The new radiotherapy unit at Lanzarote’s general hospital is likely to be open this month, and is a huge triumph for AFOL, Lanzarote’s Association for Families Affected by Cancer. We spoke to AFOL’s President, Carmen Arrocha, recently.
First, congratulations are in order for the construction of the radiotherapy bunker. Is this finished, and what does it mean for cancer sufferers on Lanzarote?
We started this process. It was our initiative to hire technicians to check if it was viable. At first, the authorities were doubtful and said it wasn’t possible. Now the bunker has been built, and all that’s required is the installation of the machinery – we hope this month.
It’s an immense source of pride for us, because it will mean so much for the 300 or so cancer patients on the island who will no longer have to travel, stay in strange accommodation, apply for subsidies and often be parted from family and their homes for a treatment that only takes a few minutes a day.
It’s a magnificent achievement, but we know that you won’t stop there. What’s next?
Our next campaign is for a Positron Emission Tomography machine so that we can carry out PET scans on the island without having to send patients to Gran Canaria. PET scans are vital to detect tumours or the spread of cancers.
We’re also campaigning for more oncologists (cancer specialists) at the hospital. This very week a new oncologist has started work, bringing the total at the at the hospital to four. We want six, so that the island can be guaranteed the service it needs, and so that these specialists are also able to work well and give the highest quality of care.
Has the Covid pandemic caused problems for cancer sufferers?
Huge problems. Mainly because of restrictions that meant that doctors were unable to deal with patients face-to-face. This has caused delays in diagnoses, in tests and in treatment. For many people, this delay means that diagnosis of cancer has been late.
And that could cost lives?
It already has. Especially in young people. This is another reason why we want more specialists.
What are the most common cancers on Lanzarote?
Breast cancer, colon cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer and bladder cancer. We’re pleased that screening for colon cancer was introduced on the island a couple of years ago, but we’d advise more people to get screened. Recently we’ve seen more younger women developing what’s called triple negative breast cancer, which spreads very quickly. We want to fund research into this at CEAMED, the drug development centre on Gran Canaria, and we’ll be fundraising for this.
How can people help you?
With donations; by joining our association as a partner, by volunteering or by fundraising. Last October we were hugely grateful to receive €500 from Sheila Cotter, who walked 400 kms in one month to raise money for cancer charities.
AFOL recently celebrated its 20th anniversary of existence. You’ve been at the head of the association from the start. Do you plan to take a rest soon?
Not at all. It’s not just me, most of the board are still in place, and our aim remains the same. As the family members of cancer sufferers, we want to make sure that what happened to us doesn’t happen to other people. The association was set up not only for our children, but for those that would come after. It’s tiring at times, a lot of effort is required, but it’s a real source of pride to receive support and gratitude.
Is it sad?
It can be very sad, but there is also blessedness in knowing that you can help someone through this long, hard painful process.
AFOL – www.afol.info
TEL: +34 928 816 960 or +34 606 656 046
C/ Manolo Millares, 77 – 2a planta – Puerta 6 35500 Arrecife – Lanzarote
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