[Image description: aecc green candles for remembrance]
The fourth of February this year is designated World Cancer Day or, in Spanish, Día Mundial Contra el Cáncer. Forty-five minutes before it commences, I am at Xanit Hospital International in Benalmádena for a presentation by aecc, la Asociacíon Española Contra el Cáncer, sponsored by the aforesaid hospital in conjunction with Vithas, a healthcare company whose tag-line is “cuidamos tu salud” - “we care for your health”.
[Image description: preparations in progress]
The preparations are in hand: discussions on the stage between the president of the local aecc association, Paqui, and the various participants, which look to include performances by a traditionally attired Castillian artist and by a Spanish guitarist.
Centre stage are six green candles, racing-green being the colour used by the aecc, placed on a makeshift altar draped in a flag of the association (see image below).
Twenty minutes before proceedings commence, dignitaries begin to arrive: men in their dark overcoats and women in their faux-furs, coats or jackets with such trimmings. A few moments later sufferers and their supporters enter with smiles, some singing - imagine that back in the UK! The hall quickly fills with cheery chatter and the smacking of lips against cheeks - no superficial air-kissing here. The emotion is real; the amity is genuine.
[Image description: the podium, inscribed with Xanit Hospital International]
With fifteen minutes to go, the local television channel, Digital Costa del Sol TV, has set up its camera, the cameraman making his final adjustments. Stage-hands set up the hoardings for the aecc and the sponsors behind the speakers’ podium, to ensure they appear in-shot no doubt. A microphone has been set up ready to take comments or questions from the audience or to record the sound of applause.
Ten minutes to go, and a trio of white-coated medics enter. Blinds are dropped to ensure the lighting is not adversely affected by the strong sunlight pouring through the glass-sheet window-walls. The cameraman is now taking filler-shots with his portable video-camera, focussing unsurprisingly on the officials in attendance - there are elections here in Spain in May also, so politicos do not want to miss an opportunity to be seen to be supporting a good cause. Or am I being overly cynical? My friend, Ana, one of today’s speakers is checking through her notes.
A minute or so late, the very personable lady-mayor (see image below) arrives with her train - lots of suits. Paloma is especially tall for a Spaniard. Her weekly programme on the local TV channel, in which she discusses topics of interest to Benalmadenses grips me. It is wonderfully democratic to see accountability and such enthusiasm for one’s municipality. UK democracy could learn from Spain in this area.
The press arrived with and behind the mayor’s retinue. Flashes break out hither and thither. Some of the late-arrival dignitaries greet audience members.
Five minutes late, the sound levels drop and conversation becomes more muted and moderated - believe me, really unusual here in Andalusia, where even getting folk to quieten in the theatre can be problematic!
The opening speaker (see below), the directress of the hospital I think, speaks softly and welcomes one and all to another year’s survival, celebration and reflection. She praises aecc for its support and activities for and on behalf of cancer-sufferers and their loved ones.
The following speaker (see image below) talks of the ongoing struggle against cancer and the strenuous efforts being made by hospitals throughout Spain. Meanwhile, late arrivals continue to trickle into the auditorium until we are around a hundred souls or so.
Ana (see image below) is up next introducing a co-ordinator who, with a joyous mien, describes her work with patients. Time and again, speakers talk of the friends they have made. I do not think they are deliberately avoiding the negative aspects of cancer, but rather that friendship trumps the illness. After all, when we face death, love is all that counts; all that matters in the final analysis.
We are played a moving piano piece. The audience falls silent and contemplative. Images are projected onto a screen: we are shown the ramifications, the cold reality of cancer. The scars that do not heal. The love that shines out of the faces of the sufferers and their loved ones. The short film is aecc’s 2015 contribution to cancer awareness. No doubt it will be another youtube hit for them.
“Vivir el Futuro” is next up, a film listening to and recording cancer-sufferers’ own experiences whilst attending an aecc event. They prepare a party, themselves and shine with joy and love. I think this is a genuine attempt to perceive cancer from the perspectives of sufferers and not some inspirational (sickness/disability) porn.
“Don’t go outside, return to yourself” - “No te vaya afuera, vuelve a ti mismo”. The third film follows a person’s cancer journey: from being diagnosed; learning about the illness effecting her; discussing issues and problems that arise from being a cancer-sufferer; to receiving help and support from aecc. The local association covering Fuengirola, Mijas & Benalmádena offers such activities as tai chi on the beach at sunset or joining in a drum circle.
After the third film, the silence breaks - the Spanish need for chatter will out!
Ana again. She introduces Paqui (see image below), the quietly spoken, ever courteous & generous president of the local aecc, who then expresses the gratitude of same and herself to all who have made possible this year’s event and all those who are attending. She speaks of folks’ dreams in relation to cancer and in respect to individual’s own wishes. And also of the attributes that aecc strives to pursue and express.
The candle-lighting ceremony begins.
The aecc president carefully discloses statistics in relation to cancer and fund-raising in Spain.
For each candle an aecc attribute is expounded upon by a fresh speaker for each.
The president iterates that aecc will be there for and stand hand in hand with cancer-sufferers until they are better.
A final film, an animation iterating the aecc attributes: help; unity; independence; transparency; professionalism; and, dynamism.
A disabled chap takes the stage. Evidently not a South American singer, but Andrés a passionate and emotional performance poet (see image below). We are handed a sheet with a poem, “Color Esperanza”. The chap declaims.
Next up a patient thanks those who have supported the cause; a doctor, a fundraiser, and a politician. They are each presented with a badge and commemorative certificate. A whole host of survivors and sufferers extend their thanks and gratitude to those who have supported them. And thus ends an inspirational late afternoon: no morbidity, no negativity; just joy at life and the expression of love-in-action through friendship.