x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Teen Life: Cancer awareness must begin with teenagers

Angelina Jolie's commendable frankness and influential power have generated massive awareness about the necessity to fight the scourge of cancer.

Teenagers are very easily influenced by those they perceive as glamorous, rich or powerful. We like to keep our gossip-sniffing noses poked eternally in the lives of celebrities. It's far easier for us to remember the minute details of Ian Somerhalder's eventful dating history than any schoolwork. When Angelina Jolie revealed that she had a double mastectomy to reduce her genetically high risk of breast cancer, it wasn't surprising that public interest in breast cancer soared.

Jolie possesses a harmful, mutated form of the gene BRCA1, which dramatically increased her risk of getting the disease; she weighed her options and decided that preventive surgery was better than an uncertain cure. Her commendable frankness and the influential power of her A-list status have generated massive awareness about the necessity to fight the scourge of cancer. Those condemning her decision strike me as being too hasty to judge, uninformed or downright insensitive.

Suddenly, a previously low-key topic is being actively discussed. Women and even teenage girls are debating the need for self-examination, getting mammograms and tracing their family lineage for relatives who have suffered from cancer.

My family has faced the loss of two brave and loving people - my grandmother to leukaemia and my uncle to pancreatic cancer. It's terrifying how prevalent breast cancer is today, and awareness among teenagers is a must. Leading the way are people such as Minakshi, a wonderful writer. I used to love reading her blog, Memoirs of a Village Girl, before her world was shattered by breast cancer. True to her indomitable personality, her blog is now a Pink Diary, offering a glimpse into her courageous battle and how she refuses to let her illness defeat her spirit.

It's not just girls who are at the forefront; boys, too, recognise the importance of combating cancer. A few months ago, every student - girls and boys - in my school showed up resplendent in eye-watering shades of blush, fuchsia or hot pink to commemorate Pink Day for breast cancer awareness. It was like walking into a candy floss-machine explosion. Pauline wandered over with a bag of pink ribbons to pin to your shirt and her persuasive smile meant everyone ended up buying one. Shivank helped man a bake-sale counter that was laden with scores of frosted cupcakes. "Cupcake for Dh5?" In my mind's eye, I always imagine sneaky, evil-looking calories burrowing out of the buttercream icing when contemplating a tempting red velvet cake. "All proceeds go to charity ..." And then I always do give in. Good deed of the day done.

Shivank and Pauline are the spirited heads of our marvellously active 50-strong charity committee. Beneath our grumpy exteriors, we really are caring old souls - the committee got the school to cough up quite a bit for Breast Cancer Arabia, as well as supporting the Terry Fox run. They have worked tirelessly all year, turning their hands to other causes including a purple day for pancreatic cancer and a moustache-growing drive for prostate cancer awareness.

A complete, effective cure may be a long time coming, but it's up to teenagers to step up the war against cancer - and we haven't got off to a bad start.


The writer is a 17-year-old student in Dubai