I’m pretty sure that you will hear of few stories as inspiring as that of Eva E. When she was diagnosed with cancer, she documented her struggle with cancer to raise awareness of breast cancer and promote life-saving checkups for women in Venezuela. The story of “the most beautiful woman in Venezuela,” a country that takes pageants very, very seriously, is extraordinary. The following montage illustrates her rise to celebrity as a model and beauty pageant contestant:
Eva was diagnosed with cancer in her left breast shortly after the birth of her child, and this is a really big problem. While most breast cancer is detected in older women, breast cancer in younger women can be extremely aggressive. In pregnant women, according to the American Cancer Society, changes in the breast make cancers harder to detect:
“When a pregnant woman develops breast cancer, it’s often diagnosed at a later stage than it would be if the woman were not pregnant. It’s also more likely to have spread to the lymph nodes. This is partly because hormone changes during pregnancy make a woman’s breasts larger, more tender, and lumpy. This can make it harder for the woman or her doctor to notice a lump until it gets quite large.”
“I was very angry [when diagnosed] because I should have known. My aunt had breast cancer twice and my grandmother died from breast cancer. And I just let time go.”
Eva continued to work on television as a presenter in Caracas while undergoing treatment. Most viewers did not realize that she was wearing a wig.
She had chemotherapy, radiation, and a mastectomy to try and stanch the spread of the cancer. And she made the extraordinary decision to document every stage of her treatment by writing a book about her experiences, Fuera de Foco (Out of Focus), and supplementing her text with images by Robert Mata, a celebrated Venezuelan photographer.
The contrast between the glamor of her life before cancer and the images of her wasting and suffering during treatment had an enormous impact in her home country, and her story received international press.
She finished conventional treatment in October of 2010.
In an interview with The Guardian in February 2011 she explained her choice to share her experiences and the special implications that her disease had for her:
“The pictures were very shocking because nobody had ever seen me that way. Nobody had seen me bald, without makeup,” said [Eva], now recovered and sporting gamine-style short hair. “So I knew they would be shocking.”
hair in your body – your eyebrows, your eyelashes. You become some weird animal or something, you don’t recognise yourself. That was scary. Especially because my job has to do with my looks. I had to look decent and not appear sick.”
According to one source, while undergoing treatment, Eva spent about a year in the US. I was not able to figure out a timeline of her treatment, but she was in Houston, a patient of the Burzynski Clinic when she died. She undertook that course of treatment because her friend, former Menudo member Robi Draco Rosa, credited the Clinic with curing his non-Hodgkin lymphoma (Robi is reportedly currently under quarantine in his home following a stem cell transplant) . Of course, it is very difficult to ascertain which of a hundred variables has contributed to someone’s improvement, but it is glaringly obvious when a treatment does not work.
My speculation–and this is only speculation–is that she was in Houston as the cancer reached its final stages and was possibly undergoing the 3-week ANP-pump training session that all ANP patients seem to receive. Neither she nor her husband seem to have discussed the Clinic (at least not that I could tell) on their twitter feeds, though someone with a keener eye for Spanish might be able to flush out some details that I missed. The press did say that she had only recently moved to Houston.
Eva died of complications from pneumonia while in Houston on December 17, 2011. While most accounts say that she died at the Burzynski Clinic, I suspect that is not the case. It doesn’t strike me as the type of place that has hospital beds and antibiotics for people who have potentially long stays in front of them. She left an inspiring legacy of advocacy and promoting frank discussions about cancer (the latter is something that I am trying to do here). The anniversary of her passing has been marked in the media and her book is still in print.