Hope for cancer-stricken Durban theatre icon as supporters rally to raise cash

06 June 2017 - 17:01 By Shelley Seid
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Themi Venturas
Themi Venturas
Image: themiventuras.com

A crowdfunding platform has brought hope to one of Durban’s most beloved theatre practitioners.

The appeal for R250‚000 - the amount necessary to cover the costs of the drugs that could significantly extend the lifespan of Themi Venturas - went onto the crowdfunding site Go Get Funding last Friday afternoon. Within four days‚ more than half the amount had been raised.

Venturas‚ who has run his own performing arts company in Durban for the past 25 years‚ was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in April. He consulted his gastric oncologist cousin in Perth‚ Australia‚ who recommended a chemotherapy drug‚ Abraxane. The drug is routinely used in Australia as part of a cocktail to treat pancreatic cancer. It was approved for use by the FDA in 2013.

However‚ the drug is not yet registered for use in South Africa and his medical aid would not pay the approximately R60‚000 needed to cover a full cycle of treatment. Venturas’ doctor advised he would need multiple cycles of treatment.

In a bid to help‚ Jackie Cuniffe‚ manager of Durban’s Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre and a close friend‚ looked for ways to help raise funds.

“I thought of having a benefit concert and still may‚ but concerts cost money and take time. I then came across this website and saw positive reviews from other users‚ so I thought I would give it a go. I literally forwarded the post to one person and the responses started pouring in‚" she said.

The aim is to raise the R250‚000 by September 30. By Tuesday morning the response was at R137‚000‚ 54% of the amount required.

Contributions have poured in from across the globe. Cuniffe says she was astounded by the flood of donations.

“It is testament to how well known and respected he is in the theatre world. Donations have come in from people who met Themi only once‚ people who knew him years ago and from past students. It shows that people have not forgotten their time with him‚ no matter how short.

“For me this is as important as the funds. People having added touching comments to their donations. It’s been a very heart warming experience‚" said Cuniffe.

Venturas said that his doctor cousin was “pretty ruthless”.

“He told me that without treatment I’d be gone in six months‚ but with a cocktail of drugs that includes this new drug‚ my life could be extended by years.”

He had to get special permission to import the drug and has undergone the first round of treatment.

“I’m lucky that I have not had bad side effects. For some the side effects have been so debilitating they have not been able to continue on the drug. I feel a lot weaker than ever before but I am still working. I handed in my Master’s dissertation last week. I’m overseeing the young performer’s project and managing the Durban Blues Festival."

Venturas is overwhelmed by the response to the fundraising site. “I’m so grateful to Jackie - we have been friends for a long time. I’m deeply touched by the donations.

“It's going to make all the difference and at least allow me to see out the treatment.”

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