A Look at the Portuguese World

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With the soul of a lioness

Written by  yvette vieira fts bárbara fernandes

Raquel Lombardi is the face and driving force behind the social project "Unidos" and the association with the same name, which aims to sensitize Madeiran society to the practice of solidarity for women who fight against breast cancer through cultural and artistic activities in the various areas, from plastic arts, to stage and literature, among others.

In what context does the "United" project come about?
Raquel Lombardi: It was a therapy I used while undergoing chemotherapy treatments. One day I went to Luz Henriques's atelier and told her that I wanted to paint a picture with her and if she could help me. She helped me create a four-handed piece titled "Reborn." I felt so good to paint with her and I am not an art connoisseur, I appreciate it, but I have no technique, so, I thought What if I had a project that would foster the arts and solidarity? First I organized a concert, then we did four-handed pictures with well-known personalities and that was how we gradually created other events, such as yoga, collect food at Christmas, but always with a component linked to the arts, such as painting, music and literature.

Going back a bit, do the funds revert to materials for women who want to do this kind of 4-hand projects? Or just to support some of the medications?
RL: The first funds obtained in the solidarity concerts were given to the institutions, such as the "Portuguese league against cancer", the money obtained in the second event went to an association linked to cerebral palsy and the "House" and the third was aimed to "Believe".

And the pictures to 4 hands with famous people the funds also revert to this type of institutions of social solidarity?
RL: Yes, and they are still for sale at the Riu palace hotel. Those sold were channeled to these institutions and the Raquel Lombardi association, which was created to continue the "United" project. Why this? Because the purpose of these funds is to provide better quality of life for cancer patients in Madeira. There was a very large gap in breast cancer in senology. So we have brought in a specialist doctor here, we financed the tickets and the stay and he gives consultations at the Madalenas Clinic with the aim of helping the women of the region, because the only private doctor we had, Pedro Ramos, is currently a regional secretary and this is a big gap in this area. In the public there are doctors in the hospital, but they cannot reach all the cancer patients we have in the island.

Specifically the patients with breast cancer?
RL: I lean on these women because I can give advice, give guidelines, I am on the subject, I went through it, for all that process in which we suffer much emotionally and then at a physical level. We are very afraid, until today I feel it, I am afraid of the examinations that I do, of everything, because when I left the island to treat me the doctors had told me that there was nothing to do, that I would carry out the treatments and soon we would see what was going to happen next. I used doctors and treatments in Lisbon because I have possessions, but who does not, how do they do it? I have tried by all means to give these people a second opinion and that is why we bring Dr. Fernando Fernandes to Madeira, although it is a private consultation, people can go without having to go to Lisbon. Going to the capital is not just the consultation, it is the stay, travel, food, transportation and being outside the family, something that most women cannot do in financial terms.

But what is senology?
RL: It is a specialty on breast diseases, he already has 20 years experience and has worked 22 years at the IPO (Portuguese Oncology Institute), is one of the best at the national level and did not even think about coming to Madeira because in monetary terms it is not the same as it is in Lisbon. But after creating this project, the doctor heard about my work, was interested in coming here and being part of the association and it is now he who gives us guidelines of what we need to do.

So how does the Raquel Lombardi association work in practice? How do women contact with doubts and apprehensions? And do you have a headquarters where they are sent?
RL: Our physical headquarters does not exist, however, we have our facebook page, which is Raquel Lombardi Association where by private message people tell their story and from there we go. IF a woman wants a second medical opinion is with Dr. Fernando Fernandes. For women undergoing chemotherapy we have sent for free yoga and meditation classes in the new age academy because it is very important for breathing when embarking on this process. At the level of clinical pilates, or other alternative medicines can also appeal at the madalenas clinic at a discounted price for the association. We do not have a space because we were created recently, in July of last year, I have met with many people who have seen our hard work, however, the regional government still has no ability to provide us with a headquarters, But I have faith that I will.

Breast reconstruction that is still an area with gaps at the regional level?
RL: We do not have reconstruction specialists in Madeira. I know there is a specialist who comes here to do such surgery in the Sé clinic. In my case I did not have to rebuild because I was advised not to operate yet, they are still seeing my progress and how the cells will develop. Then it is also the patient's choice and I do not feel prepared to do any new reconstruction operations.

Do the women also look for your association to support you in terms of special bras? RL: Some have asked where they find such pieces. We have a protocol with Amoena, so we give the address, if they cannot go to Lisbon we measure the person and we sent it to receive it by mail. However, I have already proposed to the designer Hugo Santos to create a line of bras for women who have lost a breast, as is my case, and I will be one of the first to acquire one of these pieces.

When women contact you via facebook, what do they ask you the most?
RL: Most of the people who contact me want to know about the doctor, they want a second opinion.

Why is there a need for a second consultation? Is it the fear of diagnosis?
RL: A second opinion is very important, not because we distrust f othe first diagnosis, it is because it gives us a certain security. When we hear the word cancer for the first time we think we'll die soon? Where will it be located? Is it in another organ? Because it is a disease that may be silent, in my case I have never been sick at 46 years of age. My diagnosis came because I received the letter to do the trawl in the breast and I went, did not feel anything, had no lumps and 3 days after taking the exam was contacted to present me urgently in the hospital and they gave me this news, which was a large cancer in the left breast.

And did art help you in that direction?
RL: Very much to the psychological level, also for the "United" project I felt very useful and conveying my word. I thought it was important to share my experience and this could serve as an example for others who were suffering, especially women who were abandoned by their husbands at a time when they needed it most. But it was not only in these cases, there are women who after the mastectomy do not like their body, to see themselves in the mirror, the intimate life is only restarted after chemotherapy, because before it is very difficult to maintain an active sex life and even then, the sexuality is made with a bra, because there is a lot of shame and this is one of the aspects that affect a woman's self-esteem, which makes her feel very low, it is not that beauty is important, but your body has changed, your mind, your life, and you do not know how much time you have.

Have you ever contacted a man?
RL: No, never. There was a gentleman who contacted me to congratulate me because his wife was in the same situation, they followed all my work and were happy that someone faced cancer in this way. She's been healthy for twenty years, she is fine and both even went to the concert.
Are you contacted by women from the mainland?
RL: I was contacted by at least three or four women out of the island and still by the women who treated me. But, it is very sad, sometimes I am very happy to be an example for them and they are still with me in this fight, which is surpassing day by day, but then there is the other side, some of them got lost along the way, in this walk two passed away and I am very depressed. When I used to hear about cancer I felt sorry for those people. Today is not only that, but I feel it is also with me, because I see myself in those shoes and it is very complicated to manage these emotions.

What are the new events for this year?
RL: My new project for this year is to take "United" out of Madeira.

In what way?
RL: Let's, for example, do a 4-hand work, the funds revert to an institution on the mainland. On the 8th I launched a children's book, called "a colorful story" that speaks of color and light, in this book participated as an illustrator the painter Fiuliano Giuggioli that later came to exhibit in Madeira, by the time of the launching of this publication and why? I am a kindergarten teacher and this is a topic that is very much worked on at this stage in children. I also work a lot with art, I have another project called "colorful world", which I take to all the children of the region, where we created a canvas with painting and explored the colors. Now I am going to launch another book, in Lisbon, to be distributed directly in Italy, it is dedicated to the mothers, because a mother it is always a woman, it is a point of reference for children, who may suffer from breast cancer, in the book I say "my mother is bald, does chemo but is strong as a lion" because it is important for children to have this perception that chemotherapy removes hair, but then it grows and everything gets normal.

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