By: Panorama of the Americas Editorial Staff
Photos: Javier Pinzón and Presidential Archive
Around the world, October has been designated Breast Cancer Awareness Month. We are used to seeing the pink ribbon as the symbol of this fight against cancer, and now Panama has added all the colors of the rainbow to the campaign.”All cancers are significant and no one particular struggle is more important,” says Panama’s First Lady Lorena Castillo, who leads the campaign.
In 2014 Panama registered 5,500 cases of cancer, 672 of which were cases of breast cancer and 600 of which were cases of prostate cancer. But there were also high incidences of cervical, stomach, colon, and skin cancer (these six cancers are the most common, in the order listed), followed by lung, endometrial, thyroid, and rectal cancer.
The country’s First Lady notes that the concept of an awareness-raising campaign arises from the realization that early detection is the best way to combat cancer. “Cancer does not signify death,” she says, “it signifies a fight.” Early diagnosis can help defeat cancer.
Panama’s October campaign will have another unique twist: art, “a beautiful and effective method of communication that is available to most of the population,” adds the First Lady. What better way to raise awareness of the importance of preventing cancer and honoring the fight than a work of art that delights us and promotes national talent?
Fittingly, the ribbon has been retained as a symbol of the fight, but the ribbons have been rendered in aluminum, in heights ranging from 3.5 feet to over 7 feet tall, crafted and donated by the Articruz Workshop. Last year they were given to fifteen Panamanian artists, who added their own stylistic touches. The ribbons formed part of public exhibits in various locations around Panama City and were later auctioned off.
The Solidarity Ribbon auction raised 75,000 dollars that were donated to the National Cancer Institute and used to acquire two gamma radiation detectors (Navigator), which are essential to the detection of sentinel nodes, making it possible to evaluate the spread of melanoma and breast, cervical/uterine, and female genital cancers.
The campaign will continue with commemorative pins made from the previous year’s ribbons, and twenty Panamanian artists will create new ribbons, which will be exhibited and auctioned off to raise more funds for the Institute.
The National Cancer Institute is the hospital of choice for treating this disease in Panama. Between January and August of 2015, it performed 64,475 consultations, some 4,000 more than during the same period last year. This period also saw the hospital perform 2,136 surgical operations, or 251 more than during January-August 2014.
The hospital treats patients both with and without insurance. For outpatient consultations, it offers insured patients from outside the capital a housing service and even per diems, and helps uninsured patients procure lodging at the Casita de Emaús shelter.
The Solidarity Ribbon campaign kick-off coincided with federal government approval of a project to move the hospital to the New Ciudad de la Salud, as well as approval to purchase new equipment and refurbish existing equipment at a cost of 200 million dollars. The new structure will cover 624,306 square feet ―including 322,917 sq. ft. of enclosed space― and will provide 250 beds, ten operating rooms, twelve intensive care beds, ninety-seven doctor’s offices, waiting rooms, and training and research areas.
According to the First Lady, the facilities will also have an annex for outpatient treatment, although the intention is to decentralize the hospital in order to provide direct care in other areas of the country. “Panama has the resources. We simply need to give priority to those who need them. Companies have a social responsibility, but the important thing is that they take advantage of the opportunity to serve.”
The October campaign, led by Mrs. Castillo, will also feature special lighting of all government buildings and the October 24 “Light Walk,” open to all.