Thank you Karen

Thank you to Karen Mclennan and her friends for the donation to the Breast Course for Nurses. 

"I felt enormously privileged to receive the outstanding care I did as your patient, and from the nurses who looked after me at CBMH last year when I had a bilateral mastectomy. So for my birthday I had a tea party for my friends and in lieu of presents asked for donations for your courses. I requested that contributions be put in a plain envelope and dropped in a box on the table, so donations were anonymous.

I was touched by how enthusiastically my friends responded to my suggestion, but not surprised, as they were so wonderfully supportive of me all through my treatment. " 

Later in the year we will be starting some new initiatives and you will be able to see what we are using the money for.  Once again, THANK you.


8th SCCA

Earlier this week, I had the privilege to attend the the 8th SCCA in Namibia.  SCCA stands for Stop Cervical, Breast and Prostate Cancer in Africa.  It was started in 2007 by Princess Nikky Onyeri
Princess Nikky Onyeri
from Nigeria.  15 first ladies from Africa have joined the initiative to promote awareness about cancer in the region and implement policies to deal with the disease burden.

Madame Pohamba, Namibia

On Monday, we heard presentations from the first ladies of Namibia, South Africa, Ghana, Chad, Niger, Swaziland, Nigeria, Mozambique, Uganda and Kenya.

In the afternoon, there were track sessions with a mixed bag of presentations.  I attended a very interesting session on ethnomedicincal plants given by Dr Davis Mumbengegwi, UNAM.  He was followed by a Ms Koegelenberg from CAN (Cancer Association of Namibia) who told us about their
projects.  I was most impressed by the fact they have Acacia House which is open to anyone who needs to stay in Windhoek for cancer treatment. The last 2 presentations from Eunice Garanganga and Celestine Mbangtang were about the hospice movements in Zimbabwe and Botswana.  They demonstrated what can be done with relatively little money and good organisation.

On Tuesday, the Windhoek declaration was signed by all the first ladies.  Amongst other pledges, they agreed to intensify advocacy for HPV vaccinations in an attempt to prevent cervical cancer.  Approximately 250 000 African women a year die from cervical cancer.  HPV vaccination should be offered to every school girl.

Several presentations dealt with tobacco consumption.  Tobacco companies see Africa as the next growth area and are targeting the continent.  At present, there are an estimated 77m smokers in the continent.  With the expected rate of population increase and increased usage, this is expected to rise to 700 million smokers by the end of the century.  Dr Evan Bletcher called for action to be taken urgently.

I would like to thank Novartis for making it possible for me to talk about the nurses course.  It was an excellent chance for me to network with health care providers from Botswana and Namibia.

I sincerely hope that the people with influence and power who were at the conference do not waste the opportunity to make a real change in the lives of people in Southern Africa.


Never Say Goodbye

A few weeks ago, I wrote about meeting Susan Lewis, the author of Never say Goodbye.  Having chatted to her, I have read the book and was most impressed.

The book is about 2 women who live on different sides of a seaside town: Josie and Bel.  Josie develops breast cancer and whilst Bel has never had breast cancer, her twin sister died from it.  Bel is a volunteer for Breast Cancer Care and meets up with Josie.

As the story develops, Josie's journey through the diagnosis and treatment of her disease forms the backbone of the plot.  It was interesting to read about the experience of being seen by the surgeon from the other side of the desk.

The relationship between Josie and Bel is not one way.  Bel does support Josie but she also gets a lot out of the relationship.  This is a common and real phenomenon that many volunteers experience.

Over the years of treating women with breast cancer, I have had the privilege of reading some very personal accounts of their story.  In my opinion, Lewis captures the emotional highs and lows of the journey in her insightful novel.

I was impressed with this accessible novel.  It is factually accurate and am sure that women who are going through the trauma of breast cancer treatment will be able to identify with the very real character, Josie.


