The journey begins when I receive an email from the owner of a lingerie store. She tells me she has several large boxes of prosthetics that she’d like to donate to our next Cancer de Mama Clinic. I’m thrilled to get this news, but it means a two-hour drive to pick up the donation. I’m more than happy to do this driving though, because I know the significant value of this donation. I know how many lives it will change.
The next morning, home again from my journey, I begin to unpack the boxes. As expected, each prosthetic is still well protected in its own individual case. But I know it can’t remain like that – much too bulky for its long journey to Mexico. So I remove each prosthetic from its safe and cushioned spot, laying it on my king size bed. By morning’s end, the bed is full and the floor is covered with empty cases.
Now I begin to layer the prosthetics into sturdy boxes. These are some of the most special moments for me as a volunteer with the Cancer de Mama Clinic. It’s almost a sacred time. I handle each prosthetic gently, respectfully. If I think it’s been used before, I wonder about the donor. Where is she now? Why was her prosthetic returned to the lingerie store? I say a quick prayer for her, wherever she is. With every prosthetic, my thoughts turn to the Mexican woman who will one day receive it. Where is she today? What has been her breast cancer story? Does she even realize yet that she has breast cancer, that she will soon lose her breast? Or was her breast removed many years ago? Is she wondering how it will be possible for her to travel to the Clinic? My questions seem endless.
The boxes fill slowly, but I don’t rush the process. I know that once these prosthetics get unpacked at the Clinic, it will be a really busy time, so I treasure these quiet moments with them. I often cry. It’s the breast prosthetics that lie at the heart of the Clinic and I’m so grateful that I can see and touch so many of them.
Once my tears are over and the boxes filled to the brim, it’s time to get these treasures on their way. There are 150 of them this time! I had posted the need for transportation on the Cancer de Mama Clinic FaceBook page and a generous couple who will be driving to La Penita have let me know that they’d be happy to add a few extra boxes to their rig. My husband squeezes the boxes into our car between two golden retrievers and we make the four-hour drive to meet our newest friends. We watch as they fit the boxes into various nooks and crannies of their beautiful RV. I can see that they handle the boxes with the same respect that we did and it feels good – I know this precious cargo will be well cared for on its long journey to La Penita, Mexico.
A few busy months pass, Christmas is over and it’s Clinic week now. Someone has told me that my boxes arrived safely and have been unpacked. Other gentle hands have sorted the prosthetics according to size and I take a peek to see them all lined up, waiting in bins and ready for our first Clinic Day.
Many of the Mexican women have left their homes in the dark of night to travel long miles by bus to arrive at the Clinic by early morning. The excitement in the air is palpable as they line up outside, bunched together in little groups, waiting for our doors to open. Eventually registration begins. Each woman is greeted in Spanish and given a small piece of paper with her name on it. She will cling to that paper for hours as she waits her turn, wondering what this day will hold for her? Finally, her name is called and she is warmly welcomed by a smiling volunteer who will gently guide her into a fitting room. It’s in this tiny space that the magic begins …
In a way which feels similar to the sense of reverence I experienced when packing up the prosthetics in my bedroom at home – I appreciate a sense of sacredness in this space too. The floors are just basic grey cement and the walls as such, are simple pink curtains, hanging from ceiling railings to serve as dividers. Great care has been taken so that each woman can have a secure experience of privacy.
All of the women who come to this Clinic have suffered. All are brave. Sometimes after their very long wait, in the privacy of this small but safe fitting room, their smiles turn to tears and the search to find a good prosthetic is put on hold. Mujeres a mujeres, woman to woman. In this moment, comfort is far more important than efficiency.
After the woman’s measurements have been taken, a volunteer goes to the supply room where other volunteers help to find a few prosthetics for her to try. Sometimes a good fit is found immediately and at other times, several tries are needed. But slowly the magic is happening. The right prosthetic suddenly fits. It has been slipped into a new bra and has begun its transition. Before long it will become almost a part of this woman’s body. It will meld into her flesh every day. It will allow her to be proud of her shape once again. it will give her confidence. It will give her new hope that life can go on after a mastectomy.
The prosthetic that was once an expensive blob of gel, has now become priceless joy. It has found its forever home. It has found life.
Liana Gallant, February 8, 2018