It was the Valentine’s Day celebration for Grupo Moriviví, where 30 women and men chatted over mugs of coffee, pastries, and a lunch of fruit salad, stewed chicken, and mangú.
Although this Saturday was about food and team-building games — in small groups, they were to build sculptures out of sticks and gummy bears — the monthly support group where people share their struggles with cancer is usually more instructive.
“Here, I find people with experiences more difficult than mine, so I can come and ask them if it’s normal to have my hands blue and swollen," said Jakelinne Procel, 44, who started meeting with the group last July after she was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer.
Moriviví is the Spanish name for the touch-me-not plant that grows in tropical climates like South and Central America, and is associated with a resurgence from the dead. It’s the name the group chose since it started meeting in 2014 to provide language and emotional support as well as care-giving workshops in a conversational setting for the Latino communities of North Philadelphia.
There are a number of support groups for breast cancer patients in the area, both broad-themed (American Cancer Society) and specific (Supporting Sisters Breast Cancer Group, which focuses on African American women, or Young Survival Coalition, for women younger than 40). Similarly, said Marla Vega, who coordinates the group with María Barrera, Hispanic and Latino cancer patients have specific needs, and they go beyond merely having the option to speak in Spanish.
“There are women who don’t have health insurance, who recently came to Philadelphia, that don’t know English, that don’t know how to use public transportation, and we go where they are to teach them how to make it to the city," said Vega, 65, who works at Health Promotion Counsel, the social services organization that provides support for the group.
Vega is not a breast cancer survivor herself, but her job as a patient navigator — helping people with health insurance issues, scheduling mammograms, or finding them outside support — made it clear to her that these women needed more guidance. Being a part of the group, which meets every third Saturday at Aspira’s campus in Hunting Park, might mean connecting with a partner for radiation treatment, or learning the ways of SEPTA’s bus system.
“I can now see which are those needs that the community and this city has: It’s that sense of backup and protection we can’t find but here,” said Luis Orozco, 64, who participated for the first time that day with his wife, Luz, 60, who has attended regularly since May.
Grupo Moriviví already operates with a board of directors and an annual plan, but as Vega approaches retirement, she wants to establish the group as a nonprofit and dedicate more time to Moriviví.