Women in Action (WiA), a group of pastors' wives from the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG), participated in international World Cancer Day by hosting a fun family day expo at the Cenacle of the Holy Spirit in Soweto on 4 February 2013. This event, attended by medical professionals, guest speakers and thousands of community members, was one of 415 global events registered on the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) website. This is the third year that WiA, a member of the UICC, has spearheaded a health awareness campaign on World Cancer Day as part of their on-going campaign to empower communities through education and knowledge.
Annually, on 4 February, organisations globally unite to fight 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.
Women in Action supported the 2013 theme of "Cancer - did you know?" presenting facts and dispelling myths and misconceptions surrounding the disease. Some of the common myths include the widely held belief that cancer is restricted to certain communities, ages or genders and that a cancer diagnosis is a death sentence.
Visiting international haematologist Dr Albertina Vieira, who was available to discuss concerns and symptoms with those who attended the event, confirmed that cancer can affect anyone and although a cancer diagnosis is always difficult to accept, with early detection and appropriate medical care, many cancer patients can be treated effectively. Treatment continues to advance significantly reducing potential side-effects and increasing the incidence of a positive outcome.
Guest speakers, many of whom are cancer survivors, repeated the statement that "knowledge is power" and stressed that cancer does not discriminate, respects nobody and has become a global epidemic. Raynolda Makhutle, a multiple cancer survivor, community educator and counsellor at the Breast Clinic at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, confirmed that there is life after cancer. Diagnosed with the disease 16 years ago, she underwent surgery and treatment and overcame the challenges including her husband's reaction to her disease which resulted in him leaving her. Sadly this situation is common as loved ones do not understand the disease and feel that their partner's illness could be contagious or that following surgery they are "less of a woman or man".
A forum for honest communication and a support group where discussion is facilitated, can help prevent this situation and encourage families to draw closer rather than pull apart and isolate themselves through fear and ignorance. Women in Action run support groups called "It's all about you" in Johannesburg and Soweto to help meet this need for cancer patients and their families.
Raynolda Makhutle stressed the importance of knowing your family history and talking about cancer. Only after she had been diagnosed with multiple cancers, did she learn that there was a history of cancer in her family which had been kept secret because of the perceived stigma. Although there may be a hereditary predisposition to certain cancers, the disease cannot be caught through contact with another person.
Theresa Ackerman, from Let's Talk About Cancer, a breast cancer survivor, stressed the importance of regular self-examinations to check for lumps in the breast or other parts of the body. She encouraged everyone to know their bodies and seek medical help if symptoms persist. She stressed the importance of regular medical check-ups and screenings (pap smears, mammograms and prostate cancer tests) to ensure that cancer is detected early.
Busi Ramaru, nurse, clinical officer and education co-ordinator for CHOC, the Childhood Cancer Foundation of South Africa, outlined the symptoms of cancer in children and stressed the importance of seeking medical assistance if the child starts to squint, has severe headaches, displays weight loss or complains of aching bones, joints or back pain. She urged parents and community leaders to share the information they had learned with their families and neighbours to help create awareness of cancer in children.
Rebecca Musi from the Breast Health Foundation highlighted the statistic that cancer kills more people than HIV/Aids, TB and malaria combined. She said: "Cancer is not the enemy but lack of education is the enemy." Rebecca encouraged people to be aware of skin cancer which is a serious threat to all skin types. She advocated the use of sun protection creams and advised people to limit their exposure to the sun by keeping out of direct sunlight between 10am and 3pm.
Information leaflets were distributed and people were encouraged to share what they had learned to help empower others to take responsibility for their lives and their health. This information could save a loved one, a neighbour or educate the community with knowledge so that if adversity strikes, they have the facts, know where to get help and be comforted by the knowledge that they are never alone.
Mrs Marica Pires, founder of WiA, encapsulated the day's message by encouraging everyone not to be indifferent towards their health and those in the community who are suffering distress. She urged everyone to be a mother, a daughter, a sister or a friend to someone in distress.
Qualified cancer supporters who have been trained by The Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) and Let's Talk About Cancer visit oncology wards at hospitals weekly, offering care, comfort and counselling to patients throughout the treatment journey. On World Cancer Day, 22 more Women in Action began their training as cancer supporters and will soon be equipped to offer support to patients and their families.
For further information please contact Nametso Mofokeng, UCKG public relations department on 011 224 3400.