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Tygerberg doctors offer free breast cancer surgery to patients

Meet the healthcare workers behind free breast cancer surgeries in South Africa. Image; supplied

Meet the healthcare workers behind free breast cancer surgeries in South Africa. Image; supplied

Published Jul 29, 2022

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Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women worldwide, affecting 1.7 million women each year.

According to the National Cancer Registry (2017), one in every 26 women in South Africa is at risk of developing breast cancer. It is also responsible for 16% of cancer deaths.

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Project Flamingo is a non-profit organisation that aims to reduce wait times for breast cancer patients who rely heavily on the public health system, by providing access to doctors, anaesthesiologists, and medical personnel.

These life-changing surgeries are provided free of charge by these incredible healthcare workers on weekends and holidays to the recipients.

Dr Liana Roodt is the founder, director and surgeon behind Project Flamingo, which was founded in 2010 and has since overseen over 700 successful surgeries.

“The Flamingo initiative is a huge passion of mine. It's a project I firmly believe in and consider myself extremely fortunate to be in charge of.

“Our team is made up of very special people; everyone who has responded is a volunteer. No one is paid; they joined because they believe in the project and care deeply about patients and the South African healthcare system as a whole,” shared Roodt to IOL Lifestyle.

“This is a labour of love for all of us. It's amazing what you can accomplish when you work with like-minded people.”

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The astute surgeon reveals that they recently expanded their services to East London, Eastern Cape, where they perform surgeries at Cecilia Makhiwane Hospital.

“This is a big achievement for us to offer our services in the Eastern Cape, after Livingstone Hospital in Gqeberha. We are carrying on with our list of patients in Tygerberg Hospital and Groote Schuur Hospital.”

Heidi Geysler-Steyn, a recent addition to Project Flamingo who joined a year ago, applauded the reality that medicine involves so many incredibly outstanding people performing life-altering work all around us in addition to helping patients.

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“The dedication from all members is a testament to their individual characters, and it is an absolute pleasure to work with them.”

What Project Flamingo means

“Project flamingo, for me, is an opportunity to do good in a system that often has our hands tied behind our backs as we try to help our patients. It is a chance to provide our patients with the timely care they deserve and would have available if their circumstances in life were different. It is a chance to help those most in need.” - Dr Liana Roodt

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As our public healthcare sector faces setback after setback, and the inequalities between the public and private sector grow, it is the patients in the public sector who end up suffering long waiting times and all the problems associated with this, through no fault of their own.

“The ability to be able to shorten those waiting times and know that we are not only helping the patients operated on our lists, but shortening waiting times for all the patients in that district with breast cancer is amazing to me.

“Seeing the gratitude on the patient's faces when admitting them as they know they are on a special list is always amazing to see and such a rewarding sight. It really brings it home that we are doing something great that week. It is also about more than just the surgery lists - the pamper packs and food parcels provide patients with a sense of hope, and it is that holistic care that we should all strive to provide.”

“I don’t think anyone can comprehend just quite how big the Project Flamingo team is, and even as someone involved in it, I’m not even sure I am always aware of just how many people are working tirelessly on various projects.

“WOW!! There is a lot happening and a lot of people involved here, always reminds me of how well this team works. With a project this big and with so many aspects to it, you would expect it to be madness, but everyone seems to do their part and come together when needed to make the whole project run seamlessly.” - Dr Michael Brombacher

As South Africa’s frail healthcare sector faces setback after setback, it is the patients in the public sector who end up suffering long waiting times and all the problems associated with this, through no fault of their own. Picture: Supplied

Dr Amy MacFarlane discussed how Project Flamingo has grown to be such a significant and integral part of who she is as a person and how it has shaped her into the doctor she is today.

Having gotten involved in Project Flamingo in her fifth year of medical school, McFarlane paid homage to being able to be a part of something that helps change the direction of women’s life.

“This is something that I will never take for granted and am truly grateful for.”

“When Michael Brombacher and I heard about this incredible initiative and wanted to be a part of it, we met with Liana Roodt and Michelle Rennie and launched the Project Flamingo Student Initiative at UCT, where medical students can attend catch-up surgeries.

“Here, I was able to see, first-hand, the incredible impact this project has on the lives of women faced with breast cancer. It helps remind me why I am doing what I am doing and what the long hours and sometimes overwhelming workload are for - to help patients and help them heal, something which can be easily forgotten in a broken healthcare system.” - Dr Amy MacFarlane

“We held our first list on 2 July and have three more scheduled for this year. I can’t describe how excited I am that this has gotten off the ground and that we are now able to help women with breast cancer in a third city, where the need is massive. No matter where my career goes from here forward, seeing these East London lists start will always be a highlight and one of my proudest moments. I don’t think I will ever forget the faces of the five ladies, which we operated on that first in East London,” concluded Dr Roodt.

Read our latest IOL Health digital magazine here.

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