WSVN — For many women in Haiti, breast cancer is a death sentence because they don’t get help until it’s too late, but a South Florida doctor is on a mission to change that. 7’s Lynn Martinez shows us how he’s giving hope in Haiti.
Here in the U.S., cancer centers have high-tech equipment and the latest medicine. But for women in Haiti, this is the sad reality: a wide-open room where they are examined and treated for breast cancer.
Vince DeGennaro: "Eighty percent of the women in Haiti come in the advanced stages of cancer."
Miami-based Dr. Vince DeGennaro is making it his mission to change that.
Vince DeGennaro: "So these are young women with children, who are working, who, if they die, the family loses a mother or a sister or an aunt."
He opened the Project Medishare Women’s Health Center in the heart of Port-au-Prince two years ago. But it’s not just about having a place for women to go; it’s about changing the way people in Haiti view breast cancer.
Grace Tillyard: "There’s a lot of fear surrounding the disease."
Most believe breast cancer is an automatic death sentence, so they don’t go to a doctor until it’s too late.
Vince DeGennaro: "I often show pictures of some of the tumors that we see to American breast cancer doctors, and they are floored by the advanced disease."
And if a mastectomy is part of the treatment plan, many women will refuse to have the surgery.
Grace Tillyard: "There is a lot of judgment in communities, particularly if women have to undergo surgery to remove their breasts."
They would actually choose to die of breast cancer rather than face ridicule in their community.
Fran: "The nurses take good care of me."
Fran came in with stage 4 breast cancer. Speaking through a translator, she credits the center with keeping her alive.
Fran: "I am not feeling the same anymore. I don’t have a lot of pain anymore, and I always get my medication on time."
Vince DeGennaro: "Even if they come in at stage 4, the average life span is about a year and a half to two years, and if that’s a young mother, those two years make a big difference."
Dr. DeGennaro is hoping patients like Fran can help him educate Haitians about breast cancer.
Vince DeGennaro: "Helping our patients and family members go back to the churches and schools of their communities to raise awareness there."
A message Fran is more than happy to share.
Fran: "I advise all young women not to wait until they feel sick or have pain to see a doctor, because it could get worse."
Vince DeGennaro: "We think that every woman, no matter where they live on the planet, has a right to proper cancer care."
And that proper care is giving women hope in Haiti.
The clinic is now offering free prenatal care as well.
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