With cancer being the biggest cause of mortality worldwide, World Cancer Day, a Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) initiative, on 4 February 2014, is an opportunity for organisations globally to unite against the cancer epidemic by raising awareness of the disease. The day's objective is to save millions of preventable deaths by educating communities and encouraging people to take responsibility for their health.
For the fourth consecutive year, Women in Action (WiA), a group of pastors' wives from the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG), participated in the global event, hosting a community education and awareness morning at the Diepkloof Multipurpose Hall in Soweto. Guest speakers, some of whom were cancer survivors, encouraged the capacity crowd to take responsibility for their health and to make changes in their lives to help reduce the incidence of cancer.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) report shows that in 2012 an estimated 14.1 million new cancer cases were reported causing 8.2 million deaths from the disease. The incidence is forecast to rise by 75% and reach close to 25 million over the next two decades. It is essential that communities are informed and empowered with knowledge and encouraged to professional medical advice and follow the prescribed treatment regime if they are diagnosed with any disease.
WiA cancer co-ordinator Donna Onwubiko, explained that cancer respects nobody - anyone of any age, race, gender or culture can develop it but prevention is always better than cure. She stressed the importance of early detection which improves the patients' chance of a complete recovery saying: "Often we self-medicate for too long or are in denial about our health and by the time we visit the doctor, the disease may be advanced, compromising the treatment outcome."
Guest speaker Jenna Skews was 17 years old and had just begun her matric year when she felt a lump in her breast. She realised something was wrong but never imagined it would be cancer. Following a double mastectomy to remove both breasts, her body was different, but it was healthy. She encouraged everyone to be breast aware, examine themselves each month and seek medical advice if they have any concerns. She said: "Take care of the body that God has given you. If cancer is diagnosed early, it can be cured. I am a proud survivor and living proof that there is life after cancer."
Granddaughter of Nelson Mandela and cancer ambassador, Zoleka Mandela, shared her story of self-destruction, tragedy and transformation hoping that it would inspire others to change their lives. She explained that her poor lifestyle choices put her at high risk for developing cancer.
She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012, nine months after she lost her infant son two days after his birth and two years after her daughter was killed in a road accident following the opening of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Afraid and anxious she refused treatment for three months, making a choice not to save her own life. However, she realised that her family needed her, and in July 2012 she had both breasts removed followed by chemotherapy. She said: "The surgery affected my self-esteem and I felt inadequate as a woman and a mother. I felt a complete failure. Nothing prepared me for the side-effects of the treatment but my family and friends supported me through the process and in May 2013 I was declared cancer-free. I am a victor not a victim."
Marcia Pires, founder of Women in Action, explained that the trained cancer counsellors, known as the "pink ladies" journey alongside patients and their families, offering information and support during the treatment and recovery process. She said: "You are never alone. We are your family and you will find support in us. So if you love yourself and your family, do not lose your life to cancer because you are afraid. Today's speakers are living testimonies that this disease can be overcome."
She urged everyone to know their bodies and change their lifestyle to include more healthy choices, stressing the importance of taking precautions and decreasing the chance of the disease. She said: "If we keep our body as well as possible, by eating fresh fruit and vegetables rather than processed 'junk food', we allow our cells to reproduce healthily. Other factors contribute to the development of cancer, so it is important to be informed and take early action if you notice changes or do not feel well."
Encouraging healthy eating, WiA gave fresh fruit to everyone as they left. Information leaflets were distributed and trained cancer counsellors spoke to anyone wanting information, guidance or support.
Participating in the global event was part of Women in Action's ongoing campaign to empower communities through education and knowledge. Seventy-eight qualified cancer supporters, who have been trained by The Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) and Let's Talk About Cancer, visit hospitals weekly, offering care, comfort and counselling to patients throughout the treatment journey. Teams visit the oncology wards at the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Hospital, the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto, CHOC units in Johannesburg, Soweto and Pretoria, the Tyger Valley Hospital in Cape Town, Frere Hospital in East London, Livingston Hospital in Port Elizabeth and Addington Hospital in Durban regularly each week.
Besides offering emotional and spiritual support, trained volunteers distribute information leaflets which help newly diagnosed patients prepare for the challenges of their illness and treatment. Doctors and nursing staff are grateful for this support saying their support is very valuable and they make all the difference to patients who know that they are not alone and that the caring "ladies in pink" are there with them.
Throughout the year WiA holds regular "It's all about you" support group meetings in Johannesburg and Soweto offering a forum for education, discussion and a space to share experiences. At each meeting a specialist speaker presents information and then patients and their families gather in small groups, led by a trained facilitator, where they share experiences and support each other. These meetings help dispel the myths around cancer, including the belief that the disease is contagious which results in many being isolated during treatment.
For further information please contact Nametso Mofokeng, UCKG public relations on .
The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG) is a contemporary, evangelical, Bible-based church, actively involved in numerous national outreach projects caring for people's spiritual, emotional and physical needs.
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