x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

It will take more than a gimmicky campaign to fight cancer

The pink ribbon raises awareness, but every woman must take responsibility for her own health.

By now, we have been inundated with pink ribbons for almost a month. As nearly everyone must know, the pink ribbon is the symbol of breast cancer awareness, and this is the month of pink ribbons.

As October draws to a close, I sometimes feel guilty that I don't do more. Other people must feel the same. A few years back, someone came up with bizarre chain emails that really had nothing to do with anything.

These emails asked female recipients to change their Facebook, BlackBerry and mail settings - basically anything up to and including the colour of their bras - and somehow this was raising breast cancer awareness.

I'm not sure I understand the mechanics of this strategy. Who came up with it? And how is knowledge about the colour of a person's bra going to cure breast cancer?

I choose to do my part by wearing the ribbon, although I have to admit that I was only half convinced that doing so would actually raise awareness. But then one day, someone asked me what the ribbon was about and I had a chance to tell them.

But passing on emails, updating a Facebook status or wearing a ribbon isn't enough. I generally prefer not to look at the statistics because I find them too scary, but I have come across a number that stopped me in my tracks. According to the Health Authority - Abu Dhabi, 27 per cent of women's cancer-related deaths last year were because of breast cancer. That is really scary.

Cancer is a horrible disease to which I have lost family members, and against which I have seen family members triumph. I would be willing to wear 100 ribbons if I thought that would help to fight this battle, but it is knowledge that will make the difference, not ribbons.

Women need to know how to self-examine, and know about the importance of early detection. People should know what it means if relatives have cancer, and about the heightened risk factors. We need to be aware of facts versus myths.

Any cancer-related association or research facility will tell you that early detection saves lives. In addition to getting regular breast exams, women need to be familiar with the look and feel of their breasts, so that they can monitor changes and have them checked. Changes in breast tissue aren't necessarily cancerous, but they still need to be checked.

These are points about which we must educate ourselves, and also be willing to educate others.

Having said that, I am not a doctor, and no one should be taking second-hand advice from a wannabe doctor in any event. What ribbon-wearers such as myself can do is point people in the right direction.

So if you do decide to wear a ribbon, and someone asks you what it's all about, tell them to talk to a doctor and check out Daman's breast cancer awareness website www.damanhealth.ae/breastcancer.

There are loads of awareness events happening this month, and year around. People just have to search them out.

Just as importantly, people should definitely find it in their hearts to support cancer research.

But back to my pink ribbon. Last year, desperate to find one - admittedly, to alleviate feelings of guilt - I went around to pharmacies, but I couldn't find one.

Despondent and convinced that I would have to find some pink material and tear it up, for a rather tattered-looking ribbon, I happened to visit a particular hotel and, lo and behold, there was a huge bowl filled with ribbons on a counter. I asked if I could take one, then another and another, and the hotel staff generously agreed.

Wearing that little ribbon makes me feel like I'm doing my small part towards raising awareness.

So go out, get educated and spread the word. These statistics about cancer fatalities are not written in stone, so let's actively work to reduce them.


Su'ad Yousif is a civil servant based in Abu Dhabi