Karen Al Kharouf is walking for those who can’t anymore. And she’s hoping this year, at the fourth annual Think Pink Breast Cancer Walk, even more people will join her. Her goal? To paint Qatar pink. ‘This year the goal is to see everyone in the State of Qatar wearing pink to help increase breast cancer awareness. Everyone is encouraged to come out and walk for life,’ she says. ‘This year it is about getting all people of Qatar to come out, and we are inviting everyone in the country to join us and walk to show their support for the cause, and we are offering free registration to all to meet our objective this year.’
Karen is one of the minds behind Think Pink Qatar, organising not just the annual walk, but events throughout the year to support breast cancer research and those living with the disease. ‘Think Pink Qatar decided to offer free registration this year because we wanted to give all the opportunity to walk, and by offering free registration we removed any possible reason not to walk.’
She is also expecting a large crowd on the Corniche this year. ‘I want a million, but who can tell how many we’ll get?’ she says.
In its fourth year, the walk runs along the Corniche and has attracted a diverse crowd every time – men, women and kids from all parts of the world, coming together to show support in a sea of pink. The walk is even opened each year by the Ladies of Harley’s annual Ride for Life, a bike parade by Doha’s ladies’ motorcycle club, many of whom have been affected by breast cancer.
This year, with the free registration, Karen is hoping more groups, clubs and companies will form their own teams and come out en masse. ‘What has changed over the years is that people in Qatar, not just women but men too, have stood together publicly to spread the message of early detection; all are visible in their quest to say this is not a taboo thing that is happening, this is something that affects us all, so united we must stand,’ she adds. ‘Companies, individuals, workers, expats, children, men and women – everyone.’
Removing the stigma around breast cancer was one of the first thrusts in her campaigning. Despite the fact the Gulf Centre for Cancer Registration estimates that Qatar has the third- highest cancer incident rate in the region, just behind Bahrain and Kuwait, talking about it is still a taboo people struggle with. And with breast cancer coming in as the most common form of cancer among women in the Arab world, that’s a lot of silence.
According to Dr Sheikh Khalid bin Jabr Al Thani, chairman of the Qatar National Cancer Society, speaking last October, there are two to three breast cancer patients identified every week in Qatar. ‘I started Think Pink because I thought I could make a significant difference in the lives of the nationals, as many of the local ladies here did not in the past speak of breast cancer,’ says Karen. ‘I wanted to ensure that they knew what was available here in the State of Qatar and what to look out for, as well as preventive measures of the disease.’
But for Karen, like so many others involved in the fight against breast cancer, it’s personal. ‘I lost my grandmother to breast cancer, who was the rock in my life,’ she reveals. ‘It was a tribute to her. By spreading the awareness of breast cancer facts, then lives could be saved.’
And lives can be saved, if the disease is caught. Although it’s one of the most prevalent forms of cancer, it’s also treatable, and the survival rate is good – if it’s caught early. Al Amal Hospital in Doha reports that 20 per cent of the cancer cases treated there in 2007 were women with breast cancer – and left untreated, it is all too often deadly. However, early detection through regular screenings actually reduces the mortality rate by up to 35 per cent.
But many people either can’t, or don’t want, to get tested. Events like this one, which make breast cancer public, help people feel that they can talk about it in private, with their family and doctors. And with a wide reach, with participants from Qatari nationals to laborers, it’s a way of letting everyone know what resources are available: something that’s incredibly important in such a diverse community as Doha, where many people come from different countries who might not all have the same resources or levels of care available.
‘People should participate to be heard, to be loud, to let everyone know that breast cancer can be fought and won through education and awareness,’ says Karen.
Think Pink Qatar’s Breast Cancer Walk takes place Friday, October 28 at the Doha Corniche, starting at 5pm. The walk is free, but registration is required. To take part, send an email to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org, with your name, contact information and T-shirt size. Pink T-shirts will be given out while supplies last, but everyone is encouraged to come wearing pink.