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Nurses' 'Vacation' a Mission of Mercy

Nurses' 'Vacation' a Mission of Mercy

Dennis McCarthy / Daily News

August 14, 2009

Hawaii never crossed their minds, the women say. Italy, Spain or any of the popular vacation spots in the world didn’t either.

It was Bolivia where the oncology nurses were going to take their two-week “summer vacation” this year. Bolivia was where they were needed most.

Young women were dying of breast and cervical cancer at an alarming rate in the South American country, and these San Fernando Valley nurses had the skills and knowledge to help teach them early detection — something Bolivian women were not getting in the countryside.

So Anita Haddad, Frances Rice-Farrand, Gladys Cappiello, Joan Rigdon, and Joy Ericson packed their bags for a 12-day humanitarian mission that would change their lives forever.

“The hunger of those Bolivian women to learn from us, and their love and appreciation that we came, it was all just so amazing,” said Haddad, an oncology nurse at Providence St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Burbank with Rice-Farrand.

“Everything we offered them, our basic skills, was taken as a treasure.”

They screened 115 women for breast, cervical and pancreatic cancer the first day they set up their clinic, and trained more than 300 women to do self breast exams.

Many, way too many, women were like Alejandra — a 33-year-old mother too far along with breast cancer for early detection.

Rice-Farrand said it was at the end of the day when Alejandra was brought in to see her.

“She had sat there quietly with 100 other women the whole day waiting for us. Her breast cancer had metastasized and she also had lung cancer.

“Alejandra had come with her entire family, her husband, mother and father, an aunt, and her 3-year-old girl running around the waiting room.

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“They came every day to our workshops and stayed late. She touched me personally, and all of us in a special way.”

It was a week after the nurses got home that they learned Alejandra had died.

“We helped her family work through the last part of her life together,” Rice-Farrand said. “That meant so much to them and to us.”

Alejandra’s story and many others like it have been told at Immanuel Evangelical Free Church in Burbank where the women came together to plan their mission.

Ericson is a retired nurse who also served as an interpreter on the trip, as did Cappiello and Rigdon, who are also nurses.

Their journey was tape-recorded by local Bolivian television and is being shown throughout the country to teach thousands more women cancer screening methods.

“We came home from these two weeks with so much more than we left with,” says Rice-Farrand, who also teaches nursing classes at Los Angeles City College.

“We wanted to empower these women to have higher expectations for the standard of care they receive, and I think we did,” Haddad said.

Best summer vacation they ever had, the nurses agreed. Hawaii never crossed their minds.

© YellowBrix 2009


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