It seems that not a day goes by without reports of more cases of cancer, or the loss of someone you know, or know of, who has battled with the disease that does not discriminate when it comes to age, or class, or background.
The hospitals here in Portugal offer the best treatments possible, but it is the aftercare that is a vital component when a sufferer emerges from hospital, particularly after surgery when they are at their physical and emotional lowest and often unable to cope.
The Associação Oncológica do Algarve has at its disposal two tiny units in the centre of Faro, from which it carries out the work that would normally demand serious space. In the main unit, a narrow, one-floor building you would be challenged to notice in Largo das Mouras Velhas, there is barely room to sit.
Cupboards are full to overflowing with materials. Shelves are stacked high with paperwork, boxes of special products are piled one atop the other. And in a room that holds just one desk and a computer, mammogram results are studied and assessed and reported on.
For just €12 a year, the association offers its member patients psychological support, physiotherapy, nursing, speech therapy, and the at-cost supply of essentials like breast prothesis that slip into a bra with special pockets, heart-shaped underarm cushions made by volunteers for those who have had a mastectomy, wigs, turbans and so much more. Closest family members are entitled to take advantage of support, too, without paying anything further. Membership is also available to men suffering with cancer. A twice-yearly newsletter keeps conversations going, and everyone in touch.
In the other unit, a few blocks away behind Faro’s pedestrian street, an office and a few desks house the Association’s small administrative team and visiting volunteers.
The non-profit association was formed in July 1994 by José Alberto Santos Pereira – a surgeon at Faro Hospital’s senology department – and a small group of people touched by cancer, with the objective of educating the population of the Algarve about the disease.
In 2005, he implemented a programme of early diagnosis of breast cancer, acquiring a mobile unit to carry out breast screening in all 16 municipalities of the Algarve every two years.
And in 2006, Dr Pereira created a specialist unit, using European funds, so that cancer patients could avoid the trips to Lisbon that had been necessary when there was no radiotherapy unit here.
Thanks to Dr Pereira’s work and dedication to improvement, today, local health centres (Centro de Saúde) keep patients, age 50-69, informed when the unit will be visiting. Mammogram appointments can also be made by phone to ARS (289 889 912) or scheduled online at rastreio.aoa.pt.
The screening is free for the women, and the cost of mammograms is covered by the Portuguese National Service, Administração Regional de Saúde (ARS), which meets the fees of doctors and technicians, and pays for equipment maintenance, insurances, electricity, water, etc.
The AOA team, led by its dedicated President, Maria de Lurdes Santos Pereira, widow of the late founder, with Vice President Maria José Pires, and Treasurer Jaime Ferreira, includes communication and admin supporters, screening doctors, radiology technicians, many of whom work on a voluntary basis. Collectively, the volunteers work tirelessly to create fundraising events that will help the association meet its immediate day-to-day objectives. Sporting events, especially the ‘Mamaratona’, are a huge help in raising awareness and encouraging donations, and the monies collected are used to pay travel expenses, the administrative workers, physiotherapist, nursing, speech therapist staff.
But the priority now, the urgent priority that will make the difference to many thousands of women, is to raise finance that will allow the association to take on bigger premises so that it can provide better conditions for the patients themselves and the workers and volunteers who support them, and, of course, make available the much-needed space for all that vital equipment.
Any person living in any part of the Algarve who suffers from cancer (or a close relative) can count on AOA’s help, so long as they are a member. And €12 is a very small amount to pay for the support and reassurance that will lead to a better life.
Many hundreds of thousands of euros are needed, and needed now. Small contributions add up fast, and large contributions make early planning a very real possibility. Faro council, naturally, will help where it can, but it is your donation that will be of the greatest help of all. If every reader of AlgarvePLUS gave just €10 to this cause, the impact would be dramatic.
Find out more at
aoa.pt, including how you can become a volunteer.
To make a donation, the details you require are IBAN: PT50 0045 7210 4022 2924 9774 4