Our Stories
Helen Margaret Muscat

M.Q.R. Co-Founder
(14th April 1956 – 19th October 2013)
Helen was the cofounder and first Chairperson of the Action for Breast Cancer Foundation. Being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004 did not stop her from taking an active role to better the services and care offered to breast cancer patients. Remembered as an inspirational campaigner through her support of others, she drew upon her experience to help and encourage these patients to live a normal life the best way possible. She was married to Dr. Peter Muscat and together they had two sons, Stephen and Paul.
Helen’s career in healthcare spanned over 40 years. She qualified as a state registered nurse and went on to specialise in palliative care and breast care nursing. She worked in surgery and was appointed to the post of Ward Sister at the Kingston General Hospital (Hull) in the United Kingdom.
In Malta she helped in the setting up of the Malta Hospice Movement. She later set up the Breast Care Support Group and, during her term as President, she developed the annual Hilda Schembri Memorial lectures. Later, she moved into developing a rehabilitation service for the elderly. She spent eight years as Hospital Matron at the Zammit Clapp Hospital and also served as Matron of another two private hospitals. She also served on several committees, including the Monitoring for Breast Screening Committee and the National Advisory Committee on Breast Screening. She contributed to the educational sector through her lectures in the Gerontology Department at the University of Malta through induction seminars for nurses and volunteers at several hospitals.
Helen was awarded the Medalja ghall-Qadi tar-Repubblika by His Excellency Dr. George Abela President of the Republic of Malta on the 13 December 2012. She died on Saturday, 19 October 2013, during breast awareness month, leaving behind a legacy of improved breast cancer treatment and care and the introduction of the first community funded breast cancer PhD at the University of Malta.
Her Way – Helen’s Inspiration to Life
The book ‘Her Way – Helen’s Inspiration to Life’, written by Ingrid Zerafa for the Action for Breast Cancer Foundation is now available in bookshops. Proceeds from sales will go to the Action for Breast Cancer Foundation.
Esther Sant
Chairperson & Co-Founder
As my fourteenth wedding anniversary approached and the world was gearing up for the millennium celebrations all my energy was focused on my family: my beautiful three boys, the youngest only just turned one, and my husband. I was 36 years old, I was healthy, I had no cause to turn my thoughts to cancer. When I first felt a bump in my left breast, I brushed it off. I took my time before consulting a doctor. I was sure this could not happen to me. I went straight into denial. The doctor sent me for a mammogram. A lengthy report followed which brought unwelcome words into my life: DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ), nodes, stages and grades. I underwent painful biopsies. Three weeks later, my histopathology results came. It was bad news. I fell even deeper into denial, followed by the constant questioning “Why me?” I felt that I was being singled out and punished. At the surgeon’s office, I was devastated to learn that I had to undergo a mastectomy. Five months, six cycles of chemo and twenty sessions of radiotherapy later, I had become quite used to wearing my breast prostheses. Unfortunately, more surgery and more treatment followed in 2004 and 2007 when the cancer recurred.
As rough and horrible my breast cancer experience was, it was also life changing. I researched cancer, referred myself to Hospice Malta, attended a support group and befriended other women going through the same thing. Then I met Helen Muscat, a seasoned health care professional and qualified breast care nurse, later herself a breast cancer patient, who became my confidante, lifeline and mentor. She inspired me to do something to improve the services on offer and, in 2007, we founded the Action for Breast Cancer Foundation. Our first challenge was the breast prosthesis service. The product offered for free was an insult to women’s dignity. We launched an advocacy campaign and the service was eventually transferred to the breast clinic. Another major lobbying campaign was a campaign to provide the drug Herceptin (HER2) for free. We marched in St Julians’ and Valletta chanting “give her life, give HER2”.
Helen and I became very close. We talked at great length about our inner fears, our embarrassments and our sexuality. Helen’s parting shot to me was always, “Esther, we have to move on and never look back”. I was overjoyed when she was honoured with the Medalja ghall-Qadi tar-Repubblika on Republic Day of 2012. She left us on 19 October 2013. No words can express the loss and devastation I felt. I kept asking myself: “Why did she die? Why am I the lucky one?” To keep her spirit with us we published a book we called “HER WAY”. It has been almost five years now since she left us. The Action for Breast Cancer Foundation now offers psychological support to breast cancer patients. We continue to offer mastectomy brassieres and we provide each breast cancer patient with information their cancer journey. More ambitious projects are envisaged as we continue to work on prevention and raising awareness. Today, I have reached the grand age of 54 and it has been 18 years since my diagnosis. I am amazed at how much I have learned and experienced since the turn of the millenium and I am forever grateful for my timely encounter with Helen. Sometimes, what we believe is our worst trial turns out to be exactly what we needed to become wiser and, ultimately, stronger!
Betty Hanley Lee
Committee Member
I came to live in Malta in 1988, having had a career in Ireland working in the Cardiac and Pulmonary Unit of the Mater Hospital in Dublin. I have one daughter and 4 lovely grandchildren and one who is now an angel. I had breast cancer in 2005 and knew no one on the island with breast cancer. I wrote an article about my cancer for Pink Magazine 3 months after diagnosis which changed my life for the better. After that publication, I got a weekly slot about health issues on a programme called Flimkien with Hermann Bonaci and Frida Cauchi. I was then interviewed by Clare Agius on her tv programme where once again I emphasised what a lonely and frightening road it was to not know anyone on the island with my same diagnosis. Around that time I was contacted by a company in Germany who manufacture prosthesis and I was offered the opportunity to train as a mastectomy fitter. With Dr Frank Portelli’s help, I set up my base at St Philips Hospital where I could meet other breast cancer survivors and offer a once stop shop for all their needs. It was then that I met Esther Sant and Helen Muscat who were launching Action for Breast Cancer Foundation and I became a member on day one.
I have now retired, having worked at the Holy Family Home in Naxxar, at St James Hospital, Sliema and as a Coordinator of BioValley at Burmarrad. I’m now a volunteer for the National Cancer Platform at the Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre (SAMOC) where I can still meet breast cancer patients and I will be a volunteer with the Action for Breast Cancer Foundation.
Lorraine Vella
Committee Member
On the 4 May 2017 I felt a strain running from under my left arm to my breast and nipple. I went to my doctor who felt a lump and who immediately referred me for a mammogram and an ultrasound. The results showed that I had a 1.9 cm lump in my breast and a 1.6 cm lump under my arm. The day after I was referred to the breast clinic at the Mater Dei Hospital where a biopsy confirmed that I had Grade 3 very aggressive cancer. The oncologist decided to treat the cancer with chemotherapy before surgery to shrink the cancer. I started 6 sessions of chemotherapy, spread three weeks apart, on the 14 June and Herceptin treatment every three weeks for a year. Six weeks later, when I was about to be operated upon, a mammogram showed that the cancer had shrunk to nothing, but the oncologist decided to go ahead with the surgery. On the 8 November I had my breast lump and underarm lymph nodes removed. In January 2018 I started 15 sessions of radiotherapy. It was not an easy journey but thanks to God it is now over. A family friend introduced me to Esther Sant, co-founder of the Action for Breast Cancer Foundation, and she helped me along the way. I now volunteer as a committee member with the foundation.
Help us ease the journey of breast cancer patients – Action for Breast Cancer Foundation VO/0058