A day to debunk the myths about cancer

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A day to debunk the myths about cancer Kelly Clarke and Olivia Olarte-Ulherr / 4 February 2014 On the eve of World Cancer Day, Kelly Clarke discusses the importance of keeping the cancer conversation alive, as one Dubai-based cancer survivor shares her story.  December 17, 2013 is a date which will resonate with June Sarpling for years to come. “I don’t think it settled in right away, but I remember letting out the biggest sigh of relief,” she tells Khaleej Times. That was the Tuesday June was given the all clear from her doctor. After a lengthy battle with cancer, she had finally beaten it. Nafisa Taha with Judith Fox-Alder, Terry’s sister and International Director of the Terry Fox Foundation, at last year’s Abu Dhabi Run. — Supplied photo “In all my 53 Christmases so far, 2013 has to be up there with one of the best. I can’t tell you the weight that was lifted off my shoulders when I was told I had gone into remission.” On World Cancer Day today, it’s cancer survivors like June who can share their story and give hope to others. Diagnosed with breast cancer in July 2012, the 53-year-old mother-of-three says she often thinks back on the day she got the news from her doctor. Describing herself as a “bit of a pitbull”, her strong-headedness went straight out the window when she was given the diagnosis. Research projects on the rise Olivia Olarte-Ulherr   Cancer research projects being funded by the Terry Fox Foundation in the UAE have increased considerably in the past 19 years, highlighting the importance placed on studies about the disease. “In 1995, when we started, we received very few research submissions but now it’s in the range of over 30 per round, which is every three years. Terry Fox Foundation has funded 42 cancer research projects across the UAE. This is because of the importance given to research and scientific findings (on cancer),” said Nafisa Taha, founding member and chairperson of the Terry Fox Foundation. The Terry Fox Runs, held at various locations across the country through the years, have collectively raised around Dh15 million, primarily through donations, as well as food and t-shirt sales. “We donate and support a project over a period of three years (and) until this year, we have supported the 42 cancer research projects fully, at 100 per cent,” Taha told Khaleej Times . According to Professor Frank Branicki, UAE coordinator for Terry Fox Foundation Research Grants, he has already received 37 submissions for the next round. The final installment of the last round will be awarded on February 21 to four research projects during the Abu Dhabi Run. The four Abu Dhabi projects, with a total value of Dh1,189,000, will receive the final Dh285,000 to be shared between the investigators. The research projects include studies on overcoming resistance to cancer treatment drugs; the use of genetically mixed retroviruses for gene-based cancer therapy; the role of anti-inflammatory drugs (aspirin) in preventing cancer cell growth as well as the effects of various genetic factors on cancer progression; and a new strategy to aid the body’s immune defences to tumours by inhibiting a type of white blood cell that protects the tumours. He noted that the last round saw seven studies receiving grants, three of which are being carried out at institutions and hospitals in Dubai, Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah. Last year, the Abu Dhabi Run raised Dh750,000. Taha hopes to raise a similar, if not more, amount this year. The Terry Fox Run is an annual event and people can walk, run, roller-blade or skateboard, and the course is accessible to wheelchairs and strollers. Registration begins at 7am and the Run will start at 10am on February 21. T-shirts will be available for purchase, and cash and cheque donations will be accepted on the event day. olivia@khaleejtimes.com “With three boys and a husband, I’m the only female in a house of five, so my skin is just about as thick as it can get. But when I got that news, I fell to bits,” she says, admitting that she thought the worst. “My first thought was of the boys. In my mind I didn’t have long left, and all I thought about was making sure they would be okay when I was gone.” But to think back to then, and to look at where she’s at now, June says it’s all a little strange to comprehend. “All I dreamt about was being told I was okay, but how often do dreams come true? Well mine did, so I might start dreaming a little more,” she laughs. Still reeling from the good news, June is keen on joining a support group to help other cancer sufferers, but wants to concentrate on getting her life back on track first. The Australia-born housewife is currently undergoing three-monthly check-ups with her consultant to make sure the cancer hasn’t returned, and says being able to keep a positive attitude and share her story with others has been a blessing.  Cancer talk goes global The colour purple has been leading the way for change over the past few days, with Twitter and Facebook pictures being turned a shade of the red/blue mix in a bid to open up the often-sceptical discussion on cancer. The popular campaign hashtag, #WorldCancerDay, has been doing the rounds, with tweeters from around the globe doing their bit to open up the discussion on cancer. From Switzerland to the US, and the UK to the UAE, this year’s theme, ‘Debunk the Myths’, focuses on changing people’s attitudes towards the disease. Adamant to spread the message that ignorance is not bliss, the campaign, spearheaded by the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), aims to dispel four of the biggest misconceptions linked to cancer. The four myths under the spotlight are: We don’t need to talk about cancer; there are no signs or symptoms; there is nothing I can do about cancer; I don’t have the right to cancer care. An estimated 14.1 million cases were identified worldwide in 2012, and currently noted as one of the top three causes of death in the UAE today, many speculate that the Middle East region needs to catch up with the Western world in regards to cancer awareness. But Friends of Cancer Patients (FoCP) Secretary General Dr Sawsan Al Medhi, said this is yet another misconception. “I think the World Cancer Day theme proves that cancer is still taboo in many parts of the world, not just in the Middle East. We’ve always been open about it here, but in the last few years we have been doing a lot more in terms of education and awareness.” While participating in a TV interview several years back, Dr Al Medhi remembers being told to avoid using the word breast when referring to breast cancer. “That was then but this is now. We have come on leaps and bounds since then and the introduction of initiatives like Pink October for breast cancer and Movember in November, highlighting prostate cancer, proves this.” Dr Al Medhi said the only way to change people’s mind-set when it comes to cancer is by changing the way they think, adding that it is important to keep the message simple but relevant. “The way people absorb information is vital, so campaigns need to grab attention and they need to be constant. This is what FoCP tries to concentrate on.” Of the 14.1 million cancer diagnoses in 2012, 7.4 million were in men and 6.7 million in women, and according to World Cancer Statistics, this number is expected to increase to 24 million by 2035. Dr Al Medhi said with more than 150 types of cancer worldwide, it is important to educate people on the different types, including early detectable cancers. “Even if a person is diagnosed late, the disease can be maintained. A lot of cancers are now treated as a chronic disease and can be kept at bay with medication, but very few people know this.” With awareness noted as the cornerstone to tackling this common disease, why not do your bit towards dispelling the myths associated with it. Whether through a tweet, a purple picture, or everyday chit chat, let’s keep the cancer conversation alive. kelly@khaleejtimes.com For more news from Khaleej Times, follow us on Facebook at facebook.com/khaleejtimes , and on Twitter at @khaleejtimes Continue reading →

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