Thank you IASSS

The inaugural IASSS conference came to a close on Thursday evening.  The first closing speech was given by Prof Khan (Head of surgery, UCT) who gave a brief history of the UCT surgical students association and recounted a very entertaining story about the pioneering heart surgeon, Christiaan Barnard.

Tinashe Chandauka (the president of the UCT surgical society) then reflected on the conference.  Two words summed up his thoughts: innovation and believing.  He believes that the surgical association should be at the forefront of developing innovative solutions for the health problems faced by the developing world, and believes that it can become the place where surgeons from the developed world will seek for new ideas.

Amongst the awards won, a prize was given for the winner of the debate: "This house believes that medical students in 'developing' countries are better trained than those in 'developed' countries to become surgical pioneers of the 21st century".  Unfortunately, I wasn't there for the debate but I am delighted that the topic was chosen.

As the world becomes more populated and health resources are stretched thinner and thinner, the role of surgery in the management of developing world health problems has received increasing attention.  One of the videos shown at the conference was provided by ICES (International Collaboration for Essential Surgery) and can be viewed online:  www.therighttoheal.org.  Surgery must be made more accessible and be seen as a possible primary health intervention.

For the Breast Course for Nurses, the high point came when when we were given a cheque for R30,000.  This money came from the students attending the conference.  Those who know me will attest that I am rarely lost for words but it took my breath away when we were given such a generous donation.

Once again: well done and THANK YOU to all who were part of IASSS.  Please follow our progress so you know how your money is being used.

Like Kuttschreuter handing over the donation



Last night was the opening night of what promises to be a fascinating conference in Cape Town: the inaugural meeting of the IASSS (International Association of Student Surgical Societies).

The conference started with a golf day followed by a cocktail party.  The Breast Course for Nurses has been nominated as the charity for the event so Sr Lieske and I spent the evening there.

Mr Nicholas Tamela 

After the introductory talk, Prof Klopper (Vice Chancellor UCT) opened the evening.  She sketched a future for medical eduction that will result in less boundaries being drawn between undergraduate and post graduate training.  She said the the days of the undergraduate student being a consumer of knowledge should be behind us: they should become producers of knowledge as well.

The Wits team
We listened to presentations from many of the student surgical associations attending the conference.  They were from SA (UCT, Wits and Stellenbosch), as well as from other coutries: Tanzania, China, Australia, USA and Namibia. It was fascinating to hear about their visions and goals and whilst there were obvious differences, all the speakers impressed me with their confidence and enthusiasm.

 Not only will we be the financial beneficiaries of the conference, we met a lot of dynamic, energetic young medical students who we hope will consider becoming involved with our project.

Guys, well done on an excellent conference and THANK YOU!


Peach ribbons

Last week, I had the privilege to be in Istanbul: what an amazing city.  Not only does it have an Asian and a European side, it has a fascinating culture weaving together history from Islam and Christianity.  While I was there, a notable women died: Charlotte Haley.

The first ribbon to be linked to a cause was a yellow ribbon.  In the late 1970s, they were tied around a trees to highlight the plight of Iranian hostages.  

In1991, the red ribbon was created by a group of artists who designed a symbol to remind the world about the plight of AIDS victims.

At around the same time, Charlotte Haley attached a peach ribbon to home made cards with the message:   

"The National Cancer Institute annual budget is $1.8 billion, only 5 percent goes for cancer prevention. Help us wake up our legislators and America by wearing this ribbon."

Estee Lauder contacted Charlotte Haley and asked her if they could use the peach ribbon to increase breast cancer awareness and were told they could not.  As a result, they used a pink ribbon.

The most sobering aspect of the story is that whilst many billions of dollars have been spent on research into breast cancer prevention since then, only 5-10% of all women with breast cancer know why they have it.  The cause of breast cancer in over 90% of women remains a mystery. 

Personally, I think 20 years on, we need to move away from the pink ribbon.  What symbol should it be replaced with?