In September 2014, 6-year-old Elena Cocom walked into our clinic in Chocolá with a mass the size of a baseball above her right eye. Six months prior, Elena’s father, Domingo, discovered a shallow scrape on his daughter’s forehead and dismissed it as a typical wound for a normal, active girl. Their village doctor prescribed mild pain medicine and believed it was an infection that would eventually heal. Over the course of two months, Elena’s scrape grew into a rigid mass that began encroaching on her eyesight and Domingo knew it was time to seek out another medical evaluation for Elena. Domingo, who speaks very little Spanish, had heard of the work Dr. Castillo and Refuge were doing in Chocolá and the family traveled two hours by foot from their rural village to reach the clinic.
Nervously clenching her father’s hand, Elena allowed Deborah Bell and Dr. Eveland (Dr. E) to examine her eye. At first glance, knowing fungus-related tropical diseases are extremely common in Guatemala, Deborah and Dr. E thought this indeed might be an infection. However, when Dr. E performed surgery to remove the mass he discovered it was not an infection but rather a solid tumor. The team also found several growths on the lymph nodes in her neck. Elena was suffering from a malignant growth that was spreading cancer through her body. Dr. E extracted samples from the mass so that a pathologist could determine the type of cancer they were dealing with. The team knew Elena would need to be treated at the National Children’s Hospital in Guatemala but having Dr. Castillo and the clinic closer to Domingo and Elena’s village meant that our team could follow the case and help ensure Elena received the care she needed. Elena went to the National Hospital for several treatments but, tragically, it was not enough. She has since passed away despite her brave fight.