Dr Liana Roodt, founder of Project Flamingo, tells us how she conceived the idea and what the aims of the project are.
It seems like cancer has become the epidemic of our time – everywhere you turn, you meet someone touched by the ‘Big C’. Breast cancer statistics are particularly frightening – and we see the devastating effect this has every day at our surgical and oncology units at Groote Schuur Hospital.
Our public health services cannot keep up with the massive patient load. Severe resource constraints, particularly theatre time, have resulted in exasperating waiting times for operations that are critical in the treatment of breast cancer. For newly diagnosed cancer patients, these long waiting times are incredibly emotional and stressful. To alleviate this long waiting list, Project Flamingo was founded in 2010.
It was while reading this extract, from Lieutenant Colonel Mervin Willet Gonin’s diary when he was at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp during World War Two, that my idea was born:
“It was shortly after the British Red Cross arrived, though it may have no connection, that a very large quantity of lipstick arrived. This was not at all what we wanted, we were screaming for hundreds and thousands of other things and I don’t know who asked for lipstick. I wish so much that I could discover who did it, it was the action of genius, sheer unadulterated brilliance. I believe nothing did more for these internees than lipstick. Women lay in bed with no sheets and no nighty but with scarlet red lips, you saw them wandering about with nothing but a blanket over their shoulders, but with scarlet red lips. I saw a woman dead on the post-mortem table and clutched in her hand was a piece of lipstick. At last someone had done something to make them individuals again, they were someone, no longer merely the number tattooed on the arm. At last they could take an interest in their appearance. That lipstick started to give them back their humanity.”
I was touched so deeply and reminded that sometimes it is the small things we do that make a big difference, and that we should never do nothing because a problem seems overwhelmingly big and our ability to contribute seems devastatingly small.
Sometimes the difference between heaven and hell may be a bit of lipstick. Sometimes the difference between losing your feminine soul may be a bottle of nail polish or hand cream. Sometimes it is not that difficult at all to change someone’s life.
What exactly are we raising funds for?
1. Timely surgery for newly diagnosed breast cancer patients – currently achieved by funded catch-up surgery lists performed at Groote Schuur Hospital. The lists, helping five to seven patients per list, are done on a Saturday or public holiday; surgeons, anaesthetists and pathologists donate their skill and time as volunteers, while nursing staff and consumables are paid for.
These lists compensate for the tremendous strain on theatre and staff resources that have led to a waiting time of up to 12 weeks for surgery in 2010. Thanks to Project Flamingo, the waiting time for surgery is now six to eight weeks! We have expanded this idea to patients urgently requiring surgery for other cancers as well – colorectal cancer in particular.
We are extremely excited to announce that we have performed our first catch-up surgery list (for breast cancer patients) at Tygerberg Hospital last year November. We have subsequently performed another 28 surgeries there and have lists scheduled at both hospitals for the whole of 2017. The waiting time for a life-saving mastectomy at Tygerberg Hospital is currently four months. We hope we can make a significant difference in reducing this and achieve the same great results that we have achieved at Groote Schuur.
2. Pamper packs for all newly diagnosed breast cancer patients at the Groote Schuur Hospital Combined Breast Clinic. Every Wednesday, a panel of expert clinicians – including surgeons, oncologists, pathologists and radiologists – meet with approximately 20 newly diagnosed patients to discuss their diagnosis and treatment plan. This is a life-changing and traumatic afternoon for these women, and our pamper packs are an attempt to keep their feminine spirits alive. They contain bathroom essentials, a snack, magazines…anything to remind them that they’re not alone and will be cared for.
In 2014, Project Flamingo was selected as one of the 15 top healthcare innovations by the University of Cape Town Business School Bertha Institute’s Centre for Innovative Health Care in South Africa, in collaboration with the Cape Town World Design Capital initiative. This recognition is a tremendous honor and a sure indication of the difference we are making.
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MEET OUR EXPERT – Dr Liana Roodt
Dr Liana Roodt, founder of Project Flamingo, is a specialist surgeon working at the Groote Schuur Surgical Breast and Endocrine Oncology Unit.