Haunted by cancer after Cuba’s Black Spring

As the world welcomes celebrated Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez on her first international tour in a decade, we must also remember journalist Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias, who continues to be confined not only to the island nation, but to a prison cell in Havana Province.

Martínez, a reporter for the independent news agency Centro de Información Hablemos Press, was imprisoned in September after he started looking into why an international shipment of medicine was allowed to go bad, according to news reports. The journalist, who has been on intermittent hunger strikes over the course of the past few months, described in a telephone conversation with Hablemos Press last year the inhumane conditions he faces in prison.  Cases like that of Calixto are a troubling counterbalance to reforms the authorities have announced in recent years, and recall the Black Spring, one of the darkest episodes in recent Cuban history, and my own experience as a prisoner of conscience.

Six months before the Castro government freed me from prison and deported me to Spain in October, 2010, I found a cyst on my neck. I turned to the prison authorities and the jail doctor, who, after examining the small lump, told me it was probably an inflamed or necrotic ganglion, but nothing to worry about. This was without even ordering an ultrasound to look for elements that might have contradicted his rushed diagnosis.

Months later, while still in prison, I managed to have a specialist examine me, but he only reproduced the same irresponsible conclusion and attitude of the previous doctor.

For my part, as a believer in science and the Hippocratic Oath, I dismissed my concern and confidently continued my life as a prisoner of conscience.

But in February 2012, after having lived some time in Spain, I arrived in the United States, where I began to worry again about the cyst due to its insistent presence. Moreover, it had started to increase in size. I went to a doctor who ordered various imaging exams with the latest technology.

As a result of those exams, the specialist ordered immediate surgery in order to remove the cyst.

A week after the surgery, I went for a follow-up visit with the specialist, who informed me that the tissue removed from my neck had been sent to pathology and that the tests indicated, without a doubt, malignancy.

I had to face then, all of a sudden, that most dreaded word: Cancer.

After undergoing surgery, I am now going through radiation and chemotherapy, which though the most effective treatment for cancer, also implies a serious decrease in quality of life.  

It is in this situation that I find myself today, with severe limitations for my work; except for writing in days of grace.

I thank my doctors in the United States, my relatives and brothers in exile for their constant concern and support. I especially thank my wife Loyda Valdés, who as in her magnificent time with the Ladies in White in Cuba, has not left me for a second and toils, with love, so that my treatment and recovery are strictly implemented.

My case, in the sense that it was not acted upon in time, constitutes another example of the mediocrity of the Cuban “medical power.” But without forgetting the already mentioned negligence and laziness of the doctors who examined me in prison, what I truly attribute my cancer and its consequences to are my seven years of unjust incarceration and its sustained stress. I attribute it to the Cuban Black Spring.