“It will be our fiftieth anniversary this year,” Maria Elena explained to me in Spanish as I stood in the LIVESTRONG booth with her and her husband, watching the throngs of people crowd towards the stage as the main event took shape.
“That’s a lot of wonderful years together!” I exclaimed. They were irresistibly adorable. One of those couples that you know has weathered many a storm . . . that I imagine, wake up and still tell each other how much they love one another. Her husband hovered by her side sweetly, and you could see the pride he held for her in his eyes.
“Of course- we have arguments,” Maria Elena continued, glancing at her husband.
I had to ask. “So who usually wins?”
They both chuckled and simultaneously replied, “I do!”
Maria Elena is an endometrial cancer survivor. She has been volunteering with LIVESTRONG for over a year in Mexico City, helping us with our Campaign to reduce cancer stigma in Mexico, Comparte tu Historia. From the very beginning, she stepped up to share her story publicly, allowing us to record her and her family and to air her personal cancer experience nationally on TV and the radio. Each time we hold an event, or are asked to do an interview with the media as part of the Campaign, she makes herself available to share her cancer story. Despite the fear surfacing around the word “cancer” in Mexico, and the cultural stigma that she and other survivors face daily in their lives as cancer survivors, Maria Elena always takes the stage gracefully, passionately, and courageously. Today was no different.
I was down in Mexico City for World Cancer Day, held each February 4th as a day to raise awareness of cancer and the need to support survivors. This year, our amazing field team (Regina, Fernando, Pati, Blanca, Betty, Liz, Analuisa, and Leila), through our implementing partner JSI, had pulled out their A-game again, planning the single largest international grassroots activation LIVESTRONG has ever done.
It was a celebration of a grand scale- we had planned to host it in total collaboration with the government at the Monument of the Revolution- a fairly well known location in the city, but word about our event had spread so quickly and the number of people expected to attend had risen so fast, that just 3 days prior to our event amidst press conferences and interviews, the government asked us to move it to the most prominent public space in the whole city- the Zócalo, the main plaza in the heart of the city’s historic center. We jumped at the opportunity- it was a sign that our Campaign was really gaining high level support. Today, we had over 25 NGOs sharing valuable cancer information at a health fair; mobile screening units surrounding the plaza to provide mammograms, pap smears and PSA testing; an exciting lineup of entertainment planned (including a headline concert with Leonel García from the popular Latin band Sin Bandera), and several survivors, like Maria Elena, speaking about their cancer experience. But, the main event was the attempt to break a Guinness World Record.
At 3:30pm with our emcee on the mic rallying the crowd, the masses, shrouded in a sea of yellow, began to self organize into a giant human LIVESTRONG wristband formation. Mothers and daughters, uncles and fathers, brothers, grandparents, and friends all joined hands in a show of united support for people fighting cancer all over the world, and as a helicopter flew by snapping pictures of the massive shape, cheers of elation rang out from all corners of the plaza, and the crowd began to chant in a rhythmic fashion, “SI- SE- PUEDE! SI- SE-PUEDE!” (YES YOU CAN!)
The event was a massive success- for cancer survivors in Mexico City hoping to have their voices heard…for LIVESTRONG…for all of us battling this disease at the UN, in classrooms and community centers, on a bike or on a run, in clinics and research labs, on Capitol Hill, in support groups, and at bedsides.
We had done it- the record was ours. Over 5,298 people had come to unite in the fight against cancer, illustrating that we are making progress in our efforts to make this disease a priority, to raise awareness, and to reduce stigma.
The following video is from a local news station in Mexico City. It is in Spanish, but really showcases the breadth of the event from health screenings to the speakers to the aerial footage of the human wristband.