Mara León is an artist and a breast cancer survivor. The 730 that gives its name to her latest project refers to the number of days it took to reconstruct her breast after a mastectomy. That’s two years, although the figure can vary greatly, because in many Spanish hospitals the waiting list is much longer, she says. She is now organizing a protest on Facebook to raise awareness at national level of the situation facing women who lose their breasts to cancer.
From the day after her mastectomy, she decided to photograph herself every 24 hours with a missing breast, pasting the image at Sevilla’s Vírgin del Rocío hospital, accompanied by a text. Some 26,000 cases of breast cancer are diagnosed each year in Spain. Many of those women end up losing one or both of their breasts through surgery.
“I don’t think there is enough awareness of the psychological damage that this situation causes to a woman and those close to her. I felt a personal and moral necessity to make people more aware of what is going on and to ask myself out loud what is happening,” she says.
Through an event created in Facebook, Mara León has provided information to anybody who wants to sign up to her campaign, which began on January 26. The photograph she took of herself, along with the text, can be downloaded from a file in Dropbox.
Supporters of her campaign are asked to paste up the photograph at their local health center. Other volunteers have already shared their images.
“The waiting list in Andalusia is two-and-a-half years for a breast reconstruction through the state healthcare system, and in Catalonia it’s five,” says León. The figures are provided by women who have contacted her through 730.
León says she couldn’t have organized her campaign without the social networks, which have also helped her contact other people in similar situations, and not just women with breast cancer. She was recently contacted by a man who had undergone surgery related to a brain cancer. She may not be able to reduce the waiting time for reconstructive surgery for the moment, but by sharing the experience Mara León believes she can help the time pass more quickly.
[Below is a post by León on her Facebook page, with translation underneath]
1. They tell me that when I finally make it on to the waiting list, it will be another two years before it’s my turn to have my breast reconstructed. Two years are 730 days.
2. 730 days. Today. The rest of my life. When I look at myself. When I don’t look at myself. I know that everything has changed. I am still alive. I have read that starfish, when they lose one of their arms have all the cells they need to regenerate the missing part. I am a woman. I deeply envy a starfish, which knows that it is possible to be born from its flesh again.
3. Not long ago, I found a coin on the ground and when I picked it up somebody passing by suggested I hold onto it. It’s not much money, don’t spend it, they said, that coin will bring you luck. I replied that I was already a lucky woman, and the other person carried on their way, although they looked at me as though they were worried about me. That look said don’t tempt the gods, recognize humbly that you are at the mercy of good or bad luck. Well, I want to tempt the gods, the ones that run the public health system. Those who decide when and how I am going to feel like myself again, when I can once again be a whole body.
Scars need to be seen close up to understand their game of distance and magnitude. I want to make the effort to convert a loss into something useful. I am going to look at myself every day. I want you to do the same with me.
Written by Angelina Delgado Librero
Thanks to Angelina Delgado Librero for putting words, a voice, and poetry to these feelings that I shared with you in our conversations, and thanks to all those volunteers who every day help paste up one of the images in the Virgin del Rocío hospital in Seville.
And finally, I would like to thank the support everybody gave me yesterday, and especially for sharing.