An English lady with a Greek soul.
"The cancer patients and relatives union (ELAZO) would like to express its deep sorrow over the death of the unforgettable Dr Helen Soteriou. She pioneered the radiotherapy department in the state's oncology department in Nicosia general hospital," ELAZO head Christos Andreou said yesterday.
"This woman was a fighter from the very start because she became an orphan when she was young. Even though they told her to be a teacher she wanted to be a doctor," Andreou said.
She was "a great scientist and great activist", he said adding that up to a month before she died "her memory was intact" and she had been keeping busy.
Soteriou ignored the advice of her secondary school head teacher who suggested she use a scholarship to become a teacher. She trained to be a doctor instead, specialising in cancer treatment.
Born in Liverpool to the family of a Unitarian pastor, Soteriou's father died of cancer when she was four and she was raised by her mother's family, owners of a brass foundry and also devout Unitarians.
Growing up, "personal behaviour was strictly regulated", and she was raised to pay her bills on the same day, eschew the movies, and avoid vanity, she the Sunday's Mail David Fisher in an interview in 1998.
Training in the late 50s to be a surgeon was also difficult, "some might say there was too much discipline" she told Fisher. However, by 1969 she had been a consultant for ten years and was in charge of the oncology department at a big hospital.
"I had managed to climb the ladder more or less to the top," she said. She went on to become a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, the Royal College of Radiologists and the Royal College of Physicians.
But her brother was also to die of cancer in 1967 and it was in that year during a holiday to Cyprus that she met her future husband Andreas Soteriou, a Famagusta shop owner and KODAK retailer, and fell in love. They got married in 1969 and Soteriou moved to Famagusta.
"Her husband was well off and she didn't need to work, but she couldn't abide not to so she volunteered to work for free," Andreou said.
A few years later in 1973 she co-founded the Nicosia General Hospital's radiotherapy and oncology department. She later set up the first private radiotherapy centre at the Evangelistria clinic where she worked until her retirement in 1995.
But when she first arrived in Cyprus, the word "cancer" was still taboo - "it was impossible to use the word," she said - and she was strongly advised not to tell patients she was a cancer specialist.
In addition to being a pioneer in revolutionising cancer treatment in Cyprus, Soteriou will also be remembered for her activism against the Turkish occupation of the northern half of the island in 1974.
In the summer of 1975, Soteriou began collecting signatures from the Greek Cypriots displaced in 1974 in protest against the occupation. About 180,000 signed what became known as the Cyprus Scroll, which was sent to various international organisations.
A year later in 1975, Soteriou co-organised the Women's Walk Home, when 30,000 women attempted to walk to occupied Famagusta.
It was "something I believed in, not just something I'd be trained for," she told Fisher in 1998, the year when she was included in the OBE's honours list for her "untiring" work in cancer research and her contribution to creating connections between Cyprus and the UK.
Twelve years after the first Women's Walk Home, a second one took place in 1987.
The aim was to breach the green line, marking the United Nation's buffer zone and through some cunning and perseverance, the walk took place despite official opposition. Though the UN was informed of the walk, the actual destination was not widely advertised but the walk was successful in promoting a message: images of women against Turkish brutality were broadcast globally.
Soteriou later helped organise two more walks. The walks were "much more of an achievement than my work", she told the Sunday Mail. It took about a year to find the best possible place to breach the green line and a lot of care was taken to have an escape route, just in case.
"When you do something in life that you know is right," is how she described her reason for getting so involved.
The 2010 Biographical Lexicon of Cypriots calls her "an English lady with a Greek soul."
Helen Soteriou, born April 11, 1920, died November 19, 2012. She was married to businessman Andreas Soteriou who predeceased her.
The funeral will take place at St Paul's Anglican Cathedral in Nicosia on Wednesday November 28, at 2.30pm.
Copyright Cyprus Mail 2012
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