Mandela shares message of hope at cancer care fundraiser
WESTPORT — The Global Access to Cancer Care Foundation Ambassador Zoleka Mandela, granddaughter of former South African leader and activist Nelson Mandela, supported a fundraising event in Westport benefitting the foundation on Wednesday.
With a tag line “Help us teach hope around the world,” this global medical, humanitarian nonprofit foundation offers physicians in low to middle income countries, essential education, technology and access to training courses and workshops.
The foundation, which works largely in South America, Africa, South and East Asia, explained that over the past decade, progress on controlling communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis around the globe has coincided with the rise of cancer within these communities.
“I am very excited to represent GACCF as its ambassador and cancer survivor to raise more awareness for those who are suffering from cancer because they don’t have access to adequate care and treatment,” said Mandela. “As a GACCF ambassador, I want to use my influence to help beat cancer in the most vulnerable corners of the world. The solutions to treating cancer as a global problem are to educate caregivers and to make medical equipment more readily available for early diagnosis. This will translate into more appropriate lifesaving therapy.”
According to a landmark study, low and middle income countries carry more than 80 percent of the global cancer burden yet have access to only 5 percent of the necessary resources needed to treat and control cancer.
Proper cancer care is not available in many of them due to both high investment costs and high resource demand. Most cancer centers have decades-old, antiquated equipment and simplified techniques.
Further exacerbating the situation, the foundation continued to explain, there are limited educational paths available within these communities, prohibiting clinicians the ability to independently provide effective oncology services. GACCF supports comprehensive clinical training programs in an effort to create a core base of local experts.
The event was held at Pearl at Longshore Restaurant and Bar with host Tonya Steiner, executive ddrector of GACCF, who spoke of the foundations goal to enhance cancer treatment, “through education and radiotherapy an essential component in more than 50% of all cancer patients along with surgery and chemotherapy.”
When asked about the inception of the foundation, Steiner said, “The foundation is about five years old. What was happening was even though you make the investment in the devices, you still have to upscale the clinicians. Once you diagnose someone, do the physicians have the training and do they have the technology to actually make the impact they need to. We focus on identifying that gap. We are now in over 30 countries, we have a hub and spokes training model and are launching a pediatric center in Bolivia. We partner with universities and hospitals in country and try to train the physicians within their own countries. You have to know the local partners, the people on the ground, the environment and the community and to figure out what they actually have access to and what they really need. Lots of exciting things are going on with our growth.”
The foundation’s cancer care professionals help implement and oversee the training courses and workshops in collaboration with local partners such as universities, hospitals or governmental institutions that enhance cancer treatment through radiotherapy. The aim of these regional programs is to overcome the lack of trained professionals who treat cancer patients in the near term.
In an effort to support the success of such programs, the foundation provides project management, financial support, and professional teams from within and from outside the region.
Mandela — international speaker, author, mother and two-time breast cancer survivor — garnered support for women and children in Africa who do not have adequate access to cancer care as she shared a message of hope and empowerment and works to bring modern medical access to those in need around the world.
“My grandmother was one of the first black social workers, and a lot of her work inspired my recent need to complete my psychology degree. I’ve always admired the way she was with people and how selfless both my grandparents were. Fighting for the freedom of others was always a priority.”
Mandela was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 32 in 2012 and then again at the age of 36 in 2016.
“One of the first things I wanted to do after being given a clean bill of health was that I wanted to use my story to instill hope in the lives of those who are also going through treatment and who are fighting for their life with regards to breast cancer. And I then wrote a book, ‘When Hope Whispers,’ because I wanted to be the support that I received from my family. I strongly believe family support is just as important as any treatment of a life-threatening disease like cancer. I wanted to be their support and instill that kind of hope in those that have shared my journey.”
“Cancer does not need to be a death sentence. There is life after cancer, and I gave birth to my fourth child after my first diagnosis and to my fifth child after my second diagnosis. I’m always taking the opportunity to share my story and to instill hope in others. Those who go through cancer and depression and addiction and myself overcoming the loss of my child, its important, no one is immune to suffering and it’s important for me to be that voice for those who are suffering in silence.”
Steiner added, “It’s not really fair to punish people because of where they were born. If you look at it from a global perspective, we still really are leading the way. From a pediatric perspective, if you’re a child and you get diagnosed in a first world country you have a 90 percent chance of survival. If you get diagnosed in a low income country you have less than a 10 percent chance. Everybody deserves access, we care about someday moments in our foundation, and whatever we can do to allow people to experience more of those someday moments is what our mission is about.”
Proceeds from the event will provide training, access and hope through GACCF’s oncology education programs in low and middle income countries.