Tygerberg Hospital and Project Flamingo catch-up surgery provides hope

29 Aug 2023 in Where We Govern

Tygerberg Hospital and Project Flamingo catch-up surgery provides hope to 14 women living with breast cancer 

n a joint effort to close the breast cancer care gap, Project Flamingo and the dedicated medical and nursing team at Tygerberg Hospital volunteered their time this weekend to perform life-changing surgeries on 14 women living with breast cancer. This was the second weekend of catch-up surgery following seven patients who had their surgeries at the hospital on Saturday, 8 July 2023.

The Western Cape Department of Health and Wellness, along with our partners, are working hard to reduce critical waiting periods for these life-saving surgeries. While our province’s surgical and oncology units do their best to help women affected by breast cancer, the reality is that the demand for these services outstrip our available resources. Initiatives such as Project Flamingo help take immense pressure off our public health system at various hospitals.

Since 2016, a total of 188 surgeries have been performed at the hospital through Project Flamingo. In 2022, Tygerberg Hospital treated 3 288 follow-up breast patients of which 75% were breast cancer patients and 1 301 new breast cancer cases. This is a significant increase from 450 new breast cancer patients that was seen in 2018.

“Patients face an uphill battle already and we stand ready to support them with action and compassion,” says Dr Liana Roodt, the founder and hands-on surgeon at Project Flamingo.

Tygerberg Hospital Surgeon, Dr Ilna Conradie says the challenges within our health system are numerous and often difficult to overcome. “I can, however, change one patient’s experience of health care, and I can make a difference in one person’s life. This is what motivates me to work here and to drive this project at our hospital.”

For several women who benefitted from this weekend’s surgeries, they deeply appreciate the access to timely treatment and heartfelt support offered to them.

What our patients say:

Elaine Bergman (65), from Blackheath, benefitted from last month’s surgery and had her left breast removed. She discovered a lump in her left breast in 2022 and had since undergone various tests. She had her very first operation on 2 May 2023 to remove the tumour. “The care I received from the staff was so amazing. Before I went to theatre, the staff came to talk to me and by the time I had to go in, I wasn’t afraid anymore because I knew, I was in good hands. I feel great after the operation and my scar is healing very nicely. Thank you, Tygerberg Hospital, Project Flamingo, staff and sponsors,” says Mrs Bergman.

Vanessa Stephanus (61) from Uitsig, who’s married with two children and two grandchildren has a family history of breast cancer. In April 2023, her tumour was removed and sent for further tests. “I was at work when the doctor called me with the results. I want people to look differently at cancer and not stigmatize it as a death sentence. Always remain positive and focus on your recovery and not people’s opinions. It’s not the end of the world but a new journey,” says Mrs Stephanus.

Charlene Fredericks (49) from Ravensmead is a medical receptionist and a proud mom of one daughter and two grandchildren. She started her chemotherapy at the end of January. ”Don’t take your health for granted, especially us as women. Take care of yourself by going for your regular checkups. Trust your instincts even if you must go for a second opinion. We have so much to live for. We are survivors!”

Susanna Gianiotis (48), a chef from Ruyterwacht, discovered a lump in her breast end of February and 1 June 2023 she received her results. “At first, I was overwhelmed. Now my objective is to encourage others and share my journey as this will not beat me. I see it as a life changing experience.” 

More about Project Flamingo

Project Flamingo is a South African Breast Cancer NGO, with equitable cancer care for all at the heart of its operations. Their catch-up surgery programme is active across five public hospitals in the Western and Eastern Cape, and procedures are done on Saturdays when theatre spaces are not in use. Thanks to their generous donor funding, theatre nursing staff, and operational costs are covered, and surgeons and anaesthetists offer their time pro bono to ensure patients are operated on timeously. The relevant hospital still covers the theatre time and some of the medical supplies. Depending on the nature of the procedure, between four and nine patients are accommodated on a single list. To ensure a fair selection process, patients are selected for surgery on a needs basis and project lists are scheduled at least 12 months in advance.

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