Cancer Care

Meet the faces behind the CANSA Help Desk

June 1, 2022 Word for Word Media 0Comment

We learn more about how the CANSA Help Desk works and the people who run it. 

About the CANSA Help Desk

Approximately 12 000 queries per year are received across all CANSA platforms. The Help Desk function covers emails received, comments on the website, queries via national and regional Facebook pages and via their three Facebook Support Groups (for patients, caregivers and parents of children with cancer), Twitter and Instagram, and also via their English and Afrikaans WhatsApp line and their African languages WhatsApp line (isiXhosa, isiZulu, siSwati, Sesotho and Setswana).

CANSA Debbie van Wyk

CANSA Help Desk Manager

Debbie van Wyk (50) lives in Somerset West, Western Cape and has been working at CANSA for 11 years.


I write up CANSA’s national media releases and e-newsletters; publish information on the CANSA website and Shavathon and Cuppa For CANSA mini-sites and manage the Facebook Support Groups: CANSA Survivors – Champions of Hope (cancer patients and loved ones) and CANSA Caring for the Caregivers (caregivers of cancer patients), as well as respond to queries from the public through three regional Facebook pages and also via comments on the websites. 

Another one of my duties is to develop new content for the website, based on trends shown in our monthly Help Desk reports and support groups in terms of what information the public is seeking. 

 Pointing people in the right direction

Receiving a cancer diagnosis is overwhelming, not just to the person diagnosed, but also to loved ones, who then often have to take on the role of caregiver without any training. Being able to be there for someone who has received a diagnosis or is battling with treatment side effects or helping a loved one cope, or possibly dealing with the impending death of a loved one or bereavement, is an opportunity to let that person know that they aren’t alone. It’s an opportunity to point them in the right direction so that they can receive the assistance and support they need to keep on moving forward. There is honestly nothing more rewarding than to be able to help and encourage someone, to be a ray of light and hope in their lives at a very uncertain time.

Many patients in the public healthcare system reach out when they don’t receive information about their diagnosis, or if there are delays in treatment or poor pain management, or lack of palliative care, so I believe we provide an important service to the public.

Belonging gives hope 

The importance of belonging to a community that understands your journey and experiences is needed and is seen on our Facebook Support Groups. These members are so supportive, always sharing what has helped them cope with a particular side effect or situation. 

I let the patients or caregivers know how CANSA can help and make the appropriate referrals for support and provide relevant information, but it’s the member-to-member support that makes these groups feel like a special family. 

Regardless of background, income, race or gender, everyone is welcome, accepted, and encouraged. It’s so inspiring to manage these support groups for this reason, and the sense of belonging really gives group members the hope and courage to carry on fighting cancer and not give up.

CANSA Melissa Zaayman

CANSA Help Desk Officer

Melissa Zaayman (36) lives in Lakeside, Cape Town and has been working at CANSA for four years.


My responsibilities include assisting with enquiries received via the [email protected] email address, CANSA toll free line, CANSA WhatsApp line (English and Afrikaans), the CANSA national Facebook page and three regional Facebook pages. 

Enquiries come from patients, loved ones as well as CANSA supporters who need information about care and support services, screening or other activities, or wish to know how they can get involved. For example, donating their hair. 

I offer information available on our CANSA website and refer to specialised staff members for further assistance where necessary (helping a patient with pain management). I also book CANSA Tele Counselling appointments for those in need and contact our CANSA Tele Counsellors to advise them of the appointments. 

In addition to this, I help write media releases, articles and social media posts, which has been incredibly helpful as I’m currently in my final year of studying towards a Diploma in Public Relations. 

I’m also involved with strategic planning around marketing, service related and fundraising projects. 

Furthermore, I compile a monthly statistics report to help indicate trends with regards to information and services that the public requires and to determine which of our Help Desk platforms is most widely used to ask for information.

Removes barriers

For many patients and their loved ones, the CANSA Help Desk is the first line of support for them, and an information service for many who may not have access elsewhere. 

We play an important role in supporting our colleagues at CANSA, by making referrals run smoothly. The CANSA Help Desk removes barriers, such as physical and traditional borders, as we have a national footprint and can truly be there for all South Africans (our services are also multi-lingual and include many online support resources). 

The response is extremely positive. We compile monthly reports where we can see what is trending in terms of the enquiries received and each month this differs. Each month the highest contacted platform differs. 

It’s so interesting to look at our work in this way. It really shows us that there is a need for this service and to give this feedback to our colleagues so that we can improve our service offering.

Safe space

Sense of community is vital; the cancer journey isn’t an easy one. Having a safe space where you can be understood by others who are facing similar challenges and battles and being able to get the necessary support and care makes a huge difference to one’s state of mind.

CANSA Gloria Ntlabati

 CANSA Help Desk Assistant / CANSA Tele Counsellor

Gloria Ntlabati (40) lives in Cape Town and has been working at CANSA for six years.


I manage the telephonic CANSA Help Desk enquiries via the toll free line, manage and respond to CANSA WhatsApp enquires for African languages (isiXhosa, isiZulu, siSwati, Sesotho and Setswana) and respond to enquiries for two of our regional Facebook pages.

I’m also a trained CANSA Tele Counsellor who has attended Lifeline training and responsible for counselling cancer patients, survivors, caregivers or family members who have a loved one with cancer. I also assist with translation of materials into African languages from time to time.

1000 queries a month

The CANSA Help Desk is very much needed because it’s the first point of contact for many cancer patients, and they get pointed in the right direction, so they can get the support they need.

We receive and respond to around a 1 000 queries via WhatsApp, email, the toll free line and social media platforms on a monthly basis. Sometimes even more. When there are health messages shared on local African community radio stations, the WhatsApp line is particularly busy and there is a huge interest shown by the public.

Saves time and transport costs

Many cancer patients find our CANSA Tele Counselling very helpful as it saves time and transport costs as patients don’t have to commute to appointments. It allows them to receive counselling in their home language, in the comfort of their own homes, or a place they feel comfortable. It provides patients with an added level of privacy and confidentiality, and if further services are needed I’m able to refer them for support.

CANSA Logo 2018

CANSA Toll Free Line: 0800 22 66 22

Email: [email protected]WhatsApp: 072 197 9305 English and Afrikaans 071 867 3530 Xhosa, Zulu, Sotho and Siswati

CANSA Survivors – Champions of Hope for cancer survivors (patients/those in remission) and loved ones – receive encouragement from fellow members and share your story.
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CANSA Caring for the Caregivers of cancer survivors (patients) – receive encouragement from fellow members and share your story.
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CANSA TLC – Childhood Cancer Support for children, parents and guardians affected by cancer – receive encouragement from fellow members and share your story.
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