CANSA Pietermaritzburg, which opened in 1990, has two main focus areas in the city and the Midlands are education and support.
Cansa PMB focuses largely on educating people how to reduce their risk of developing cancer. Since 90% of cancers are caused by factors in our lifestyles and environments, there is actually a lot that we can do as individuals to minimise cancer risk.
“Our staff and trained volunteers give talks and hold exhibitions every week in any venue where people are willing to learn from us.
“Our website and Facebook page also have updated information on cancer risk reduction. Members of the public regularly contact us for information a range of cancer-related topics, and we encourage them to continue to do this,” said Lisa Strydom, divisional manager of KZN.
Early detection of any cancer is also a priority and for this reason regular self-examinations and professional screening are important. Cansa runs a weekly clinic which offers screening for some of the most common types of cancers in men and women – breast, cervical and prostate cancer as well as for skin cancer, of which there are very high levels in South Africa.
Consultations also include education around how to conduct self-examinations for breast, testicular and skin cancer.
In terms of support, Cansa PMB offers a range of services. Staff and trained volunteers visit Greys Hospital several times a week to provide information and support to patients there.
“This also allows us to pick up other needs and assist patients such as basic food parcels, accessing social grants and family counselling. We recently worked with the staff at Greys Hospital to publish a booklet called ‘What is cancer?’ which is available in both and English and Zulu and covers basic information for newly-diagnosed patients,” said Strydom.
Cansa PMB’s staff and volunteers facilitate a number of support groups; one in Northdale, one at Greys Hospital (for the lodger patients) and one at Netcare St Anne’s Hospital which are well-attended.
“We also have an extensive number of community-based volunteers whom we have trained. These volunteers visit patients in their homes and bring to our attention any situations which may require our professional intervention,” said Strydom.
Cansa has a number of products available to assist patients during their treatment journeys and beyond. This includes wigs, breast prostheses and bras, medical equipment, meal replacers and a wide range of stoma-related products. Most of these are cheaper when purchased directly from Cansa.
“We have been blessed by numerous other fundraising initiatives undertaken by our volunteers and members of the community and for these we are very grateful. There are also a group of individuals and small businesses that donate to us on a monthly basis, and this all contributes to keeping our services running throughout the year,” said Strydom.
The way forward
There is a huge need in Pietermaritzburg for accommodation for out-of-town patients coming for, mainly radiation, treatment, both in the private and the public sector. There are people who have to travel three to four hours to get to Pietermaritzburg, and to do this three to five times per week for several weeks at a time. “There are patients who opt out of their treatment because they cannot manage the costs of travel and accommodation,” said Strydom.
In addition to the time and cost factors, there is a huge problem in the public sector where patients are waiting up to a year for treatment. “This is partly due to the fact that Greys Hospital only has one linear accelerator machine, but another contributing factor is the shortage of available beds for out-of-town patients. If more accommodation were available, doctors could reduce the waiting period for treatment by about half,” she said.
Cansa is in discussions with both the private and public treatment facilities to determine the most effective strategy for dealing with this problem. The ideal would be to facilitate the development of more lodger facilities at Greys Hospital as well as to make Cansa-run accommodation available to any patients who need it. Sponsors are needed for this project.