The importance of spreading cancer awareness through optimal screening programs and supportive care services for cancer patients.

Together we are stronger in the fight against cancer.

Writer: Desi Dijkhuizen/Risa Schonbaum

If you were offered the opportunity to prevent developing cancer, would you take it? Having cancer is hard and going through it can be an incredibly overwhelming and complicated process. As a cancer patient, it is normal to feel disbelief, shock, fear, or anger, and need help to understand the diagnosis and treatment options. For a small island as Curaçao, it is exceptional to have the availability of two foundations who work together to guide, support and help those affected by cancer, take steps to prevent it or find it at its earliest, most treatable stage. These services of each foundation are essential. The Caribbean Prevention Center (Fundashon Prevenshon) is raising awareness and educating the public on how to detect and combat cancer. This foundation focuses on population cancer screening programs used to find cancer in people who have no symptoms and provide the best chance of detecting certain cancers as early as possible. Additionally, Fundashon Prevenshon has a direct collaboration with organizations that help and support cancer patients. The Princess Wilhelmina Foundation (Prinses Wilhelmina Fonds) understands the social, mental, and emotional effects of cancer on patients and family members, and provides supportive care services and psychosocial counseling to help cope with the challenges of cancer including its disruption to work and family life. The dedicated strategies of these two foundations have one goal in mind: to aid and improve the quality of life.

Fundashon Prevenshon, an initiative of Professor Dr. H.M. Pinedo and late Mr. Lionel Capriles, was founded almost 12 years ago on December 23rd, 2008. “These years have been a long, but interesting ride. Since our inauguration, we partnered with the Government of Curaçao, major local benefactors, businesses and organizations to accomplish our goals and objectives, which is to establish and maintain a center for prevention through screening, early diagnosis and early detection of the disease. In 2016, we received a subsidy from the government for the first time. We are so thankful for all the support we have been receiving that makes it possible for the community of Curaçao to benefit from our screening activities”, says Louise Elstak, General Director of Fundashon Prevenshon during our discussion about the center.

In 2010, Fundashon Prevenshon started with breast cancer screening programs, in 2016 cervical cancer screening programs followed, and since June 2020, bowel cancer screenings are now also possible. “It is important to mention that our foundation receives the population data from the Civil Registry Office. With this information, we distribute invitations to all districts on the island. Women, 45-75 years old, receive an invitation letter to participate in the breast cancer screening program. Women, 25-65 years old, receive an invitation letter to participate in the cervical cancer screening program. And now, for every woman and man aged 50-75 years receives an invitation letter to participate in the bowel cancer screening program. I would like to emphasize that these screening programs are free of charge for all residents of Curaçao with basic insurance, and the foundation even makes it possible to transport clients from and to their home. And yes, we can proudly say that Curaçao is the only country that provides a paging system from a central healthcare organization which is available for the whole community”, she informs. These screening tests have diagnosed thousands of people prior to their cancer discovery. “We have a great collaboration with Prinses Wilhelmina Fonds, a foundation that offers psychosocial counseling to cancer patients and their families. The combination of our foundations is the reason why many patients survive with a good quality of life,” she concludes.

When visiting Fundashon Prevenshon, it is impossible not to feel the warmth of the employees, be impressed with the facilities and the newly renovated clinic. The colorful building at Molenplein, Otrobanda with its cozy interior design, which the foundation relocated into mid-2019, will instantly make you feel at ease before starting any screening program. As of September 2020, the center proceeded with their third program of regular screening for the detection of bowel cancer, the most common cancer in men and women in Curaçao. We were fortunate to receive a tour of the clinic by new foundation member Shacara Blake, MD who is performing colorectal cancer scientific research as a PhD candidate and highlighted, “Early stage screenings are key to prevention and should become a standard checkup for everyone in the age range. Regular screenings may help doctors identify abnormal tissue or precancerous cells, even before symptoms arise.” She emphasizes that screening is the first preventative step and not the same tests a person may have when doctors are diagnosing or treating cancer. “Screening tests are to detect potential health issues in people who do not have any cancer symptoms. Some screening tests can find growths which can be removed before they have a chance to develop into cancer, while other tests can detect cancer very early, before it has spread, and thus easier to treat. If people are well-informed and aware of the benefits of the screening offered, we can help them live a longer, healthier life”, she explains. Regular screenings should become standard for everyone, and the foundation makes the process simple and easy. October is breast cancer awareness month and mammogram exams are readily available by appointment.

A cancer diagnosis often becomes one of the most stressful experiences in a person’s life impacting them on all levels – psychological, emotional, interpersonal, practical and financial. No one can or should try to handle cancer by themselves and finding a safe place for help to cope during this challenging time is necessary. The Prinses Wilhelmina Fonds offers support and guidance to all cancer patients living in Curaçao and their close family members. A priority of the foundation is to provide support during the treatment for cancer healing and create awareness about the disease by stimulating and implementing informative programs about cancer in general.

“The Prinses Wilhelmina Fonds was established on November 16th, 1949, as a private organization, completely dependent on donations. At our foundation, we deal with human beings, we analyze every case separately and we give every client a personal treatment. For us, it is important to create a strong bond with our clients and become for them like family members”, says President of the Prinses Wilhelmina Fonds Frieda Geller. The current COVID-19 pandemic has taken over the complete focus of healthcare, but the care of cancer and search for a cure remains. Even during lockdown, Prinses Wilhelmina Fonds gave its attention and dedication to the clients suffering from cancer. “We could not visit our clients, but we maintained helpful phone calls. Our volunteers worked from home. We stopped all activities, but the communication continued, nevertheless. Also, during lockdown, we asked for exemptions for our volunteers to deliver special food packages to our clients”, she explains.

Every September an annual fundraising is launched, which opens the door for local and international donations to raise the funds to pursue the objectives of the foundation. “It is important to emphasize that our foundation does not receive any subsidy from the government or other organizations. The foundation needs donations. It is necessary to make requests of people to take the initiative to start donating. Let’s join hands together to enable cancer patients to feel and live better”, she states. “On the other hand, it is also important to mention that besides the dynamic team of volunteers, there is another great group of social workers and other professionals, who earns a monthly salary at Prinses Wilhelmina Fonds. We need this team of professionals to give the personalized guidance to our clients. Our clients do not pay for these services, but our foundation is responsible for the salary. That is the reason why the foundation depends on donations”, Frieda continues.

Just like Louise, Frieda highlights that Curaçao is one of the leading places in fighting and curing cancer in the Caribbean. “We have impressive clinics like Fundashon Prevenshon, we have qualified doctors, and we have great collaborations between the foundations and healthcare. The Prinses Wilhelmina Fonds has a committed team of volunteers and professionals, awareness is being raised, and we are proud of the accomplishments we have achieved through hard work and dedication.” For over 70 years, the foundation has unconditionally offered support services that make a difference in people’s lives in their fight against cancer.

Imagine a world free from cancer, every donation helps make it a reality.

For donations:

Prinses Wilhelmina Fonds
Call center at P.W.F: +599 9 461 1998
Banco di Caribe: 15547301
Orco Bank: 1064790195
MCB: 25211800
RBC: 800000010322787
Vida Nova: 1159344000

Fundashon Prevenshon
Account #: 21684310
Maduro & Curiels’ Bank (MCB)
0800-1811 (toll-free)

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