October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It’s a time where people across the world come together to raise awareness and support sufferers of the second deadliest form of cancer. To mark the occasion, we’re talking to an organization supporting patients across the Maltese Islands.
Action For Breast Cancer was founded in 2007 by the late Helen Muscat, a nurse and tireless Breast Cancer campaigner. She herself died of the illness. Today’s team, made up of survivors and affected family members, support sufferers and their families while also lobbying for greater services across the nation.
Recent figures show that Malta has the highest number of Breast Cancer deaths than any other European country, and on average, there are between 300 and 350 new cases recorded each year. Between 1 and 3% of these are men. The foundation is therefore prepared to support both genders.
Psychological support is a large part of AFBC’s work and it involves a number of professional sessions allowing breast cancer patients and their families to open up and express their fears and concerns. ‘Everyone is affected differently, so you have to tackle and address these things in very professional ways.’. Esther Sant is the Co-founder and Chairperson of the AFBC, and herself a breast cancer survivor. She says these sessions help patients and families continue to live as normal a life as possible. The team also provide special mastectomy braisers for women who have been fitted with a prosthesis and a special A5 binder to hold all of their data and medical information. Its their commitment to support patients through the journey from diagnosis to recovery.
The team also regularly visit workplaces, and with the help of breast care specialists, they explain how to check for signs of breast cancer and promote greater screening. It’s still arguably taboo in Malta to discuss Cancer and outreach events only attract a handful of people at a time. To solve this, the team is producing a documentary for workplaces called ‘Know The Signs’. They believe this will broadcast their important messages wider and with impact.
‘It’s about putting the patients first.’, Sant says. What Malta really needs is an Accredited Breast Unit. This is a specialized medical department that consults specifically with Breast Cancer patients. The foundation lobbied the Maltese government to set one up by 2016, in line with an EU Parliament resolution for all EU member states. But, the Maltese government decided that there just wasn’t enough space. Sant says, ‘We’re very disappointed with this answer, and with the rates of Breast Cancer each year, the Breast Unit is a must’.
AFBC recently held its second annual walk and rowing event to raise awareness. Cancer survivors set sail from Birgu and arrived at Valletta Waterfront. There, they met fellow female cancer survivors who had walked from Sliema. It’s symbolic Sant says. Not only is it a celebration of life, it is also about the turbulence of their lives with cancer. ‘The water can be choppy, it can be rough, but I’m rowing my boat across the waves, I’m getting there’.
You can reach out to Action For Breast Cancer through their Facebook page and on their contact numbers: 27036529 and 77771806. The Centre is open on Tuesday and Friday mornings.