by Susan Cotton, Chair of the Board
Last Wednesday it happened. “Lina,” a young mother of five came to a Lily health event with her mother and sister, and our team immediately knew she was a very sick woman. The smell of blood and body, her fragility and her family’s concern were intense. Anielka helped her to the exam table and peeled away the cloth Lina used to try and keep the blood from pouring out of her body. She told Anielka that she had been in pain for three years, lately so excruciating she couldn’t sleep at night, and that the bleeding just wouldn’t stop anymore. Fortunately, a doctor with MINSA was observing our event that day and worked with our team to get Lina to the closest hospital, a few hours away in Matagalpa, for further diagnosis and treatment for the pain; with a plan to move her to Bertha Calderon in Managua, another few hours away, but the one hospital in Nicaragua that treats women with cervical cancer.
We have known this day would come. Since our launch a little more than a year ago, The Lily Project has screened more than 2,600 women and treated more than 100 women for precancerous lesions. Five women with more advanced lesions have been referred to the hospital for further treatment. Given cervical cancer is the #1 cancer killer in Nicaragua, it is a certainty we will see women with cancer. And so we thought through a “process” to help each woman as best we can. But it is hard to prepare with your head for something that hits your heart.
Lina’s oldest child is 17 years old; the same age Anielka was when her mom Azucena (Lily in Spanish) died of cervical cancer. As many of you know, The Lily Project exists because Anielka watched cervical cancer devastate Azucena and is determined to keep other children from losing their mothers to this preventable disease. In this society, when you lose a mother, you often lose a family. Lina knows she is her children’s world, and is incredibly frightened to leave them without a mother to love and raise them. Especially her young son from her first husband who will lose both his mother and his home. Since bringing Lina to the hospital we have learned that her cancer has metastasized and is at stage IIIa or IVa and likely invaded her rectum as well. All of this is incomprehensible to Lina; Anielka is becoming her guide - explaining her cancer, her treatment options and preparing her for the chances of its success. Over the next couple of days her doctors will know more and Lina will decide either to go to Managua for treatment or back home to die with her children by her side.
In the meantime, The Lily Project has arranged for Lina’s children to come to Matagalpa to stay with their mom…and have a photograph taken of Lina with each child. Because one of Anielka’s most profound regrets is she does not have one picture of her and her mother together, we are making sure this same regret isn’t experienced by Lina’s children. They will have a picture they can carry into their futures that reminds them of just how much they are loved.