Breast-cancer victim’s appeal for cash to pay for treatment

Breast cancer sufferer Josefina Abaya is appealing for help in covering the cost of her final cycle of chemotherapy after her medical insurance won't cover the costs.

Josefina Abaya found out last year she had breast cancer. Antonie Robertson / The National
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DUBAI // About 18 months ago Josefina Abaya found a hard, painful lump in her breast.

She knew she had to see a doctor – but nothing could have prepared her for the journey ahead.

She has had to deal not only with the life-changing diagnosis of breast cancer — and consequently a mastectomy — but also a battle to pay for follow-up care that insurance does not cover.

It was in January last year that Ms Abaya, 52, who works as a saleswoman in a swimwear shop in Dubai to support her three children in the Philippines, felt a burning sensation in her breast.

“My boss had asked me to merchandise the shop the whole day,” she recalls. “It was hard work. I was up and down the ladders. My right breast was heavy and there was a burning there. It really hurt.”

When she carried out a self-examination, Ms Abaya found a hard lump. A biopsy later determined she had breast cancer, the second-biggest killer of women after cardiovascular disease.

Breast cancer has four stages of severity defined by the prevalence and size of the lymph nodes and tumours. Ms Abaya was told she had stage-three cancer.

“They told me they should remove my breast,” she says, “or it might spread to my lungs.”

“I was really shocked. I felt like I should have a second opinion,” Ms Abaya says.

She sought the advice of several specialists, but they all gave the same answer. “They said my breast had to be removed within three weeks.”

Ms Abaya had a mastectomy on February 9, 2013.

While the surgery has left her with scars, the post-operative treatment has also had a knock-on effect.

“All my hair was gone, all my nails got black and my tongue got black too,” she says. “I had no eyebrows. No eyelashes. All my hair was removed, because it was tough medicine.”

Ms Abaya’s basic health insurance covered the cost of her surgery, but she was left to foot the bill for specialist follow-up care at Dubai Hospital, which included four cycles of chemotherapy and chest-wall radiotherapy.

Her sister Maya Dulay, who also lived in Dubai, set up a fund-raising campaign selling T-shirts. But donations dried up and the money raised falls short of the remaining Dh16,000 needed for Ms Abaya’s last four chemotherapy sessions — the final phase of her treatment.

“I am asking the doctors — how am I after the surgery?” she says. “But they say I need all the treatment before they can tell.”

Without completing her treatment, Ms Abaya is also unable to have reconstructive surgery.

“We are asking for help to raise funds for my sister’s medication,” said Ms Dulay. “You could be an instrument of hope to our cause and help save my sister’s life.”

Ms Dulay said it was tough to see her sister post-surgery.

“I saw sadness in her eyes. It was one thing she could not hide from me. I knew that to have her breast removed was not easy for her and acceptance was also hard. Her three children and loving husband are the reason my sister kept fighting her condition. She never thought of giving up as an option.”

Stephanie Thessman, a New Zealand expatriate in Dubai and a long-time friend and customer of Ms Abaya, described her as a “wonderful, kind woman” and added her voice to the fund-raising plea.

“This has so far been an 18-month journey for Josefina. It is hard enough to have a cancer diagnosis, let alone worrying about how to pay for treatment. No one deserves this added worry and stress while going through such an emotional time.

“I am appealing to anyone who is able to donate, however small, to save this lovely woman’s life.”

To help, contact Maya Dulay on 050 149 9734 or email mayajaya_ph@yahoo.com.

jbell@thenational.ae