Coordinator of the BBCSG Barb Pinter said, ‘our president, international artist Alexandra Spyratos, has recently founded a sister group, The Malindi Breast Cancer Support Group, in the remote town of Malindi on the beautiful coast of Kenya, East Africa. Having survived breast cancer three times over sixteen years, Alexandra all too well realises the important role that breast cancer support groups play in our society, providing information and a valuable support network at some very traumatic times through this illness. The groups are also important in offering continued support for women through recovery and educating in prevention.’
Culturally, women in Kenya, especially in remote areas, are ostracised when they are diagnosed. Husbands walk away mainly due to lack of education about the subject and fear of lack of funds and the women are left to deal with the breast cancer alone. Some choose to ignore the symptoms in fear of this stigma and abandonment until it’s too late.
The group in Malindi has been a very eye-opening step for me and its formation has already made so many improvements, one being getting the mammogram machine working at the local hospital and raising awareness for early detection and providing subsidised massage, fitness classes at a local gym owned by Vicky, and visits to a psychologist and social worker to help with trauma. The chairwoman of the group is Sophie Ndugu, a nurse at the local hospital. I am also involving international medics in the Kenyan group including Barbara Pesce Senologa, working in Rome on prevention (Centro Diagnostico della ‘Clinica Paideia’ Roma); also leading oncologist Cinzia Quondamcarlo who works at the Instituteo Nationale Die Tumori ‘Regina Elene’ in Rome.
Forming the group in Africa has been amazing. Women come from far and wide, walking, as they don’t have any money for a bus, and sit to talk about their breast cancer journey. For many it’s the first time they have ever felt a safe environment in which to talk. Some still cannot talk about it, but just coming to the group has given them psychological support for the first time.
The cultural differences between Australia and Africa are vast and this is brought to the front in the differences in the support group meetings. The last group activity was ‘how to crochet a prosthesis’ as to have a real prosthesis post-mastectomy is financially out of reach for most.
I am always amazed at how quickly, in this community where we are so lucky, helpful hands reach out. It took a mere mention of our sister group in Africa at out Byron Support Group meeting to produce a boxful of donations from nurses, hospitals and individuals. I go back to Kenya on Tuesday followed by a wake of postage behind me: a large box of prosthetic breasts (believe me, these are not cheap – they sell for around the $400 mark each), bras, books and educational brochures. These will be like gold when I arrive and you can be sure these women will treasure their new boobs, although the crocheting will continue.’
For anyone wishing to donate breast prostheses, pocketed bras or books related to breast cancer for the Malindi group, please drop them at the Byron Community Centre and ask for them to be put into the Byron Breast Cancer Support Group pigeon hole. The BBCSG is also making a quilt for our sister group and anyone interested in helping, or for other inquiries about the BBCSG, please call 6680 8893.