Marisa Herrera Ramos, president and founder of the Canarian Breast Cancer and Gynecological Cancer Association (Asociación Canaria de Cáncer de Mama y Ginecológico – the ACCMyG.org), has been announced on this years honours list, to receive one of the capital city’s highest accolades, named as Adopted Daughter of the city, as part of the celebrations for the 540th anniversary of the founding of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.
It is the second time that she has been singled out for such an honour, after the famous mountain town in which she was born, Teror, named her their Favourite Daughter back in 2015.
Born in Teror on December 8, 1948, Marisa Herrera Ramos spent her childhood between the capital and her birth place in the northern summits of Gran Canaria. As a young girl of 14 she was sent to London to live with her maternal uncles – who were political exiles – allowing her the unique experience of studying abroad. Her love of the English and their capital has meant that she still tries to visit at least once a year, even if only to shop for Christmas.
“It was the privilege of the rich to send their children to study English in England, my father was without means but my uncles said they would take care of me, and so I practically grew up with my mother’s little sister” says Marisa in telling her story to Spanish language daily La Provincia. But love crossed her path and she returned to Gran Canaria. “My best friend came to see me with her brother to whom I got engaged, otherwise I would still be there [in London]”.
On her return to the island, Marisa found work as the personal secretary of the locally famous English business man Mister Pilcher, one of the largest and most successful exporters of tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers from the islands. After the company closed, Marisa worked for the Island Health Department in Management and Human Resources helping to found the independent Canary Islands Health Union. In 2002 she created the Canarian Breast Cancer and Gynecological Cancer Association on Gran Canaria. Later adding delegations in Fuerteventura and Tenerife with the help of professor of physiology Nicolás Díaz Chico.
The death of a cousin, barely 28 years old and newly married, put Marisa in contact with the disease for the first time. “She asked me to do something for young people, sick with cancer.” Years later, in 1995, a fall in the Plaza de España (Piazza di Spagna) in Rome would lead to the detection of her own cancer and the need to go through surgery. “The world collapses on you, your whole life is [brought into focus] like a lightning bolt, but what I most thought about was my children and my husband.”
Marisa remembers that she thought: “God has punished me where it hurts the most” because of how flirtatious and presumptuous I was, even despite her being a believer. Today, her strength and her recovery act as an example for other women. “Inner peace came to me afterwards, I do not know where it came from but I turned the page and told myself that I would not waster even one minute in self-pity.” In 2002, she decided to found the association with the help of the late Mariam Suárez, daughter of former Spanish president Adolfo Suárez, who was named as godmother of honour. “It was good to meet her.” Miriam, as had her mother before her, succumbed to cancer in 2004.
Marisa and the association’s unwavering focus has been to highlight the experience of the patient, focusing not so much on medical issues nor research as on the often overlooked psychological and practical day-to-day support that is required for patients who too often are seen as just another statistic or “medical case” instead of as wives, girl-friends, daughters, sisters and mothers whose whole lives have been turned up on end through no fault of their own. The Asociación Canaria de Cáncer de Mama y Ginecológico has sought to show that solidarity and understanding, empathy and practical support are every bit as important as medical attention and treatment.
This latest recognition and honour, granted by the Las Palmas de Gran Canaria City Council has caught Marisa Herrera by surprise, accustomed as she is to recognition being made to the association.
“I am surprised and very grateful, I dedicate it to my parents because if they had not educated me as they did, I would not be here, I would not have discovered the travelling that I so love, I learned all the greatest values from them and one of them was that you have to give to others even if you lack for yourself, and that is what made me get so involved in the association, and that is what I have instilled in my children,” she says.
After years of struggle with public administrations, and society in general, it was Marisa who saw the need to offer psychological, therapeutic and social care to women diagnosed with cancer. She has spearheaded the societal and institutional changes that have promoted the idea of cancer sufferers being, above all, people for whom we all need to care.
The ACCMyG offers a range of services from psychological support, to social care, targeted therapies, information services, Acupuncture, therapeutic yoga, breast prosthesis loans, wig loans and fashion advice, and most of all the knowledge that someone who understands what you are going through is just at the end of the phone.
La Luchadora, Marisa The Fighter, continues on in her efforts to battle for the sick still now and for those who have gone through the experience, through the aftermath that remains after the treatments, despite the improvements that have occurred in recent years she says that it is still the case that “as soon as you leave the hospital you feel unprotected.”
Source: La Provincia
Photos from the night before San Juan, the Institutional Act of awarding Honours & Distinctions 2018 in celebration of the Fiestas Fundacionales to mark the 540th year since the founding of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria