For many people, fall means back to school, crisp autumn leaves and new pencils. But for Karen Al Kharouf, it’s all about pink ribbons. As one of the minds behind Think Pink Qatar, Qatar’s Breast Cancer awareness group, this is her fifth year rolling out the ribbons.
‘The main reason to educate people on breast cancer facts is to save lives, providing information on early detection and what to do if they find an abnormal mass,’ she says. ‘It has been proven that educating people about breast cancer helps to identify abnormalities earlier and can increase survival rate if breast cancer is found.’
In fact, international surveys have found that early detection through regular screenings actually reduces the mortality rate by up to 35 per cent—although it’s one of the most prevalent forms of cancer, it’s treatable. But first, people have to get screened.
‘I would say that taboo is not really the issue for people to speak on Breast Cancer in Qatar but plain old fashion fear. TPQ along with other organizations such as Al Hyatt Support Group, the Ladies of Harley, Supreme Counsel of Health and the Qatar National Cancer Society work together to educated the community about breast cancer to erase fear through knowledge,’ she says. ‘I founded Think Pink Qatar five years ago because I want to give something back to humanity, to my grandmother who was my mentor and who died of breast cancer. To me, a person who was so afraid of dying from breast cancer that I did not want to talk about it or be screened; I too had to face my fears.’
In Doha though it’s not just about fear: worldwide there’s a stigma attached to many medical procedures and breast cancer in particular. Qatar, with its long tradition of modesty, is no different. 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, for many people, open discussion is still taboo. Even a Google search will find many informational sites blocked because of the references to breasts. With cancer accounting for 10 per cent of all deaths in Qatar, combined with an aging and growing population, it’s estimated the incidence of cancer will more than double by 2030.
But Al Kharouf says that’s changing. As part of the National health strategy launched in April 2011, Qatar announced its National Cancer Strategy, which includes an investment of more than QR 2.2 million to refurbish Al Amal Hospital as the National Center for Cancer Care and Research over the next five years. The new facility will supply care and support to cancer patients as well as their families. The plan also includes the Qatar National Screening committee, to oversee screening programs throughout the country.
‘The first year that Think Pink Qatar started, many people expressed concern that the local community would shy away from the subject of breast cancer and that TPQ would not receive support, however this was not the case. From the very beginning TPQ alongside the Qatar National Cancer Society received overwhelming support from both the local community and the expat community. TPQ is often asked to speak at company functions to both men and women about breast cancer facts which we do gladly,’ she says.
Part of their plan this year is to target not just women, but men as well.
‘Many people are not aware that men can develop breast cancer and most often they do not have a good success rate because it is over looked, the abnormality or mass within the breast tissue of men,’ says Al Kharouf. ‘According to published health standards in both the US and Europe there is an increase in breast cancer in men. Our approach is to educate everyone in the Qatar community so that everyone is aware that early detection is the best defense against breast cancer.’
In addition to this year’s informational campaign, Think Pink is also staging their annual Walk for Life, this year at the beginning of November to accommodate the Eid holiday in late October.
‘Last year we estimated over 5000 people turned up for the walk this year we expect more as we aim to educate and to support the Qatar National Cancer Society with providing treatments for persons who cannot afford them,’ she says. ‘This year the Walk will feature amazing talents, guest speakers, informational booths, entertainment for the kids and a host of activities to ensure the whole family has a great time. We expecting our largest crowd with universities, schools, companies, and organizations coming out with their banners to show their support of breast cancer awareness in Qatar,’ she says.
‘Everyone participates in the Walk, women, men, children, locals, visitors, friends of friends; everyone! Qatar is growing and so is Think Pink Qatar Volunteers and those wanting to make a difference in the lives of others so, the response should be overwhelming.’
Register this month for Think Pink Qatar’s Breast Cancer Walk for Life takes place Nov 2 on the Corniche starting at 5.30pm at the Museum of Islamic Art and finishing at the Sheraton Park. Registration is required. To take part, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, with your name and contact information.