By Vanessa Papas people Has Heart: There are many challenges breast cancer survivors face along their journey but feeling isolated in their struggle with a daunting diagnosis should not be one of them. Project Flamingo aims to ‘spread feathers of hope’ among breast cancer survivors!
Ask a group of breast cancer survivors what the greatest lesson the ‘Big C’ has taught them and you’ll probably get very similar answers. Fighting breast cancer makes one realise just how remarkably strong the human spirit is, and how the will and determination to live is a force to be reckoned. Facing the devastating diagnosis of cancer is overwhelming – not only to patients but to their loved ones too. While prompt diagnosis and correct medical management is of the utmost importance, walking the cancer journey is as much a journey of the mind and soul as it is of the body.
Like many fine things in life Project Flamingo started in 2010 around a good bottle of wine and a desperate e-mail that landed in the right inbox. When faced with the heartbreaking, stretched out and often chaotic journey of a breast cancer patient in the public health sector, Dr Liana Roodt decided that something needed to be done. The simple yet profoundly effective idea of ‘Catch-up Surgeries’ and ‘Pamper Packs’ was born. When the AmaBele Belles Dragonboat Racing Team pledged the first donation to the project on a radio interview, it was kismet. Joining forces, the AmaBele Belles’ Project Flamingo has subsequently grown so fast that literally hundreds of women have been touched by the project since its launch in 2010.
“The Project does a lot of great work but our main goal is raising funds for timeous surgery for newly diagnosed breast cancer patients – currently achieved by funded catch-up surgery lists performed at Groote Schuur Hospital (paying for theatre time and nursing staff), but have also been performed at the majority of the major non-private hospitals around Cape Town, including Mitchells Plain, Victoria, False Bay to name a few,” explains Cape Town’s Dr Liana. “This is to compensate for the tremendous strain on theatre and staff resources that have led to a waiting time of up to 10 weeks for surgery in 2010. Thanks to Project Flamingo, the waiting time for surgery is now at two to four weeks! We are now aiming to expand this idea to patients urgently requiring surgery for other cancers as well.”
Dr Liana says that last year December Dr Mark Hampton, a long-time Flamingo volunteer surgeon, performed the Project’s first catch-up list at False Bay hospital. The team at False Bay performed three mastectomies – giving the gift of life during the festive season!
The Project’s Pamper Packs are also a much-welcomed idea and have become ‘tokens of hope’ for breast cancer patients. “Each week 20 newly diagnosed patients meet with a panel of experts (surgeons, oncologists, pathologists and radiologists) to discuss their diagnosis and treatment plan. Packs comprising bathroom essentials, snack, magazines, an axillary pillow, drain bag and educational material is provided to these 20 women. The aim is to keep the feminine spirit alive and provide a token of hope,” says Dr Liana. “The Project also does mentorships. Our Breast cancer survivors and program beneficiaries provide mentorship and support to newly diagnosed patients.”
The Project has a number of members – a rich mixture of passionate people who have survived cancer. Among the members is Wendy Scurr, who began her journey with breast cancer a few days before she turned 37. “An urgent mastectomy done on a Spring Saturday morning started me on a path I hadn’t planned to walk,” she says. “I was grateful for meeting the most wonderful people at exactly the right time to support me in just the way I needed. My husband was the most important of these – sent to me just when I needed a soulmate. I underwent chemotherapy and radiation and emerged a stronger person. I decided to have a prophylactic mastectomy three years later and although all tests showed there to be no tumour in sight a small one was found, resulting in another course of chemotherapy.
“It is now 13 years since I was first diagnosed. Breast cancer opened my eyes in many ways and I now live my life with a very different focus. I have learned how to nurture myself and now value my life in a very different way. My involvement with Project Flamingo offered me the opportunity to visit and support many breast cancer patients at GF Jooste hospital in Mannenberg and Groote Schuur Hospital. Being able to share my positive story with newly diagnosed women is a humbling experience and reminds me each time of the gift of life and a second chance. Throughout my journey I have learned how to trust the process and I encourage all who read this to do just the same. Following your heart and making decisions that flow from it will result in an excitement that will bring only the most wonderful experiences to you and those with whom you share your lives.”
Pay It Forward
Readers who would like to help can become a sponsor, or donate! Each surgery that Project Flamingo sponsors cost about R3000 in nursing and consumable fees. Surgeons and anaesthetists donate their time and skills for free. Any bathroom products, cosmetics, healthy snacks and magazines that help to brighten a patient’s day before or after surgery. Go to Project Flamingo to see how you can donate to this worthy cause.