In Široki Brijeg I met Radica Lasić, president of the Narcis Association. It is an association dedicated to fighting breast cancer, or helping women in their breast cancer fight. It has been working since 2003, and Radica founded it after having faced this terrible disease herself, having been unable to find any breast cancer survivors in her immediate vicinity. She couldn’t find any woman breast cancer survivor, someone alive she could exchange experiences with and make her own fight easier. For this reason, guided by her personal experience when she was visited in Zagreb by women from association there, she decided to start a similar effort, once everything is behind her, and help women in Široki Brijeg in this.
It is also an impressive fact that they managed to break a lot of taboos and that for the thirteen years they’ve been working in Široki Brijeg they moved the borders and helped many women go through this difficult battle, to talk more openly about it and face the disease. It is also impressive that 24 associations at the level of BiH have phenomenal cooperation. They are joined in an umbrella association, working together to fight breast cancer every year and to raise awareness of this fight at the BiH level. You’ve probably heard of Race for the Cure, the race held every October in Sarajevo. Also, they have different activities throughout the year, and this is just a pretty interesting story that has been going on for years and I believe that it will bring even better and bigger results in the coming period.
The Association has been operating since 2003. I had breast surgery in 2001, meaning that I started with the association two years later. At first it was very, very hard. To do something in an environment where a disease equals shame, where sick women and sick people are somewhere in the house, hidden. That’s not something you’d discuss. In many families it was just like that.
I was the first person on the radio in the early days of the Association to talk openly about breast cancer and then I just had the feeling when I came back from this radio interview that everybody was watching me and thinking “This one is crazy!” – literally like that.
It was difficult to start this, to fight for the status of the Association, fight to be perceived as normal by others.
I often wanted to simply give up. Everything was a problem. It was a problem that the association was as it was, dealing with diseases, cancer diseases. As soon as we talk about cancer, it’s death, no life there. And eventually, I used to think that way too. So to talk about it openly, to talk to the women who’d been through it, that was the hardest thing.
The biggest challenge was to find women, women who would volunteer to talk, to come, to be with us. It all had to be set in motion somehow, and I didn’t know how, in what way. And I just followed my heart. I did what I thought I needed and so I acted, so I did.
Initially, this was great resistance both from women and the environment. And also those who were in a position to help us, whether from health care, from the municipality, anyone. It was easier for people to stay out of it all.
At the very beginning, I started going to Sarajevo, to these meetings of NGOs from all over the county and then it was extremely difficult for me to listen to them, their stories, what their president is doing, how they work, who supports them, what they are doing … and I’d simply often ask myself “God, where did I end up living?”
But each time I came back and continued on.
Initially, it was a problem that it involved going to Sarajevo.
The worst part was when the Race for Life began. When the race started in Sarajevo, it was always the first weekend in October, but we always had registration in September, registration for the race. It was unbelievable. That was something unbelievable. There was no one initially, only a couple of us women went.
But a particular problem here is that it was in Sarajevo. Had it been Split, Imotski, somewhere there, that would be different, unfortunately. Not because people hate someone. These were just some prejudices. After the war, most young people never had a chance to go to Sarajevo. And that was the story, there was some crazy idea that “going there is something else”.
But I studied in Sarajevo and Sarajevo was always in my heart – before, today and I don’t know. … I never thought of it that way. I wasn’t raised like that. I was never afraid.
I tried to explain it to people, but it did not work. It took time for the first buses to start going, for the first teams from schools to go, and only then, when it all rolled out, after children saw how wonderful it was, how Sarajevo was beautiful, how life is celebrated. Only then did it roll out. Let’s say last year, I had five busses from the West Herzegovina Canton, which is unbelievable.
But, I say, it’s been going on since 2003 or 13 full years. After full 13 years, for a year or two now I can really say simply that I feel different, that it’s going, that the association becomes recognisable, became respected, people know who we are, what we do, what we are into, they know that we are not looking for money . Because they all thought that associations exist solely to get the money.
Regular lectures at secondary schools
I think lectures that we hold in all secondary schools were the most helpful in all of this. We work at the level of the entire canton, comprising Široki, Ljubuški, Grude and Posušje. In all secondary schools, general and vocational schools, we give lectures on breast cancer, early detection, with children, secondary school students, junior, senior year, depends, but all are amazingly accepted. This is something we are particularly proud of.
Money from the race is used for free mammograms
Registration fee is paid for the race. The price is BAM 7 for a couple of years now, and you get a nice t-shirt and a wonderful day to spend. From the money collected, a kit is bought for women who are fresh from surgery. These are kits with no real financial value but very valuable in some other way. You simply know someone’s thinking about you.
You get it from someone who has gone through the same thing you are going through now and you know that someone is simply thinking about it all. And then it has a totally different impact that is very important.
Apart from these kits, we have free mammograms, which are usually held every year in places that do not have a mammogram. Most often these are some rural areas. However, since Široki does not have a mammogram at all, then we get 50 free mammograms each year. There is always a movable mammogram brought to the Health Centre, there are 50 women or a bit more who come and then we get the results so I call them and let them know. Thank God there was not a single problem for all these years, although every year 2 to 3 cases are detected, it depends.
