PASYKAF CANCER CHARITY CYPRUS
MEET ANNA ACHILLEOUDI
Pasykaf Cancer Charity Cyprus – Anna Achilleoudi is the Founder and President of Pasykaf – The Cyprus Association of Cancer Patients and Friends. An accomplished paediatric anaesthesiologist, she has worked in both Cyprus and the UK. She lives in Nicosia, is a mother of two and a grandmother of five.
Sometimes, as a writer, you are lucky enough to meet a subject who really inspires you. Meeting and interviewing Mrs. Anna Achilleoudi was that very experience for me. We had met twice before. Once at a Pasykaf charity fundraiser and the second time at the Oncology Centre in Nicosia, where we were both supporting a young patient recovering from a brain tumour. What I had never realised during those two meetings was that this was the woman who started one of Cyprus’ leading cancer charities. ‘Humble’ is a word we should associate with “Mrs. Anna” – the name which she is affectionately known as by the Pasykaf staff.
Anna Achilleoudi is a force to be reckoned with and when I learn about what she has achieved with the foundation of such a charity, she is even more impressive. While she is small in stature with auburn-coloured hair, I just know that over the years, many figures, both public and private, must have underestimated the power of this woman.
Anna is originally from Greece but came to Cyprus in 1965 after she met her late husband Christodoulos. They were both studying at the University of Athens. Anna completed her medical studies to become a doctor and went on to specialise in Anaesthesiology. She later decided to specialise further and become a Paediatric Anaesthesiologist. She trained in the UK, working at Great Ormond Street Hospital and the Paediatric Centre in Liverpool. As she says, “my main aim was to introduce new scientific changes to Cyprus”. Mrs. Anna certainly did this over the years and was the doctor who introduced the first epidural to Cyprus. Anna worked for a long time at both the Nicosia General Hospital and the Makarios Hospital.
Sadly, in 1984, she experienced cancer firsthand through her own diagnosis of breast cancer. It was at this time that she realised there was a significant stigma attached to the disease in Cyprus and also a lack of support. It was the reality of this that spurred her on to create the Association that today is well known as Pasykaf, but is officially called The Cyprus Association of Cancer Patients and Friends. In the beginning, it was just Anna, but today the organisation is supported by thousands.
Anna told us, “The main mission of the Pasykaf Cancer Charity Cyprus Association is to improve the quality of life for cancer patients and their families and to promote public awareness regarding the prevention and early detection of cancer. It is also imperative to me that this help is available for free and to all nationalities who need our service”.
Right at the beginning, she aimed to start a “cancer centre with nice personnel and facilities” but this vision has massively expanded over the years to include support centres all over the island. Today, it is a voluntary, non-governmental health association that is there to support cancer patients going through treatment and, if needed, to provide palliative care. They do this by providing home nursing, psychological support, physiotherapy, lymphoedema clinics, daycare centres, practical assistance with matters of social welfare, enlightenment for prevention of cancer, and smoking cessation programmes. One of the most widely known services that they offer is the patient transport bus which runs daily between Paphos and Limassol and on to the Nicosia Oncology Centre. This is a lifeline for patients attending the centre for chemotherapy or radiotherapy, as very often they are not in any fit state to drive. The bus runs every day of the week that the centre is open for treatment.
As Anna told us, she had an exceptional understanding of what services needed to be offered through Pasykaf, as she had spent over two years visiting similar organisations in the UK, America and Canada prior to starting in Cyprus. She had seen the latest treatments with the associated equipment and wanted this to be available to all in Cyprus. Anna says, “Good health is for everybody, and nobody should be disadvantaged”. Back in the 1980s, there was still a great prejudice against people with cancer, as the reality was that people just did not understand it. There were stories of cancer patients in the villages being forced into living in a shed in the garden, for fear that their families might catch ‘the cancer’. The other aspect that struck Anna was that nobody was willing to talk about it and say they had cancer, so they were forced into isolation. Anna saw that we needed to create a new environment where patients could go out and say, “I had cancer, I had the treatment, and now I am better”. As she remembers, it was the people who had the experience of cancer who wanted the Association and, initially she started with just twenty patients and relatives who discussed what their main aim would be. “It was obvious to all that we needed to create a support group that patients and relatives could turn to, and it was also apparent that we needed to get the message out there about prevention”, she added.
And so Pasykaf was formed, with its first meeting taking place in Anna’s house in Nicosia in 1986. They went on to open the first office in Nicosia and it has since expanded to centres all over Cyprus. Today, they have multi-disciplinary teams including twenty-three nurses and a total staff of eighty-one across the island – all working very hard to support cancer patients and their families.
Slowly but surely, the services expand as money allows. On the day that I met Anna, she was very excited to tell me about how their 24-Hour Nursing Care was now going to be available in all cities as they can now include Paphos, Larnaca and Paralimni. It has been available in Nicosia and Limassol for several years. She said, “I am so pleased about this. It is so much better for the patients and their families. More and more people want to stay in their homes until the end with their families and familiar surroundings. Now, with our 24-hour palliative care nursing, they are able to do this”.
Anna reflects on the early days when they had their one and only nurse, Jane, in Nicosia. Since then, they have recruited many nurses but always at the heart of their support programme, is to provide patients with nurses who are fully trained in all aspects of their work. Nurses who work with patients in palliative care always need to learn, and Pasykaf has been instrumental in holding conferences to expand the knowledge of medical professionals in Cyprus. They held the first breast cancer conference in Cyprus with colleagues from Germany and they held another conference in Limassol on palliative care. This was for all, not just Pasykaf staff.
Another great passion of Anna’s is to educate the people of Cyprus about the prevention of cancer. As Anna explained, “we are using our connections in Europe and with other associations to get funding which allows us to expand our work”.
A major future project for Pasykaf is the creation of a new centre in Nicosia. The land has been donated to the charity and they are going to put the tender out for a purpose-built design in the coming months. The idea is to create a centre where they can offer additional services and have more space to make their patients more comfortable. “We aim to expand our support services through group therapy and relative’s therapy. Also, to increase our palliative care through medical equipment available through the doctors, which will help patients. We are very excited about the new project and hope to start building within one year”.
For nearly thirty-five years, Anna has devoted herself to the organisation and their patients. I asked her if the day-to-day sadness of cancer ever got her down and she replied, “In general, life for everybody will finish. I try to think that we must enjoy life. It is important for family members to be relaxed and happy so they can support patients. It is important to be fulfilled and enjoy every day as if it were your last. I wish good health and happiness for everybody. Communication will always bring better ways to work together”. Wise words indeed and there is no better example of this than Pasykaf, created by Anna, a woman to be admired by all.
Pasykaf Cancer Charity Cyprus relies on fundraising so that they can offer free treatment to all. If you would like to donate or would like further information, please see www.pasykaf.org
By Sarah Coyne at Cyprus in Style – Published July 2020 – #instylebusinessnetwork