GenesisCare radiographer, Jacqui Dorney, has returned from a charity trip to Africa where she helped raise awareness of breast cancer symptoms and screen over 800 women.
Jacqui, who has worked with GenesisCare for two years, joined Cancel Cancer Africa which visited the Busia County region on the Kenya/Uganda border.
The charity works in partnership with local doctors and volunteering nurses and ran roadshows educating both women and men about the signs and symptoms of breast cancer, as well as providing details about how to perform self-examinations.
Jacqui’s trip was funded by GenesisCare and took her to hospitals and medical centres which were a far cry from advanced oncology including latest generation radiotherapy she delivers to patients in the UK. She said: “It was devastating to see the poverty, and know that ignorance is costing lives. Having said that, it was encouraging to see that trips like ours are starting to make a breakthrough.”
The Cancel Cancer Africa team had the support of the local Health Minister’s wife, Juddy.O.ojamong, who championed the campaign, and played an integral part in integrating them into the communities, and help to break down cultural barriers.
Jacqui explained: “It’s all well and good rocking up to a village centre or hospital, but we had to be accepted into the communities before we could do anything. We had to spend a good couple of hours at each location going through a kind of welcome ritual. It was well worth it; once we’d been through the necessary protocol, most people welcomed us and the clinics were really busy.
“We tied in with things like HIV clinics, family planning days or community events to access large groups of women. Our interpreters didn’t always know the specific language of each individual tribe or village, but everyone seemed keen to see us so we were able to get through to people most of the time.”
Jacqui’s biggest challenge was dealing with the lack of basic health knowledge. “Many of the people I saw had little or no knowledge relating to their own health,” she said. “It was tough explaining that superstitions they lived by or advice from local herbalists were misleading, and they needed proper medical intervention. At the same time, I was aware I needed to maintain respect for their cultural beliefs.”
The team provided breast cancer education to women and men across six rural regions, and as a result of screening over 800 women, 23 were diagnosed with breast cancer and referred for treatment.
As well as carrying out the screening, the team visited schools in a bid to instil education about breast cancer at an early age, and were involved in taking statistics which the team hope will help secure funding from the local Kenyan government for future screening programmes.
In rural parts of Africa, the only treatment option for breast cancer is surgery, and usually mastectomy - and with medical help often as far as a two-day walk from many communities, only the lucky ones get as far as being diagnosed and offered this treatment.
Jacqui said the concept of radiotherapy at all, let alone the highly targeted precision type of radiotherapy that she works with was beyond even the doctors’ and nurses’ comprehension. She said: “It really made me realise how incredibly lucky we are in the UK to have access to the treatments that we do. Thanks to programmes like Sports Aid and Comic Relief everyone gets a glimpse into life in rural Africa, but being there I realised that that isn’t just a snapshot, it is the norm.”
Jacqui concluded: “The trip was an amazing and eye-opening experience. The days were long, hot and tiring. Due to the lack of resource - especially in the majority of hospitals - we were at times quite emotional, but it was so worthwhile. I’ll be finding out how our 23 ladies get on with their treatment, and will definitely keen to keep in touch with the charity and do more to help African women fight breast cancer.”
Click here to listen to Jacqui Dorney talking about her Africa trip on BBC Radio Solent.
More photos from Jacqui’s trip can be seen on Instagram or you can scroll through the gallery below.