situation— and she was immediately recognized. She was a patient who they tried to contact after the August mobile clinic but were unable to reach her. Claudia and MEDLIFE realized it was a misunderstanding, and moved forward to solve the problem.
After a few preliminary appointments with Claudia, MEDLIFE scheduled her operation and she had her tumor removed on November 5, 2014. The organization covered all related expenses including medical appointments, the operation and medications. Claudia said, for the first time in years, she felt fully supported, not only financially, but also emotionally. At first, Claudia could not believe that someone outside of her family cared enough about her health to help. She feels extremely grateful to MEDLIFE for discovering her ailments, because otherwise she would have continued living her life without knowledge that she was ill.
Since her experience with MEDLIFE, Claudia is determined to spread the word to her neighbors about how important it is to care for their health. She recognizes that for people living in the hills of Lima, proper medical care is neglected for many reasons, including lack of access, time, and money. Though she has been lucky with good health up until this point, she knows the situation is far different for many of her neighbors. She wants to encourage others to not only be vigilant of their health, but also take advantage of help when it comes along.