Volunteers celebrate 50 years of care

Reach for Recovery volunteers, all of them breast cancer survivors, gathered last month to celebrate 50 years of supporting those faced with the trauma of breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Reach For Recovery is an international breast cancer support group. In South Africa, Reach For Recovery is an NPO run by trained volunteers who each have experienced breast cancer, and who render an emotional care and practical support programme to newly diagnosed breast cancer patients and their families.

Chairperson Stephné Jacobs said a priority in planning the celebration was to thank and honour the volunteers. “Without the volunteers our organisation would not exist,” she said at the conference in Mossel Bay.

For the first time Reach for Recovery held its own version of the Oscar awards ceremony at which “Voscars” were presented to groups in recognition of their achievements.

“We also felt it was vital to motivate, inspire and empower volunteers to ensure our service remains relevant and even more effective going forward. To do this we decided to combine the celebration of our golden anniversary with our first ever conference, aimed at brushing up on knowledge and skills,” said Ms Jacobs.

Surgeon Dr Karin Baatjes, also on the Reach for Recovery board, unravelled the intricacies of genetic testing for breast cancer, while another board member, radiologist Dr Jowie Mbengo, examined the latest developments in mammography.

A second component of the conference was a brainstorming session where the 160 delegates from all over the country had the chance to air their views and give ideas on topics such as recruiting new volunteers, and what needs to change or be added to Reach for Recovery’s existing service.

The organisation was founded by Terese Lasser in America in 1953. After a mastectomy, Terese discovered there was very little information or support available for breast cancer patients.

A resident of New York, she realised that breast cancer survivors who had been through diagnosis and treatment could offer valuable peer support to patients facing the same experience. Reach for Recovery was launched in South Africa in 1967 after she visited Johannesburg and Cape Town.

Reach for Recovery also offers a breast prosthesis service and breast health education.

In 2013, Ms Jacobs realised the importance of strategic planning for the future, and became the driving force for re-structuring and re-branding. “My goal for Reach for Recovery is to be able to continue with our original focus, which is face-to-face hospital visits to patients after surgery,” she said, adding that in several countries only a phone service is offered.

She is currently working on a new fundraising concept to market Reach for Recovery.

* For more information call Stephné Jacobs on 082 779 2400.