Mushrooms help close the care gap for breast cancer survivors

World Cancer Day 2022, commemorated on 4 February, calls for all people to “close the care gap. This is undoubtedly what the nation does annually by supporting the work of Reach for Recovery through the Power of Pink campaign.

In South Africa, we call it ubuntu.

“Ubuntu, in essence, means humanity, and it expresses the fact that ‘I am because you are’,” explains Stephné Jacobs, national chairperson of Reach for Recovery. “We are connected and therefore if you are suffering, I am suffering, and if you are happy, then I am happy.”

Reach for Recovery is the South African non-profit organisation that runs the Ditto Project. This initiative provides free silicone prostheses to underprivileged breast cancer survivors who can’t afford breast reconstruction. Its aim is to help these women feel whole again – addressing an important dignity issue.

Industry and retail chain collaborate to make a difference

“Each year, thousands of women in South Africa go through this traumatic experience and most do not have medical insurance to cover the cost of a silicone breast form to mimic a natural breast,” says Stephné. “There is also the problem of access to high quality care in South Africa between the private and public health sectors. While the private sector offers high quality care, it is costly and unaffordable to many South Africans. The public sector cares for more than 80% of South Africans seeking health care.”

This reality motivated the South African Mushroom Farmers’ Association (SAMFA) to come up with a solution alongside Pick n Pay and packaging company, Sinica.

“Silicone breast prostheses cost over R3 000 each in the open market. It’s far too much to be accessible to many underprivileged women in South Africa,” insists SAMFA chairperson, Ross Richardson. “With the Ditto Project, however, you only have to be a state hospital patient to qualify for breast prostheses.

“Since 2011, we have been able to provide just under 8 000 silicone prostheses to financially strapped breast cancer survivors at a cost of more than R5.9 million.” 

Making a difference with mushrooms

Every year, ordinary, budget-strapped South Africans also find it in their hearts to support this never-ending good work by literally buying into SAMFA’s Power of Pink campaign. The care programme annually gives R1 from each pink punnet of fresh mushrooms purchased at Pick n Pay stores during October to Reach for Recovery. 

A total of R626 820 was raised for the Ditto Project in 2021.

A full 95% of the funds raised through the Power of Pink campaign are used to fund silicone prostheses, and the balance goes towards providing care bags of support items and information, which Reach for Recovery volunteers hand out when visiting post-operative breast cancer patients.

Whole-food option for cancer prevention

Eating fresh mushrooms has been closely linked to preventing breast cancer since 2010, when the Beckman Institute at the City of Hope Cancer Centre in California found that eating just 10g of mushrooms a day more than halved people’s risk of developing breast cancer. Practically speaking, that means eating just one fresh mushroom a day!

At the time of the finding, Dr Shiuan Chen, chair of the department of cancer biology at the Beckman Research Institute of City of Hope, noted that eating mushrooms would be an easy intervention as it “could provide a cost-effective whole-food option for cancer risk reduction.”

We thank our fellow South Africans for caring about breast cancer survivors and encourage you all to close the care gap in your own lives by eating more fresh mushrooms.

Visit the official COVID-19 government website to stay informed: sacoronavirus.co.za