Tag Archives: Breast cancer

Pink partners with community radios to get the word out about breast cancer

Registration table at the hospital

This past weekend, PINK BENIN went up north to Parakou. We’ve been struggling to get out of Cotonou, and more importantly, get the message out to more women in order to a) start tracking breast cancer cases throughout the country and b) create a force strong enough to pressure the Beninese government into making cancer treatments more accessible to the rural pour.

We’re running the pilot with Peace Corps because they’re well integrated into their communities and are well placed to identify reliable partners. We invited 7 villages to send a Peace Corps Volunteer, a community health worker, and a community radio host to learn about breast cancer. The radio hosts will return to their communities and do short shows and PSAs talking about the importance of early testing. They’ll send the women to their community health workers, who will do a physical screaning and teach women how to self-exam. The Peace Corps Volunteer will act as a coordinator and will organize awareness raising sessions. Continue reading

PINK goes to Zagnanado for breast cancer screening

PINK BENIN is a big fan of International Women’s Day. Breast cancer is a marginalized illness in Benin, like many places in the world, because it’s something that primarily affects women. So it’s nice to do work on a day where we don’t have to defend ourselves for primarily working with women (What? We don’t treat prostate cancer? Isn’t that sexist? NO IT IS NOT).

Check out that gorgeous banner

Check out that gorgeous banner (ok, also the gorgeous dancer ...but really, the banner!)

This year, Ivy, a Peace Corps volunteer in Zaganado, invited us to participate in activities she and other volunteers had planned for March 8. We had already been planning on doing screenings and trainings, and so jumped at the chance to blah blah blah win-win partnerships, synergy, etc (aka letting someone else deal with the logistics instead of having to do everything ourselves). Awesome.

Ivy did a fantastic job! The day started out with speeches (oh so many speeches), and then two short awareness raising sessions, one on breast cancer (given by PINK), and another on women’s rights under the “new” Beninese Family Code.

Prisca COFFI, sage-femme, talking about breast cancer

Prisca COFFI, sage-femme, talking about breast cancer

After lunch, Prisca, our sage-femme, set up shop in our makeshift screening room, and she began screening women over 35, while everyone else participated in Moringa and micro-enterprise trainings.

Overall, the day was a success, although we weren’t able to screen nearly as many women as we’d hoped for. We’ll be following up with those cases that need it within the next few weeks.

Things that could have gone better

I should have arranged for two sage-femmes. We could have screened more women AND/OR split the screening and showing how to self-examen.

Having a camera crew along to show that yes, we did actually do stuff on March 8 was cool, but now that we’ve done it once, it will be largely unnecessary in the future. However, being on TV is awesome.

Things that went really well (just about everything, really)

We specifically requested that the doctors we work with send us a woman who speaks Fon (the predominant language in Zagnanado). Prisca was one of the only speakers to speak exclusively in local language, as opposed to giving her speech in French, then doing a quick translation into Fon. The women loved it, and we didn’t have to deal with translations and misunderstandings due to language.

Rapt audience members in Zagnanado

Rapt audience members in Zagnanado

Ivy did a great job with the logistics. It was really an interesting change to be part of a larger event celebrating women, rather than focusing solely on breast cancer. I think PINK should do more of this kind of thing. It’s easy, it’s inexpensive, and we can touch a lot of women we don’t normally interact with.

PCV Ivy in front of the screening station

PCV Ivy in front of the screening station

Zagnanado’s Int’l Women’s Day celebration was a much needed reminder that small projects can be just as effective as big ones, and that you don’t have to change the world to make a difference.

Starting Pink BENIN, a Beninese charity (subtitled, “Why Theresa doesn’t have spare time anymore, not like she ever did”)

logos-ong-02-copie1I’ve mentioned Pink BENIN and the work we do briefly here, in emails, and on Twitter, but I haven’t really gone into a lot of detail about what’s become a huge part of my life.

How Pink BENIN got started

About six months ago, a Beninese friend of ours came back from a trip to France and told us she’d gone to remove several lumps from her breasts, and to undergo treatment for breast cancer. This woman is a woman of means and education. She studied in both France and the United States, and is persuing a successful second career as a banker. Her first, as a journalist, was equally successful. All this to say that she is rather atypical of Beninese women in that she has access to wealth and knowledge.

After finding a lump, she approached her family doctor, who told her that, while she could have the lump removed in country, he didn’t really know where to send her for further treatment. X-Ray therapy? Chemo therapy? Can that even be done in West Africa? That was all beyond him. She combed the network of Beninese doctors until she was given recommendations for a doctor in Paris. The process was humiliating, time consuming, and frustrating. Upon her return, she annonced her intention to form Pink BENIN, a non-profit dedicated to helping women survive breast cancer.

We don’t want to cure breast cancer, just stop women from dying from it so bloody often

We want to inform women and doctors that breast cancer doesn’t have to be fatal. We want to teach women how to self examen. We want to dispurse social taboos about maladies that touch women and our sexuality. We want doctors and midwives to know what breast cancer is and where to send women when they find lumps. We want to lower the cost of surgery, and bring x-ray therapy to Benin. We want mammographs in major population centers outside of Cotonou, and we want women to use them anually. We want women to form support networks that encourage self testing and early screening. Most of all, we want to lower the cost of treatment so that women don’t have to die from beast cancer.

Sounds like a lot? Well, we’re ambitious, but we’re also working with smart doctors and health professionals to design programs and projects that do as much as we can with as little funding as possible. We have several models, and while none of them will completely cover our costs, we think we’ll be able to get buy without major gov’t funding for a little while.

What do I think of all this?

Personally, as an American who started out as a Peace Corps Volunteer and ended up emmigrating, it’s a very rewarding experience to work a group of dedicated men and women who aren’t counting on int’l aid to come in and save the day. I see it as the same “volunteering” I did back home; however, this time I sit on the board of directors.

We don’t have any staff (yet), so everyone pitches in where we’re needed. It’s very hard, but it’s also a lot of fun. I’m learning a lot. I wish I knew more about running a charity, running a non-profit, the public health sector, community organizing, and herding cats. While this sort of thing hasn’t yet been done in Benin, it *has* been done throughout the developed world. There are even models as close as the Ivory Coast!

We’re doing our best to learn as much as we can as fast as we can. It’s amazing the work we’ve already done (I’ll write some follow-up posts on that, I think). We’re all terribly worried about doing more harm than good, but we’re also worried about being paralyzed by worry.

If you’re interested in what we do, check out our website at pinkbenin.org.