Climbing Kili for Breast Cancer

During October, which is also Breast Cancer Awareness Month, UJ (University of Johannesburg) lecturer Amanda Louw will be climbing Mount Kilimanjaro to raise funds for and create awareness of the disease.

Louw is the coordinator of the mammography programme at UJ’s Department of Radiography and says she has been working closely with a support group called Bosom Buddies (initiated by the Breast Health Foundation – BHF) to get a better understanding of what a patient goes through when going for a mammogram. When she heard two of the Bosom Buddies members discussing a hike up Kilimanjaro she didn’t hesitate to say ‘count me in’.

Louw and 14 other women have called themselves Pink Peaks and will be climbing Kilimanjaro in an effort to raise funds for BHF’s rural outreach programme and to increase breast health awareness. Through her efforts, Louw has raised R47 000 and is very focused on her goal of R100 000.

Since February, Louw has been training both physically and mentally. She attends UJ’s high-performance gym to get into tip-top shape, in addition to running and cycling six days a week – she only takes Fridays off to give her body a break. She has the exercise schedule of an athlete and finally feels she’s almost ready to take on ‘the mountain’.

While compassion for others seems to be second nature, Louw has had her own personal mountains to climb. She says, “I was overweight for quite a few years, I lost 40 kilograms two years ago, so I am a new person. People who knew me then wouldn’t believe that I am about to climb Kilimanjaro.”

Louw and the Pink Peaks team leave for Kilimanjaro on 9 October and her one concern (as with every climber) is the effects of altitude and the lack of oxygen as they get closer to the summit.

“We will summit on 15 October as the sun rises. Apparently you have the darkness on the one side and then the sun comes up…. I’ve heard that it’s quite emotional and very special,” says Louw, who clearly can’t wait to start her adventure.

In addition to raising much-needed funds, she hopes the publicity around the climb will encourage learners to consider her line of work in the future. She says that according to the latest figures released by the Health Professions Council of South Africa, there are only 416 registered mammographers in the country, accounting for only 7% of all registered radiographers. She says, “We need to at least triple these numbers. The one problem we have is that learners are only exposed to mammograms much later in life. Exposure and awareness are key.”

She says students interested in the field should visit a hospital and spend time in the radiography department for some insider knowledge. Radiography is currently a three-year diploma course, followed by one year of community service and another year specialising in mammography.

While she feels not enough young people are exposed to exploring mammography as a career choice, she adds that in South Africa there is not enough awareness of breast health, particularly in the rural areas, where face-to-face education is needed regarding self-examination and detecting the early signs of breast cancer.

She also says the youth need to be targeted differently in terms of media. “Young people don’t really read newspapers and magazines these days – they make use of social media. A dedicated social media campaign to raise breast cancer awareness in the youth is key, going forward.”

Certainly, Louw is going to make the best of any publicity across all platforms to spread the word about breast health and there is no doubt that the Pink Peaks team will have many stories about their journey up the mountain and back.

Louw has also done some mental-toughness training so she can focus her thoughts on her goals when the going gets tough. She says, “Apparently you are a changed person when you come back because you learn so much about yourself and your own strength and weaknesses. I am so looking forward to the experience, and I know the mountain is waiting to share its wisdom with me.”




Prepared on behalf of The University of Johannesburg by Cathy Findley Public Relations