Pushing for Pinktober

Pushing for Pinktober
Iman Al Tamimi

As the UAE builds up its awareness initiatives for breast cancer, residents show us how it's a cause that everyone can contribute to



By Maheshpreet Kaur

Published: Fri 11 Oct 2019, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Fri 11 Oct 2019, 2:00 AM

When it comes to breast cancer awareness, there are many who have taken it upon themselves to be the faces of the cause. But there are also those behind the scenes, who are fighting the good fight to ensure their community members get screened early. While efforts by survivors and medical experts are invaluable in this regard, it is worth doffing our collective caps to non-patients as the unsung and unlikely heroes in this story. It takes compassion and empathy to volunteer your time and resources for the greater good. In a world where people have desensitised themselves to disturbing news, it's great to see volunteers who are willing to go out of their way to help. WKND catches up with some such folks who are restoring our faith in humanity.

Iman Al Tamimi
Iman began riding horses in 2015. When she started, it wasn't to raise awareness for breast cancer. But in 2018, she volunteered to ride across Fujairah with Pink Caravan, a subset of the charity Friends of Cancer Patients (FOCP), who promote self-examinations and clinical tests while dispelling common myths that surround breast cancer. This year, the 29-year-old rode for them again.
"I have relatives who have breast cancer," says the equestrian who hails from Yemen. "That has affected me and motivated me to spread awareness of the importance of self-examinations among the community. In Fujairah, we rode for four hours, taking breaks in between to speak to people and take photos. There were a lot of participants, so they divided us between the seven emirates." By the end of the week, the team had covered the United Arab Emirates.
Iman believes everyone must do what they can to help the cause, even non-patients. "Breast cancer could affect anyone - friends, family - so it's really important for everyone to spread awareness, even if they aren't patients themselves."
The best way to do so, she feels, is by creating visual aids that people will remember. "When we rode, we were all dressed in uniform, wearing the breast cancer colour - baby pink. So, when people saw us, they immediately knew what it was about. Even the media with us, who were taking videos and photographs, carried flyers to help raise awareness."
While women (and men) are often hesitant about getting tested, Iman only remembers being emboldened to go for her first test. Her reasoning was simple: she knew if she didn't, she might regret it later.
Although the best way to volunteer with the Pink Caravan is by riding, Iman says you do have to be experienced. "Horses are unpredictable. Even though the ones Pink Caravan brought in were very tame, you never know. For example, if a car passes by and your horse gets scared, they could jump or gallop. The rider has to be experienced and ready for such unexpected moments."
Pink Caravan tests each rider for proficiency to ensure they're comfortable whether walking, trotting or cantering with their animal, even though the event only involves a walk across an emirate. The ratio of men to women who volunteer for the event is relatively equal, as men are often just as supportive, even though it's rare for their gender to have breast cancer. And fear not if you're not an experienced horse rider; you can still donate or volunteer to help with the caravan instead.
One thing's for sure: Iman will be signing up for the next one too.

Gomathi Shiva
As an artist who has been painting for the last 10-12 years, Gomathi wanted to make a difference. Last year, she decided to use her skills to paint a beautiful 90x90cm canvas for the 'Think Pink' collection in support of breast cancer fighters and survivors. Each piece in the collection depicted the impact breast cancer can have on patients and their family. The exhibition was held at Al Ghurair Centre last October by Woman2Woman, an organisation that helps professional women.
"Many of my close friends and relatives have gone through chemo, so I have seen their pain," says the Indian expat. "As an artist, all I know is how to work with a brush and some paints. I wanted to paint something happy, to show how survivors rise after their experience, with courage and will power."
It's clear the survivors in her life have inspired her. "I knew I wanted this piece to be pink, and I wanted a flower with a lady. To combine it all, I pictured her blossoming from the flower with a butterfly to show how, having gone through so much difficulty, she's now come back with new life. I wanted all the breast cancer patients and spectators at the exhibition to forget their pain, to feel as fresh as though they'd emerged from the flower too."
The painting depicts considerable attention to detail. A close look reveals a drawing on the lady's back. It is a tattoo meant to mimic a South Indian 'Kolam' design that reflects happiness and togetherness during celebrations.
Gomathi truly believes art can change people's lives. She recalls how one survivor told her about how she felt reborn after her depression and chemotherapy, and how the painting evoked the same feelings. "It made my day!" said the 46-year-old, who is eager to exhibit the piece - one of the few she keeps with herself - at other events to support breast cancer awareness.
As a contributor, Gomathi paid to exhibit this piece in the Think Pink exhibition. Unfortunately, there isn't another one this year, but she is hoping to hold a solo exhibition to support breast cancer patients and survivors next year.

Devavarth Suresh Kumar
Long hair has typically been associated with women, but Devavarth Suresh Kumar is challenging societal norms by growing out his for a cause. The 15-year-old is, in fact, hoping to donate his locks to Friends of Cancer Patients, who'd be able to use them to create wigs for breast cancer patients who've undergone chemotherapy. "I had seen two kids in my brother's school who were donating their hair, and they were pretty young. If they could do it, why not me? That's what keeps me going," says the Dubai student.
The decision has not exactly been smooth sailing, considering the taunts and name-calling he has been receiving from his peers. "Growing out my hair is pretty simple, but the problem is society's views on a boy doing something like that. It's different," he explains. "Often when they see that, they assume it's a style. I get a lot of that. In school, I get called a girl. People also stare at me when I walk by, but I'm used to all that now."
He remembers how a supervisor from one of the younger grades once took an extended leave of absence, and returned to teach bald. The students soon understood that it was because she had breast cancer, and it was one of Devavarth's first encounters with the after-effects of the disease. "It's mostly women who face breast cancer. But, as a society, I think it's everyone's duty to support someone who's going through a difficult time. It's important for men and boys to stand for breast cancer awareness too."
It was his research on cancer that led him to Hair for Hope India, a campaign that raises awareness for hair donations and inspired him to step up for the cause. Devavarth's mum contacted campaign founder Premi Mathew for guidance, and that's how the youngster began growing his hair. A year and a half later, it now stands at 12 inches - just the right length for a donation. The end of the month will see the locks cut and collected to be turned into a wig for a breast cancer patient who needs it.
"I'm excited," says the courageous teen. "Initially, I was kind of scared, because the school staff were sceptical. They thought I was making up an excuse, but they later became very supportive - especially my supervisor."
As the UAE builds up its awareness initiatives for the month of October, it's a great opportunity for one and all to come out in support of the cause. Whether youngster or adult, it's clear that we all can.
wknd@khaleejtimes.com

Gomathi Shiva
Gomathi Shiva
Devavarth Suresh Kumar
Devavarth Suresh Kumar

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