Mersiha Pecikoza is a nurse and she works at the Goražde Cantonal Hospital. She is also Chairperson of the Assembly of the Biser Association, an association of patients of breast cancer and other malignant diseases. Since this is one of most important topics, I am always glad to discuss it and in this way motivate people to go for checkups and treat their bodies responsibly.

Mersiha Pecikoza:

The association has existed for 11 years. Last year in December we marked our jubilee 10th anniversary. Late Seja Bavčić was Association’s President. She passed away two years ago. By chance, I joined the „Biser“ Association just before her passing, in order to help her, and afterwards I stayed to help those women. I am not a patient, I am an associate member, but I do all I can to help those women, because they really need help. People who had surgery, whether for breast cancer or any other malignity, are rated as 100% disabled.

In principle, you help diagnosed women by providing them support?

Yes, we provide great assistance to diagnosed women. Financially, too, if someone needs assistance for medicines, because our patients have to go to Sarajevo for chemotherapy, for radiation treatment, magnet, so we try to use our activities to collect at least as much money to provide them with travel expenses, at least the minimum to help them travel to Sarajevo.

As far as medicine and health care are concerned, unlike other cantons, for us here both the mammography and ultrasound scans are free. So, diagnostics is free for the women in Goražde. For everything else they have to go the Sarajevo Clinical Center, and we help them with that. At the same time, we spend time together, we meet every 15 days. The meetings last 2-3 hours if we have things to do, and then we have coffee and chat. If there are new patients, we give them some advice, that is another form of assistance to patients who are new to their condition, who have to face up to the consequences, the risk, the checkups.

It is also important to make surviving patients go to control checkups a couple of years after they had been cured, because one never knows. They sometimes try to avoid it, and it is understandable, because they fear that the disease might return.

How much do you manage to do on prevention, i.e. on awareness raising?

This is what I have been trying to achieve, for the past half a year, I appealed to all, to the Health Care Center, the Cantonal Hospital and the Health Insurance Institute, even to the Ministry of Health, stressing that prevention is most important, early discovery of both breast and cervical cancer, because we know that, if it is discovered in the first stage, cancer is 100% curable.

However, in our present situation, in the country as a whole, and in our canton, very little attention is paid to prevention. Unfortunately, through my work and through many activities I monitor and manage, the most important thing is saving a life in time, that is most important.

On the other hand, if we look at it from the economic standpoint, because everyone is considering economic aspects – the Canton and the Health Insurance Institute must set aside 100,000 KM for a single cancer patient, for chemotherapy, radiation treatment, surgeries.

But with a bit of planning and support for that one patient, God forbid, but with 100,000 KM much could be done in our town and in the canton on prevention, across the board. Whether it should start from high school kids … And it can, there are ways, from regular medical examinations to screenings. Introduce some form of mandatory ultrasound scan, a gynaecological examination, a pap test and then, if something is suspicious, other tests could be done.

Unfortunately, however, our system is still such that we do not have that. On our website, we publish, invite, organize lectures, but i feel that both the society and responsible authorities who should take care about this are doing very little.

Unfortunately, as you already know, this condition affects  more and more people outside typical risk categories. There was a girl, two years ago, who had been an athlete. Her cancer was diagnosed, a surgery was performed, thank God, most likely on time. She had undergone all therapies, and got married in the meantime. She was supposed to get silicon implants, and we even managed to get the Health Care Institute to cover the cost. By a stroke of luck, she did not have surgery on that day, there was some mixup, it was not the right implant. She went back to Goražde and found out she was pregnant. I met her the other day, she is six months pregnant, the baby is OK. Such stories give people strenth for more work and more persistence, even to make people take their checkups. Especially when they can do it here, for free and all, they just need to go.

I say to all women and all girls that the condition increasingly hits outside typical risk categories, recently we even had a patient who was in high school, but, thank God, it was benign, not malign. And it is not just women, men are getting sick too, less than women, but it is also not covered much in the media – that men also can get breast cancer. This is the topic that gets so little attention, but it is of greatest importance.

First of all, just saving a life means a lot, not to mention all other suffering, and financial difficulties, both for the families and for patients themselves.