This week, just like in the old spaghetti westerns, a group of crusaders will ride in on their horses and try to save the day. Clad in bright pink jumpers, as part of the Friends of Cancer Patients charity, the merry mob of 100 Pink Caravan riders will set off on April 2 to travel for 10 days atop one of the world’s oldest forms of transport, stopping at rural areas and visiting those less likely to have knowledge about breast cancer or access to specialist hospitals.
Over the next three years, the charity, supported by Sheikha Jawaher Bint Mohammed Al Qassimi of Sharjah, will aim to raise Dhs15 million for a state-of-the- art mobile MRI early detection van, technology that currently doesn’t exist in the UAE. The life-saving machine will be taken to rural communities, schools and centres to help detect breast cancer in less privileged individuals. Unlike conventional scans, it’s a pain-free process and emits much less radiation, meaning it’s suitable for women and girls, but – most importantly – it provides instant scan results.
Pink Caravan chairperson Cecile Guillemot has a personal connection to the cause after her close friend was diagnosed with the disease. ‘Scans and checks often don’t reach everyone,’ says Cecile. ‘But we want to encompass everyone in the UAE, not just one city or a group of cities. It’s a disease that could affect any woman.’
The riders will be specifically targeting smaller towns that many UAE city-goers will never have heard of, most housing as few as 100 residents. ‘The route goes to Masafi in Fujairah, Lisaili in Sharjah and Al Lisaili in Dubai, as well as many other smaller towns that are not close to any specialist medical facilities,’ says Cecile. ‘Alongside the big riding event this week, Pink Caravan will also be hosting auctions in Dubai and Abu Dhabi to raise funds, and there will be school visits in association with the Ministry of Education, so girls will know how to spot changes in the body and what symptoms to look out for. They can then take this message home to their families.’
Fitness expert and TV presenter Zena Habi is an ambassador of the cause and has learned to ride a horse for the event. ‘I’ve been riding for a month now. I get up at 5.30am every morning and drive an hour to the stables,’ she explains. ‘It’s amazing – from horseback, you see a side of the UAE you’d never usually see, and it’s a great way to wake up. I’ve been into sport for a long time, and I’m learning something new every day.’
Pink Caravan urges avid riders to get involved (it’s free to take part) or to volunteer as marshals, while non-riders who want to show their support are invited to drive in convoy behind the 100 horses. Riders can either camp out or stay in hotels overnight, or travel back home each evening to the comfort of their own beds.
‘I’ve always wanted to do something for breast cancer – I’m a fighter for women and a feminist,’ says Zena. ‘Through my expertise, I hope I can help. Research shows that the fitter you are, and the less fat you have in your body, the less prone you are to breast cancer – a 30-minute walk each day keeps breast cancer away. I hope we can get this vital message across.’
The warning signs
Check once a month. if you notice any of the following, see a specialist immediately.
• Changes in the size and/or shape of the breast.
• If the nipple turns in or sinks, or is an unusual shape.
• A rash on or around the nipple.
• Watch for dimples in the skin.
• Swelling or a lump in the armpit.
• Soreness, red areas, hardness, enlarged pores or inflammation.
• Be aware of irregular discharge.
• A lump, though don’t immediately panic – the majority are benign.