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  • Gianni Mastrangioli Salazar

I'm a Cancer Survivor, I'm an Emigrant

©️ Venezuela now faces a major humanitarian crisis - Curtesy of Maria G Rodriguez

©️ Maria Gabriela is considered as a pioneer in her field - Courtesy of Maria G Rodriguez

Maria Gabriela Rodriguez, who is a prestigious Venezuelan flutist, talks through her fight against cancer whilst planning on emigrating.

Even though she’s known for being the founder of the “National Orchestra of Flutes” in Venezuela, Maria Gabriela is rather shy - her meticulous persona is the result of her torturing, her professionalism and her judgments of taste. Maria Gabriela had a dog; a flat in a freshly-painted condominium; and a life as a musician.

But she also had breast cancer.

"My monthly salary was only $5", Maria Gabriela says on a video call from Mexico’s capital city, where she resides. She made it all the way through to Mexico in September 2019 to receive treatment. "Destiny was getting darker" in her homeland.

The tipping point was the electrical blackout Venezuela experienced by end of March 2019, which coincided with the time she had few of her chemotherapy vials stored in her fridge at home.

María Gabriela told me while the country was left lightless for a couple of days, she was away on a tour in Loja city, Ecuador, with the purpose of recollecting money for her illness.

"They [the vials] can cost up to $2600 each and I had a pair in the fridge that could have been damaged, throwing away my recovery. For that reason, and in the middle of that chaos, I understood that my life was in danger by not being able to keep my medicine safely", she said.

She added: ‘I had to ask both my partner and a friend to go there and rescue the vials’.

The flutist immediately sold her property and escape from Venezuela after she received an invitation to be part of an event of transverse flute that was going to be held at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

"I was already aware of stories about emigration authorities retaining Venezuelan people and sending them back through Colombia. With too much fear and determination, I flew out and now I have the opportunity to complete my treatment", she said.

It is essentially the lack of primary sources –such as food, domestic services, and medicines– what force the Venezuelan people to pack their belongings and emigrate for a better life. According to the figures provided by the National Assembly of Venezuela, the country’s inflation is currently measured at 50.100,3 % which is considered the highest ever registered in the world.

©️ In Mexico's Capital City - Courtesy of Maria G Rodriguez

As soon as María Gabriela was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2018, she started a campaign fundraising on GoFundMe, using the hashtag #noOneGivesUp. Donations were built up after she highlighted the fact that her monthly salary was only $5 like many of her compatriots.

Although the online initiative reached the sum of nearly 20.100 out of 51.000 thanks to her family members and friends across the world, entering the medicines to Venezuela was always a trouble because of strict border controls.

Peta Perez, who is a friend of María Gabriela works as a nurse in London, said that some of the treatment that the flutist required while she was in Venezuela was secretly hidden in cereal boxes and sent out from Dominican Republic.

"A Dominican oncologist helped us prescribed the chemotherapy for her", Elisa said. "The doctor declined at first as he was unsure about how those camouflaged vials were going to pass custom checks at the airport, but I replied to him saying that it was that or she would die", she added.

The deprivation of Venezuela’s national currency, Bolivar, caused the collapse of all economic sectors with no distinction for private or public, resulting in shortages of adequate medical equipment.

Bibiana Balestrini, who is the director of Juana Inés de la Cruz hospital in Mérida city, western Venezuela, said that sickness has become the equal of death. "It is very difficult to obtain appropriate treatment and be able to carry on with your sickness in a peaceful manner, also because nutritional levels are poor", she added.

Similarly, paediatrician Alejandro Crespo, who refused to reveal the name of his workplace for safety reasons, said that "in Venezuela, you go to the hospital with a problem, whether it is you being ill or your relative, and what the doctor does is to give you a list of the things you need to buy in order to be seen, from cannulas to antibiotics".

©️ Maria Gabriela before her diagnosis - Courtesy of Maria G Rodriguez

Shortly after she arrived in Mexico, María Gabriela was given the status of "guest for humanitarian reasons" which allows her not only to have medical assistance, but also to work as professional musician. Since the theatre industry has seriously been impacted by the covid-19 outbreak, with artists either being furloughed or being made redundant, she has taken on virtual learning; pupils from across Latin America subscribe to her online flute lessons and attend her private conferences.

"It has been such difficult times for Venezuelan women who don’t have the resources to access chemotherapy. Right now, there are many of these women who are asking themselves whether they are going to survive", she said on a video that was published on Facebook last year during the first pandemic.


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