In October, the Princess Grace Hospital Centre launched its BreastDay Centre devoting a single day to screening, diagnosis and pre-therapeutic support for breast cancer – with having results the same day.
Cancer support is something Valérie Barilaro knows all about. “My father, who left too soon and too young, died of cancer 25 years ago. And as a beautician, which is about wellbeing, touch and listening, I naturally leaned towards helping and supporting others, in particular with Ecoute Cancer Réconfort.”
For the past seven years, Valérie has been president of Ecoute Cancer Réconfort, which on November 29 will celebrate its 30-year anniversary at the Monaco Yacht Club in the presence of Prince Albert and the association’s honorary president, Princess Stephanie.
I had the genuine pleasure to meet Valérie and learn about Ecoute Cancer Réconfort at a MonacoUSA event at Before back in March. The Monegasque association was created in 1992. “Thirty years ago, supportive did not really exist for cancer patients,” explains Valérie. “Our first president, Martine Vacarezza, realised there is an emptiness when you come out of heavy treatments after spending months going to the hospital almost daily. Overnight there is nothing left, no more appointments for three months for that first post-cancer assessment. On the outside everything seems great but for a cancer patient a deep anxiety sets in with the loss of those reassuring hospital landmarks – meeting doctors, routine tests – even if you just want to take your life back.”
Martine had the idea of setting up a support hotline but quickly Ecoute Cancer Réconfort’s founding members understood that more was needed. In the days before VLS (Véhicule Sanitaire Léger/Light Medical Vehicle) taxis that were reimbursed drove people to the hospital, the association offered a car service driven by volunteers to get cancer patients to their treatments. Over time, with a few succeeding presidents, the association evolved with volunteers keeping cancer patients company during chemotherapy.
In 2009, the life-changing Espace Mieux Etre opened its doors at l’Atalante in Fontvieille. This non-medical day care center specialises in free cancer support care provided by seasoned professionals, from psychologists who also practice art therapy through drawing, writing or painting to naturopaths (energy, plantar reflexology, mindfulness meditation, advice on nutrition). Socio-aesthetics (social and aesthetic care) is also on the menu to help manage self-image and confidence in a post-cancer world with treatment side-effects on the skin and nails, as well as alopecia and scarring. Espace Mieux Etre likewise offers sport activities essential to rehabilitation, including tai chi, yoga and hiking, as well as various workshops throughout of the year, in particular, a “self-esteem weekend”.
For anyone like me who has witnessed a family member or friend undergo cancer treatment , this association hits home. Espace Mieux Etre is open to anyone affected by cancer, undergoing treatment or in remission, as well as their families and loved ones, in Monaco and its surroundings.
One cancer patient shares, “There is no way to absorb the news of a doctor announcing face-to-face: ‘You have cancer.’ Time stops and quickly you enter into another world. You do what you have to do but it is not enough. Ecoute Cancer Réconfort is the beginning of mental recovery, a new way of absorbing your sickness. Providing all the various help you need, physical and psychological, in parallel to the treatments, they help you to regain your self-esteem, your strength and advance in your new life. They are not an option, they are an absolute necessity to your full recovery.”
Another expresses, “Ecoute Cancer Réconfort offers us a life despite the disease. We are pampered, like in a cocoon, and this allows us to face everyday life with greater ease. Psychologists, energy treatments, socio-beautician, meditation, conferences, hikes, various and varied workshops punctuate our daily lives and contribute to our wellbeing. The psychological support from each therapist, as well as the benevolence of the volunteers, allows us to go through this period as calmly as possible but also to prepare our future solidly.
“The association is a refuge, a bubble of oxygen and sometimes happiness in our daily lives, and helps us to grow, evolve and come out stronger than before the disease. We can confide without a filter, share our doubts and our fears, which we try to spare our loved ones. It is also very comforting to know that spouses or family can benefit from this support because they need it as much as we do. I am grateful to Ecoute Cancer Réconfort, I wouldn’t be who I am without their help.”
Valérie adds, “A supported patient is a patient who is doing better, who can express his or her fears, talk, exchange with a professional or another patient, or quite simply find an attentive ear, which may not necessarily be the case at home with family or friends. What we see is the evolution of patients over their time with us. Their evolution, their dynamism, their way of bouncing back from the disease when they are accompanied along their journey. We are not concerned only with statistics. ”
This year, Valérie approached Natasha Frost-Savio, president of Pink Ribbon Monaco to help them spread their message during breast cancer month and on Valérie’s initiative, all civil servants in the Principality wore a pink ribbon as a gesture of support and solidarity on October 6. “Even though Pink Ribbon specialises in breast cancer prevention and Ecoute Cancer Réconfort wears several hats, we are partners, like a sorority, and very complementary. Prevention is essential so that we have fewer serious cases on our end.”
The association organises a members’ dinner during the winter and lunch in the summer. “This year for Pink October we had a pink hike where patients could bring whoever they wanted. It gave us the idea to offer it to members for next year. Otherwise, there is the galette des rois in January and the general assembly which allows us to meet our members.”
Valérie says that Ecoute Cancer Réconfort has invited members, sponsors and partners to the anniversary event on November 29, we to says thanks to those who have supported us all these years and without whom this would not be possible. “But we always need new sponsors, donors, members and volunteers to continue our actions because more and more people are becoming sick.”
To donate, volunteer, become a member or learn more, see the Ecoute Cancer Réconfort website.
CHPG’s BreastDay Centre is open Monday to Thursday 9 to 12 and 1 to 5 and Friday to 3:30. For more info, contact +377 97 98 99 55 or firstname.lastname@example.org