One of the biggest lessons the pandemic has taught us is that community is everything, from neighbours baking rusks to support their income through to support groups and everything in-between.
In the relentless pursuit of currency and success, the new normal presented in the aftermath of a year of lockdown has had us realising how much we need one another.
One individual can make a difference and Evy Michalopoulos’s Filotimo Cancer Project and Business Club has become a beacon of hope and community for a lot of people.
Filotimo celebrated its first anniversary during lockdown in August last year. It was launched in 2019 in memory of Michalopoulos’s mother who passed away due to ovarian cancer. She started the organisation because of her ordeal when seeking treatment for her mom.
“I attempted to admit her into a local private clinic. I was unable to provide the deposit that the hospital required. The only option I had was to admit her to the closest state hospital and carry the costs of all her medical and wound care on my own.
“After undergoing numerous tests, she was diagnosed with Stage 4 ovarian cancer that had metastasized and because of her state of health, there was no cure or treatment available to her. I was told to take her home, give her palliative care and get her affairs in order. I was beyond shocked when she passed away in my arms two weeks later.”
“Our purpose is to create awareness about cancer,” says Michalopoulos and to educate people about early detection and render palliative care to cancer patients. Fundraising to finance the project is, of course, key but equally so, she adds, is simply garnering support from individuals and commercial enterprises that can contribute according to their means in whatever way possible.
“We host weekly webinars and educate on various cancer related topics with guest speakers from our partnered institutions and panel of professionals. We also host events every six to eight weeks to educate on cancer awareness. However, due to the Covid-19 pandemic over the past year, these have had to be placed on hold or held virtually.”
In the spirit of communit,y Filotimo was one of the first cause-related projects to take value a step further, launching its Business Club. Membership is exclusive to partners, presently well over 200. It is a business referral network group built to help support small businesses refer work to one another.
Here, small enterprises are exposed to larger companies, individuals to one another and sustained networking opportunities exist. “We are creating a movement through the spirit of Filotimo and forming our own ‘community within a community’ with a goal of building lifelong relationships with each other and working hand in hand to change lives,” says Michalopoulos. And it is working.
In the 18 months or so of Filotimo’ s existence, Michalopoulos has achieved wonders. Not only has the cancer care group attracted a legion of patients, professionals and partners, but the sheer amount of achievement and development is astounding. There is now a cancer navigation programme with individualised care for patients, a Champions programme for survivors and more recently a Kids Club where additional aspects like leadership development is offered.
“The strength of our project was manifest recently when we had an enquiry from a patient who needed urgent medical advice. Within 24 hours we were able to secure an appointment with one of our professional partners, one of the country’s top breast surgeons, who assessed our referral and was able to diagnose her situation without delay.
It is normally very difficult to secure an appointment with this doctor at such short notice due to her extremely busy practice,” says Michalopoulos who adds they have also had great success in raising awareness about stem cell transplants and its donor registry. “We can proudly say that as a result of our referrals, a well-known institution received more than 3,000 donor registrations in a very short period of time.”
And this is what Filotimo is all about. Milestone after milestone, progressing and moving forward for the community. Evy Michalopoulos still has a day job, but she has breathed life into an area of communion where people really need one another, created a layer cake of cross-pollination and has shown the country how one person’s passion can be infectious and make a difference.
The Filotimo Cancer Project’s primary annual fundraising event, in partnership with the Sunflower Fund, takes place on 28 and 29 May 2021. It is the second Filotimo Ultra Marathon run in honour of people affected by cancer.
The 115km run will be undertaken by brand ambassador Temotio Jacopo, who aims to complete it in 12 hours. Jacopo will be taking on this challenge to fund the fight against cancer and blood disorders and help save lives.
“This amazing feat of strength and endurance epitomises the journey of a cancer sufferer. This epic journey is to raise awareness about becoming a blood stem cell donor, helping those in need of a stem cell transplant and giving them a second chance at life! We aim to raise R750,000,” says Michalopoulos.