Dubai: For Egyptian expatriate Nadia Metwally, being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011 after losing her husband to the same disease nine years before was a double tragedy.
“No one in my family, my blood relatives, had breast cancer. My husband did, however,” Metwally, 62, a former Arabic language teacher, told Gulf News.
Metwally’s husband experienced abnormalities in his breast for some time. Thinking it was just an infection, they went to the hospital for treatment. But the problem persisted for nine months so the couple decided to go back to their home country for further investigation.
“It was in Egypt when my husband was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1999. He had to go for surgery and underwent chemotherapy in Tawam Hospital when we got back,” Metwally explained. “But he succumbed to the disease three years later.”
Metwally thought her battle with cancer was over. In one of the Pink Caravan screenings during its inaugural ride in 2011, she was diagnosed with the disease. But Pink Caravan did not leave her behind.
“The Pink Caravan and the Friends of Cancer Patients are wonderful people! They have been on my side since day one,” Metwally said.
The pan-UAE Pink Caravan Ride for years has gone beyond early detection and educational campaigns.
Anyone who tests positive with breast cancer during their ride’s annual campaign, like Metwally, is immediately taken for support by the Friends of Cancer Patients (FoCP), Pink Caravan’s mother charity.
The FoCP gives them moral and financial support, if needed, to guide them on a treatment plan. The organisation has so far supported 3,719 families since 1999. Of the 41,391 people the Pink Caravan screened over the last six years, 33 were found to have cancer and are “adopted” for treatment by FoCP.
Breast cancer treatment could cost between Dh250,000 and Dh300,000 for the first year, but this could go up further depending on the stage and grade of the breast cancer and type of treatment needed.
“If it were just up to me, there’s no way I could bear all the expenses,” Metwally said.
“Breast cancer is more of a psychological disease than anything else. Having access to treatment gives you peace of mind and raises your chances of recovery even more.”
The same is true for Marites Rasgo, 45, a Filipina office cleaner based in Sharjah, who was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer last year.
“I underwent mastectomy in December and I’ve completed my chemotherapy, all through the help of Pink Caravan. I have one treatment left. I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this if it were not for them, considering my salary,” Rasgo, a mother of two, told Gulf News.
Not all health insurance covers 100 per cent of the medical bill for critical illnesses. But the picture is more grave for those without insurance covers like Rasgo.
The same goes for early detection, which is the most important weapon against breast cancer.
Most insurance companies do not cover early screening, Dr Sawsan Al Madhi, director-general of FoCP and head of Pink Caravan’s Medical and Awareness Committee, said.
“One of the main challenges right now is any breast cancer screening for healthy women, who just want to go for a check-up for preventive measures, most insurance companies don’t cover that. On the other hand, if a woman has a symptom and the doctor suspects that there’s a lump, then that’s something called diagnostic procedure, only then will it be generally covered.”
A clinical screening for breast cancer on average costs between Dh250 and Dh1,000. Pink Caravan has been providing all these for free over the past six years, amounting to Dh24 million.
But this comes at a cost for Pink Caravan whose operational costs for the ride alone in 2016 was at Dh6 million.
Dr Sawsan said the programme has been successful through the help of the community, through the generous donations of individuals, companies and sponsors.
Donations to the Pink Caravan, whether through sending an SMS or directly donating to their bank account, has a huge impact for cancer patients like Metwally and Rasgo.
“I will not forget what they have done for me,” Rasgo said. “I owe them my second life.”
Box: How to donate
Option 1: Access the JustGiving page via the Pink Caravan website or app. Select the purpose of your fund-raising page. Complete your details and create your fund-raising page
Option 2: Donate using PayPal via the Pink Caravan website (www.pinkcaravan.ae).
Option 3: SMS: Type “PINK” and send to 2302 to donate Dh5
Option 4: Bank Transfer
Account Name: Pink Caravan
Bank: Sharjah Islamic Bank, Sharjah, UAE
Account Number: 0034-430430-003
IBAN Number: AE100410000034-430430-003
For details about the screenings and clinics, log on to www.pinkcaravan.ae