Hospital Acosta Nu, Asuncion, Paraguay
Mercedes is 18 and enjoying every minute of it. Her huge beautiful eyes are sparkling with life while she talks about how good she is feeling.
From her upbeat demeanor you would never know the difficulties she has faced. And these difficulties have been monumental. Mercedes and her brother live with their grandmother in Carapegua.
A two-hour bus trip south of Asuncion, Carapegua is an artisan center, specialising in thread works such as hammocks. The countryside around abounds with cotton farms, sugarcane and cattle.
Although her parents and other siblings are also living in Carapegua, where her father is a cobbler, there is family tension. To avoid stress she chooses to live with her beloved grandmother.
She gradually realised that her appetite was declining and sometimes she would have a mild stomach ache. Listening to these symptoms, the local doctor in town thought it sounded like possible gallstones.
He ordered an ultrasound and a CT scan. Unbelievably they found a tumor in Mercedes stomach.
She and her grandmother found a way to pay for a biopsy. The results came back: It was Neuroblastoma.
Neuroblastoma is a cancer of the nerve tissue. It most commonly affects children. When symptoms of her illness presented themselves they were subtle enough to seem almost meaningless.
Her local doctor immediately referred her to the Hospital Acosta Nu in Asuncion. Once there a battery of tests was performed and a plan was put in place.
It wasn’t an easy scenario. The plan used all available tactics. It began with radiation and chemotherapy in two cycles. After that she had surgery (in March 2008) to remove the tumor from her stomach.
Following the surgery she had a grueling thirty rounds more of chemotherapy. All of this Mercedes faced bravely. She had to quit going to school during the surgical portion of her treatment and during immune compromised periods but managed to attend as much school as she possibly could during her chemotherapy.
Her devoted grandmother came with her to Asuncion for every chemotherapy treatment and stayed during her surgery.
Mercedes and her grandmother would never have been able to pay for all these months of treatment. Thankfully this seemingly insurmountable problem was not an issue for them since Hospital Acosta Nu is the recipient of chemotherapy and support drugs from Krebsallianz.
Because of these donations Mercedes’ chemotherapy treatments, including the drugs Vincristine, Cisplatin and Cyclophosphamide were available to her free of charge.
Today she is back for her check up.
Every month she comes back to the hospital for an Ultra Sound test. She looks great and says she feels great and her doctors report that she doing great.
Every six months she will have a CT scan. Her church contributes money to give as a small payment to the hospital for this service.
These tests will keep Mercedes ahead of the game. Her bright pink Keds compliment her sunny mood.
She’s happy to be back in school and planning to continue after she graduates to study nutrition. “I could never buy the medicine myself,” Mercedes declares. “And without them I wouldn’t be here right now.” And then she adds, “my grandmother is a happy woman.”