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Breast Cancer in the 18th Century

Posted 5/11/2014

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  First, Happy Mother's Day to everyone--with special appreciation for the glorious spring day we are enjoying in Boston. After endless months of cold and gray and snow, we truly glory in the green and the blossoms and the sweet fragrances all around us. 

  Today's entry is either an apt or a very odd choice for the day. I have been saving it for a while, and it, frankly, never is an easy fit. Mother's Day is a unique, albeit a Hallmark Card, occasion, so ripe for an unusual blog. 

  Thanks to Barbara who sent me this incredible chapter from a newly published book. It begins with the description of a Spanish nun in 1710. She is on a ship that is sailing from Madrid to Lima, Peru with a group of sisters; their goal is to establish a new convent there. While aboard, she feels a hard lump in her breast, and she immediately knows what it is and what it means. In 1710, it meant certain suffering and death. I am going to include her the first paragraph or so. If it catches your interest, please email me, and I will send along the chapter. (

  The Cloister as Therapeutic Space: Breast Cancer Narratives in the Early Modern World
Sarah E. Owens

Madre Estefanía’s suffering began in silence. While she lay in
her bunk battling seasickness, suffocating heat, and bed sores, she
also brooded over the lump in her breast. She probably knew from
the beginning that this was not a good sign. She might have already
witnessed other nuns from her home convent in Madrid succumb to
this terminal illness. So she waited and hesitated to tell her traveling
companions, four other Capuchin nuns, who like Madre Estefanía, had
agreed to crisscross continents and oceans so that they could establish
a new convent in Lima, Peru. Unfortunately Madre Estefanía would
never make it past the port of Buenos Aires.
Their long journey had begun two years earlier when they left
Madrid, Spain on January 3, 1710. Madre María Rosa, the future mother
abbess of the new Peruvian convent, documented their remarkable
􀁍􀁒􀁘􀁕􀁑􀁈􀁜􀀃 􀁅􀁜􀀃 􀁚􀁕􀁌􀁗􀁌􀁑􀁊􀀃 􀁄􀁑􀀃 􀁒􀁉􀃀􀁆􀁌􀁄􀁏􀀃 􀁋􀁌􀁖􀁗􀁒􀁕􀁌􀁆􀁄􀁏􀀃 􀁄􀁆􀁆􀁒􀁘􀁑􀁗􀀃 􀁒􀁉􀀃 􀁗􀁋􀁈􀁌􀁕􀀃 􀁗􀁕􀁄􀁙􀁈􀁏􀁖􀀃 􀁄􀁑􀁇􀀃
the building of their new convent. There were no Capuchin convents
in South America at the time, and for this reason Madre María Rosa
and her four spiritual sisters received permission to set up a new
community. They had opted for a long, circuitous route that required
a sea voyage from Spain to Buenos Aires, a trek over the Andes by
􀁐􀁘􀁏􀁈􀀏􀀃 􀁄􀁑􀁇􀀃 􀃀􀁑􀁄􀁏􀁏􀁜􀀃 􀁄􀁑􀁒􀁗􀁋􀁈􀁕􀀃 􀁖􀁋􀁌􀁓􀀃 􀁍􀁒􀁘􀁕􀁑􀁈􀁜􀀃 􀁘􀁓􀀃 􀁗􀁋􀁈􀀃 􀀳􀁄􀁆􀁌􀃀􀁆􀀃 􀁆􀁒􀁄􀁖􀁗􀀃 􀁗􀁒􀀃 􀀯􀁌􀁐􀁄􀀑􀀃


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