In the pink of health

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The Pink Sari Project, launched by the NSW Multicultural Health Communication Services, aims to raise awareness of breast cancer screening among subcontinent women

Maina Gordon came into the room in a wheelchair and yet what caught my attention was her bright, engaging smile and her sparkling eyes. Her calm yet strong demeanour drew me in completely and I can say without hesitation that I fell in love with this woman instantly.

When Maina spoke and shared her powerful story at the International Women’s Day Pink Sari Chai Party, there was complete silence in the room. I fought hard to hold back my tears; and then at one point gave up and let my tears flow freely.

Maina’s tale is one of determination, courage and survival.

Maina Gordon has lived with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) for the past 20 years, has been diagnosed with and survived breast cancer, has undergone a bi-lateral mastectomy, and yet continues to live a fulfilling life.

When she was first diagnosed with MS, she was advised not to have children, to give up her practice (she is a solicitor) and to focus on herself. She put aside every bit of that advice and fought hard to live her life on her own terms. Maina is a trooper, a real life champion – today she has two gorgeous daughters, a flourishing boutique law firm and a life she loves.

She ended her story with these powerful lines, which will stay with me forever. “The reason I believe I am here and can talk to you today, is because I had my screening, and my bi-lateral mastectomy.”

Maina reminds me of my own mother who has also fought breast cancer bravely and lives life with a smile on her face.

All of you brave women who make us want to live a more intentful, meaningful life, we salute you. And to honour your courage, we pledge to take that small step and get ourselves screened regularly.

The International Women’s Day Chai party at which Maina spoke was organised by local community group Saheli, in partnership with AHIA, NSW Multicultural Health Communication Service and Hornsby Shire Council, to raise awareness and understanding of breast cancer screening among women of Indian and Sri Lankan origin. It also paid tribute to some extraordinarily brave women who have fought against all odds and displayed immense courage and resilience in their battle against the ailment.

I was among the lucky 200 women all dazzling in bright pink and purple who attended this event. We also got to hear stories of other inspirational women like Charmaine Solomon (the ‘queen of Asian cooking in Australia’ and author of 31 cookbooks), Mahboba Ravi (an Afghani-Australian activist who founded the NGO Mahboba’s Promise), and Associate Professor Nirmala Pathmanathan, Service Director at the Westmead Breast Cancer Institute.

Charmaine Solomon is a legend, credited with introducing Asian cooking in Australia. The creator of her own brand of spice blends and marinades, she taught herself to cook in part to calm her fears of being alone in the house with two small children while her husband worked late nights as a musician. Through her food, she has been able to influence and enrich so many lives. Her story makes me want to reach for the stars or perhaps for her recipes! Charmaine has also signed the Pink Pledge and actively supports breast cancer screening for women.

Another inspirational woman, Mahboba Rawi is an Afghan refugee who came to Australia many years back and now calls it home. She has fought her battle on another front, to shape social change and her story is no less inspiring. She is the founder of Mahboba’s Promise – an initiative to set up schools and homes for orphans and women in Afghanistan (check out her website mahbobaspromise.org). Mahboba has also joined the Pink Sari cause and shown support for women to get screening done regularly.

Matt Kean MP (Member for Hornsby), looking dapper in his pink duppatta style scarf, did his bit to support the Pink Sari initiative.

The Project, launched in September by the NSW Multicultural Health Communication Services, aims to raise awareness of breast cancer screening specifically among women from the Indian and Sri Lankan background, the two fastest growing communities in NSW with, alarmingly, some of the lowest screening rates.

Associate Professor Nirmala Pathmanathan, who was a keynote speaker at the event, said there is no single answer as to why this is true.

“The issues are cultural,” she surmised, “as well as a lack of awareness of screening services.”

Nirmala also shared that Australia has one of the highest rates of Breast Cancer and one in eight women are affected by it.

The earlier the detection, the better the chances of treatment and survival; therefore women between the ages of 50 -74 years must get regular mammograms.

In a very powerful call to action, Dr Pathmanathan urged women to “take control of your health and empower yourself”.

She dispelled some myths about mammograms in the Q&A session and said that the “radiation levels in a mammogram could be compared to a passenger travelling on an international flight.”

The message in the forum was loud and clear. “GET SCREENED” and do it NOW.

Michael Camit, Marketing and Communications Manager with the Pink Sari campaign very aptly summarised the event by saying “We want women to get into the pink of health!”

It certainly looked as though the message got through, given that the women all came together and sang ‘I am Woman, hear me roar!’

A special mention to Shantha Viswanathan, Charu Bhatia, Nisha Bhasin, Sarita Sachdev, Bijinder Dugal, who came together to make this special event possible.

For all you wonderful women out there, I quote: “Count your smiles, not your tears. Count your courage, not your fears.”

If you want to live your life like Maina or the other brave women who personify courage and resilience, start with that single small step. Book your appointment for your mammogram today.

 

Pink Sari Project: www.facebook.com/thepinksariproject.

Breast Screen NSW: 13 20 50

 

 

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Human resources manager by day, writer by night, mother all the time and loving it