We sat down with María Luisa Villafranca, a patient who has battled breast cancer for the last 20 years and is currently the chairperson of Rosae, the breast cancer association of Valdepeñas.
What is Rosae? How did it start?
Rosae is the association of women affected by breast cancer in Valdepeñas, a town in Ciudad Real. It was founded in 2001 out of a mutual concern of a group of women suffering from this disease and who sought, on the one hand, to come together in sharing experiences and support, and, on the other hand, to build awareness of breast cancer. Today, it is a very visible disease, but 20 years ago, this disease was not on the minds of women or men.
The idea came from the group’s first chairperson and founder, Pepi Madrid. She started the association and worked for many years to put the association at the forefront of Spain, to give a platform to and fight against breast cancer. Maria Luisa Villafranca, a breast cancer patient for the last 20 years and one of the founding members, is the current chairperson of Rosae. We had the pleasure of talking with her, so she could explain the objectives of their work, the projects they have underway and the ways to collaborate to advance research.
What are Rosae’s goals? What kind of work does Rosae do now?
The Rosae association has 3 main objectives: the early detection of breast cancer, support for those affected and fundraising so that research on the disease can move forward. Based on these objectives, they carry out a number of activities and provide services to their partners:
- Early detection of breast cancer: to achieve this goal, they hold a series of talks aimed at women’s associations and in cultural, social or even, educational sector groups. In addition, they collaborate with companies to hold talks to raise awareness of the importance of detecting this disease early.
- Support for those affected: regarding support for women affected by breast cancer, they organize workshops focused on physical activity (Tai chi, yoga, hypopressive exercises), mindfulness sessions to help cope with the emotional burden of the disease. In addition, they offer individual consultations to provide psycho-oncological support, and physical therapy consultations to prevent or treat lymphedema.
- Fundraising for research – Research is essential to Rosae, so this association donates financial resources to government agencies for breast cancer research.
In addition to all these activities, a central service of the partnership is its psychological support group. It is a group of 43 women, most with breast cancer at different stages of the disease and others who are volunteers. This support group provides a space for sharing the process that all women are going though, with the support of two psychologists who help work on relaxation, breathing, meditation and stress relief techniques. Sessions are held once a week. Currently, due to COVID-19, meetings are held over Zoom, but they will be back in person as soon as possible.
What is the importance of oncology research?
As María Luisa explains, “research is life. Research has led to the increase in the prevalence of breast cancer in recent years”. Breast cancer is the most common tumor in women, and the latest data available, published by the SEOM, indicates that in Spain, approximately 33,000 cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in 2021, but that more than 6,500 patients will still continue to die from the cancer. She continues, “the diagnoses won’t stop, but are going to affect 1 in 8 women. It is research that will give us hope, and we all have to contribute”.
Early detection is key to improved treatment response.
Society is already very aware of this disease, but we must not only consider the women who suffer from it, but also the men. María Luisa recommends that, “from a very young age, we need to get used to palpating our breasts. If there is anything at all, even the slightest little thing, we need to see our family doctor immediately. We can´t be paralyzed by fear, but this happens quite often. If you find it on time, the diagnosis and treatment is better and the side effects will be more manageable, which allows for a better quality of life”.
Rosae works with government agencies, companies and institutions to advance breast cancer research.
Donations are made annually to government agencies researching breast cancer in Spain. This May, Rosae will donate the funds raised in 2020 to three official bodies, each of which will receive €5,000. These bodies are: the National Cancer Research Center (CNIO), the Spanish Breast Cancer Research Group (GEICAM) and the Chair of Cancer Stem Cells of the University of Granada.
In addition, ROSAE is part of the Spanish Federation of Breast Cancer (FECMA), the Spanish Group of Cancer Patients (GEPAC) and participates in an entrepreneur group from the district of Valdepeñas, BNI ACR Quijote to create partnerships with companies and obtain more help and resources to be donated to breast cancer research. They also collaborate with other companies, institutions and universities that share Rosae’s mission, such as MatchTrial.
How can you collaborate with Rosae?
The main way to collaborate is through the annual membership fee, which costs €40. Moreover, without having to be a partner, you can contribute using Bizum or bank transfer, donating whatever amount you can, or you can participate in the Rosae group in Teaming, a solidarity website where you can send €1 per month. You can also buy the crafts they sell throughout the year.
If you would like more information or want to collaborate with Rosae or join the association, please visit their website.