On the cooperation of associations at the level of BiH and friendships
I think we really could say, well not that we are the only one, but almost there, the only organisation that works in this way in Bosnia and Herzegovina. There are 24 associations from across BiH, from the Republika Srpska and from the FBiH. We have 24 presidents of associations that meet regularly, we have working meetings, discussions, talks … We get the programmes that we carry out. As a part of these programs, I’ve mentioned these lectures, visits to psychologists, talks with psychologists, which is very important to us.
Regardless of religion, ethnicity, looks, do they wear a head cover or not, 24 presidents of associations … all the same, we are all the same. We all do the same thing and have fantastic understanding and functioning. We are bound by friendship that cannot be broken. Each and every one of us knows what’s happens with others at every point.
In your opinion, how beneficial is your work for the society and community and in what way?
Tremendously. Sometimes, we’re not even aware of it. To save just one life, to help someone go through those difficult days…
I remember very well when it happened to me – I really didn’t know anyone who had breast cancer and a survivor in Široki Brijeg. I knew few who died, but not a single survivor. Not one, really.
Because I asked people, “But do you know anyone,” and they all said, “Well, the late one.”
“I know about those who died, but is there anyone alive I could talk to?!”
In your case, how helpful or unhelpful is the political situation?
Not helpful at all. Honestly when I start thinking about it, I often get angry. I’m thinking of things that should be done differently, things that should be supported, that there is interest, but my sense is that they are doing a lot of things that are irrelevant to us.
I don’t care at all who’s in power in the Canton, who’s the president, I have no idea whatsoever, really does not interest me. What is important to me is that this is a man who understands the needs of the place he lives in. However, there is no real understanding, not just for my association, but associations in general.
For example, every time when something needs to be said, such as Široki Brijeg has no mammograms at all. It is the only city so to say in West Herzegovina Canton. We don’t have a hospital, we fall under Mostar, oncology there, meaning that nothing is available. We have the Health Centre.
Any woman who wants to have breast examination must go to a private practice. All of us who had breast surgery and regular examinations, must do these examinations regularly every three months, later on every six months, then a year and you have to pay for all tests. And you know what the situation is today, how much money people have.
They absolutely, when I say them, I mean them in power, I don’t know how to label them, they don’t understand it.
And then when I start thinking I get really angry. I’m angry at all of this. Because I’m already 62 and I had some life, I had times in life when we lived differently, when we felt safe, protected and when we had all the rights to work and healthcare … I’m sorry today for these young people, sorry for what kind of place they live in, what their lives came down to.
You’ve mentioned young people and I just wanted to ask for your opinion on how to keep young people in BiH?
On people leaving the country … I think this is the biggest problem of today, that our youth is leaving. And what can we do without them, I mean who will stay here? Will it be old people who will die and what then?
And young people really don’t have, I say they have nothing to wait for, nothing to hope for. Because with this kind of society we live in I really don’t know what to expect. What they did from our lives, all those when the war broke out … I mean, I don’t know who should be blamed for it. Most certainly not us the ordinary people for it would never had come to that had we had any say in it.
People are not working, nothing to do, plus what I think is ever worse – they’ve lost the habit of working. Quite some time after the war they lived on welfare, on aid or whatever. So I say, there is a field further down from my house and no one is cultivating it. I remember that it was plenty, it had always been cultivated before. Here’s what is happening. There was a lot of talk about immortelle, everybody wants to do it to get money overnight, but no one to work for a salary.
And then normally they think it’s much better there wherever they are going. I don’t know if it is or not, usually those who are visiting would say that’s not all roses anywhere, but I’m thinking – how do you stop them? I have no idea. What they need are jobs, some kind of normal life, and I think it’s still impossible here. First of all jobs – no construction ongoing, no factories, nowhere to hire people. Shops are the only thing that is working.
What are your plans for the future?
Sometimes I find it difficult. Sometimes it’s overwhelming given my age and health condition.
But I cannot go without it. I don’t think I can. I don’t know, so I think I’ll work for as long as I can. If I’m not the one who’s going, then I’ll at least I’ll support the one who’d be in the lead. Last year, at our assembly, I suggested that Antonija takes over as a young woman, educated, smart, someone who also had breast surgery. However none of them wants to. They all say, “If you don’t do it, the association is gone.”
Of course that one day someone else will one day and I still do it. Then I joke and say, “You’re just like my kids at home – they are used to me being capable of everything.”
But I think I will go on, no matter how hard, for me, it is a great pleasure. It is my mental food.
The most beautiful moment to experience is when you come to see someone who is lost, scared, who cries, and when you tell your story, your case, when you say that it’s nothing and you see the smile.
That’s the biggest salary you can ever get from someone, to me at least. Especially if children are there, and you see the child asking:
“Mom, was that lady also sick?”
“Did she lose her hair?”
It is the greatest happiness for them to see that the lady is no longer sick. They don’t know all the things I’ve got. (laughter)
But I say, I think for all people who do such things, I think they cannot easily give up on it. Nothing in it for us, we are all volunteers. All the salary we get is this wonderful feeling that you did something good. And I think this is the most beautiful thing.