By Dr. Sawsan A. Al Madhi
As the age-old saying goes, prevention is better than cure.
It really is, but how many of us follow this saying?
Most people visit a doctor when they feel sick, but the right thing to do is proactively see a doctor periodically, before noticing any symptoms.
Sounds counterintuitive? it really isn’t.
When you buy a car, the car dealer tells you to bring your car in for maintenance after a certain mileage; he does not tell you to wait until the car has a problem to bring it.
Your body is the same, people need to understand this concept, because our bodies are like machines, and we need to take care of our bodies .
If there is one thing you will take away from this article , it is how we as human beings should treat ourselves like we do our cars – in a way. People take such good care of their cars, and they should do the same for themselves.
Any car will only stay with us for what? five to ten years at the most? But we will live in our bodies our whole life, and we should take good care and be more diligent in taking care of it.
When you think about it using the car analogy, you see that it is logical, but people still wait until it’s too long to get checked, and this applies to any disease or illness and not just cancer.
This brings us to another important issue – access to healthcare facilities.
Let’s talk about one of the initiatives of H.H. Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, Wife of H.H. the ruler of Sharjah, which is the Pink Caravan, Friends of Cancer Patients (FOCP) pan UAE Breast Cancer awareness and screening campaign,
When FOCP was established 17 years ago in 1999, we were raising awareness about cancer, how to lead a healthy lifestyle, we were working on spreading anti-smoking messages and of course, carrying out our core mission, which is helping cancer patients and their families.
But at a certain point, we thought there is more to be done for the community, as most women used to ask questions after each breast cancer lecture that we would conduct. These questions included “where should I go? what to do next? which doctor do you recommend? how can I get myself checked? what are the processes and procedures? and many more.”
This made us as FOCP realise that: yes, we are raising the awareness level within the community in general and women in specific, but the service itself was not there, or there was no clear pathway to the service of breast cancer screening, from the women’s point of view.
Many of the women we would meet wouldn’t have a nearby health facility where they can go and get checked for breast cancer – and this is how the idea of the pink caravan came about.
We wanted to provide a full-service: a 360 approach solution, not just delivering a lecture to raise awareness, or just showing women how to do their monthly breast exam, but we also wanted to expand our services to have a doctor there in a private setting, who can do the clinical examination and also have a mammogram machine at the front door of that entity where we are holding the awareness lectures, so women can go and get scanned and be screened without delays.
We also discovered that the access barrier had many layers, that access is not just a “physical” access to a healthcare facility, but there is also the financial access, the geographical access, and above all there is the emotional access – where the woman is actually blocking the idea of her being sick because of fear and anxiety; she doesn’t want to be checked, because she doesn’t want to know if she has breast cancer.
We hear this a lot, “I don’t want to know, actually if I have it [cancer], I want to die in peace,” or things along these lines.
In my opinion, it is a crime that women are still dying of breast cancer in the 21st century. Breast cancer is highly curable, it has a cure rate of 98% when detected at an early stage.
Having that kind of passive outlook and preferring to be in denial is very destructive, because a woman’s responsibility is not just towards herself, but also towards her family and community. If I lose this woman because she doesn’t want to know about something as important as her health and about something that is highly curable, I am losing a mother, a daughter, a sister. I am losing an important member of the community who can also be very beneficial in the workforce.
The financial access issue became more prominent when many of the screening services that were provided in the UAE became inaccessible to people because they were no longer free of charge, and this included government facilities.
Although there are plenty of healthcare facilities in Sharjah and the UAE in general, none of them were free of charge. This wasn’t the case until around four years back (2013).
And this is where Pink Caravan played a crucial role.
Pink caravan has a big responsibility of ensuring access to high-quality screening. We try to eliminate the geographical access barrier, so we bring the service to the woman’s door, we try to eliminate the financial access barrier, by providing it for free, and we try to eliminate the psychological and emotional barriers by talking about it to the women.
To date (June 2017), Pink Caravan has offered free clinical early breast cancer detection examinations for 48,874 women and men residing in the UAE, and discovered several positive cases, and made sure they got the right treatment.
Pink Caravan has always been about wellness and it’s not about illness, because we want to empower women from a health point-of-view, to take care of themselves by providing them with credible information. This is why even the mobile clinics for the Pink Caravan have been providing general health check-ups including blood pressure and sugar tests, bone density tests and eye check-ups, to name a few, in addition to the standard breast cancer tests we offer.
We have had people asking us “what’s the connection between an eye-check up and breast cancer”, we told them there isn’t. What we are doing is offering women and men who come for breast cancer screening, value for their time and a holistic approach to health and screening. They are already waiting for their turn to see the doctor, why not give them a full check-up while they wait? as we mentioned before we are not advocating illness, we are advocating wellness in Pink Caravan.
My advice to you: Get periodic health check-ups, and maintain your body, just like you would maintain your car.
About Dr. Sawsan:
Dr. Sawsan A. S. Al Madhi is the Director General for Friends of Cancer Patients (FOCP) UAE, and Head of Awareness/Medical Committee of the Pink Caravan.
She has more than 14 years of progressive leadership skills and experience, and an excellent public speaker and academic.
Dr. Al Madhi is an Internal Medicine specialist and a Fellow of The Royal Society of Medicine (London), and holds a Master’s degree in Healthcare management from the Institute of Leadership of the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland (RCSI), as well as an RCSI Alumni board member, UAE chapter.
Having medical, non-profit and international expertise, Dr. Al Madhi strives to achieve excellence, and sustainability in the health focused non-profit sector and the public health education in the UAE and abroad.