As part of getting to know more about the work of SILA we found out that their 2019 Spring Soirée would be benefitting Europa Donna, a Europe-wide organisation that works on behalf of women with breast cancer, as well raising awareness of the importance of screening. What’s more, one of the speakers at the event would be the group’s president in Slovenia, Tanja Španić, a doctor of veterinary medicine with a PhD in molecular and behavioural neuroscience. Curious to learn more, we got in touch with Dr Španić, who was kind enough to answer our questions.
How long have you been working with Europa Donna, and how did you get involved?
I have been active with Europa Donna (ED) since 2010. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008, when I was 26 years old and at the beginning of my PhD in biomedicine. I went through different kinds of treatment, and after the primary treatment was finished I went to rehabilitation where I met other women with the same experience, who told me about Europa Donna and their section for young patients. So I decided to join them. Soon, I became the head of the group of young women with breast cancer, then secretary general and in 2017 president of ED Slovenia. Meanwhile I’ve finished my PhD and another research project. Combining both jobs was impossible, so at some point I had to choose. I decided for Europa Donna.
What’s the aim of Europa Donna, and what work does it do to achieve this?
Europa Donna Slovenia has been a member of The European Breast Cancer coalition Europa Donna since 1997. The European Coalition has 47 member countries. Together, we create advocacy initiatives in support of the 10 goals of Europa Donna and thus improve the lives of women with breast cancer. In Europa Donna Slovenia we connect the healthy population, cancer patients, individuals, experts and institutions.
The main goal of our association is to provide equal opportunities and access for all breast cancer patients in Slovenia in order for them to have access to screening, early diagnosis, immediate and effective medical treatment with rehabilitation. With our experience, we developed different kinds of support, financial, legal and psychosocial, for patients and survivors. We provide this through specific sections, workshops, meetings and groups. Over the past two years, we started with an active program to support relatives and children on this path with cancer. All psychosocial support is grouped in the ROZA program (www.europadonna-zdruzenje.si/kdo_smo/program_roza). For the broader public, we are mostly known for our awareness campaigns during Pink October activities like lectures, stands, walks and runs, exhibitions around Slovenia.
What are some of the systemic and social challenges that women with cancer face in Slovenia?
First, you have to face with the stigma of being diagnosed as a cancer patient. If you successfully finish the treatment, you come to a stage where you have to face other obstacles like going back to work, part-time retirement, lower income, how to change jobs, not to mention dealing with the late and long-term side effects of the treatment. Usually, these treatments are very aggressive and long, with quite a lot of consequences like fatigue, big and stiff scars, lymphedema. A healthy person never thinks about the consequences of the treatment like that. And lots of cancer patients face misunderstandings from their employer, because you look OK but in fact you are not. In collaboration with other cancer patient organisations we are very active in talking about the issues and social challenges that we face after treatment.
How can people get involved?
We make quite a lot of effort to provide most of the programs free of charge for users or with a very low contribution. Anyone can become a member of Europa Donna Slovenia and help with membership or a part of their personal income tax (dohodnina). Anyone can become our donor or supporter on a monthly basis.