Cancer Awareness: Young voice, vital message Kelly Clarke / 31 May 2013 With the Middle East carrying one of the world’s highest incidence rates of breast cancer in women under the age of 40, one Dubai-born student wants to spread an important message to the women of the UAE: “Early detection can save lives.” Kelly Clarke speaks to nine-year-old Aaditya Singh who is spreading a message on breast cancer and hopes to meet Shaikh Mohammed to request for a free or subsidised cancer screening programme for women A Dubai-based student is intent on spreading cancer awareness in the UAE. Aaditya Singh’s message is loud and clear. “Early detection of breast cancer can save lives,” says the nine-year-old. The Dubai-born student has been actively involved in a number of social and environmental awareness campaigns over the past few years and he is intent on pushing for greater openness about the illness in the UAE. “He knows more about breast cancer than an average child his age or even older,” says his mother Veenu Kanwar. At the age of seven, after his close friend lost his mother to the disease, Aaditya’s curiosity about cancer was apparent. ‘I thought only old people are supposed to die. Does that mean that you can also get cancer and die?’ was the question he asked his mother. It was difficult for Aaditya to comprehend that someone in their 30s or 40s could die from this thing called ‘cancer’, which is where his drive to “make a difference” came from. Appreciation for life was something instilled in Aaditya from a young age. “As a mother, one thing I want from my kids is for them to respect what they have and to give what they can,” says Kanwar. She said raising a generation with the right values is the key base to securing a successful future for each individual and she accredits a lot of Aaditya’s awareness work to his teachers. “I am thankful that Aaditya’s school, the Delhi Private School, Sharjah, includes social and environmental awareness as a significant and integral part of the curriculum. This really helps inculcate the right attitude in children as they grow.” From poster campaigns to interpretative dance, Aaditya has been proactive in spreading awareness in the UAE for over two years. And following the recent publicity on prophylactic mastectomies — the removal of healthy breasts without prior breast cancer diagnosis — he says he is “appalled, but not surprised to see how fear can make so many women take such drastic steps.” After losing a grandmother, he never got to meet, to the disease, he has made his mother gift him one thing on his birthday every year — get a mammogram done — and on her birthday each year, she gets a health check done. “Till about an year ago, he used to knock on the bathroom door while I showered to ask if I found any cancer in my body (that was his idea of self examination).” According to Breast Cancer Statistics Worldwide, about 1 in 8 women in the developed world are at risk of getting breast cancer, but early detection can offer a 95 per cent chance of survival. Although Dubai has been the centre of improved progress with regards to cancer awareness, regular screening is still not a common way of life due to several factors including cost implications and social/cultural reasons. With the oncology sector more advanced in the West, the Journal of Oncology says breast cancer in the Arab world is the most common cancer among Arabic women and affects younger women than their counterparts in industrialised nations. The Middle East has a significantly higher incidence of breast cancer in women under the age of 40, with 80 per cent of cases found at an advanced stage. Aaditya’s work Aaditya has been passionately involved with the ‘Protect Your Mom Campaign’ (PYM) — a unique Dubai based, zero-cost campaign that relies on the creative abilities and pestering power of students, and the reach of social networking to reiterate the importance of early detection. “I am too young to know a lot, but old enough to understand that breast cancer can be deadly … the best chance that anyone has against it is through early detection.” Last year, Aaditya entered a yearly contest, initiated by PYM, wherein they invite creative entries from students to raise awareness. Feeling that his words were not being taken seriously, Aaditya’s face appeared on the video-sharing site Youtube in a bid to spread his message globally. “When an eight-year-old talks about breast cancer, no one pays attention so I am trying to convey my message through dance.” This was the introductory message on Aaditya’s dance video. He spent many hours planning the dance routine, and weaved meaningful songs in Arabic, Hindi and English into his story, so that he could reach out to as many people as possible. And his efforts paid off as the then eight-year-old was crowned winner of the PYM Design & Win Contest – pipping a number of high-school and university students to the post. Aaditya was gifted two airline tickets to India but the selfless nine-year-old isn’t planning on jet-setting back to his family’s home country for a summer holiday. Well aware that cancer care is costly in this part of the world and that many patients travel to India for treatment, Aaditya hopes he can offer these patients a break from everyday life — including trips for radiation and chemotherapy treatment — by giving them something positive to look forward to. Currently in talks with two cancer patients, and awaiting approval from the airlines, he says winning the contest “will be more worthwhile” if they can travel in his place. Aaditya hopes one day of meeting His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, to request for a free or subsidised cancer screening programme for women, just like the child immunisation programme recently implemented. He says easy and cost effective access to preventive screening, at reliable government medical centres, will encourage more women to come forward to get themselves screened. “I hope the health authorities will consider my request to give all mothers in the UAE a fair chance at beating breast cancer.” firstname.lastname@example.org Taylor Scott International
Cancer Awareness: Young voice, vital message
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