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August - September 2006


Spotlight

Curry Competition at the House of Commons in Aid of ROKO CANCER

 
Jack Straw MP leader of the House of Commons with Keith Vaz MP

London-based businessman Ajinderpal Chawla met Ainsley Harriot and Lloyd Grossman at the House of Commons on Tuesday 16 May when they supported the breast cancer charity he set-up. The Roko (Stop) Cancer Appeal was founded by Pal Chawla five years ago and lists Sandra Howard, Simon Hughes, Keith Vaz and Cherie Blair as key supporters.

The unprecedented level of support came about because the charity was the beneficiary of the all-party parliamentary Tiffin Club which encourages MPs to support local causes.

Pal Chawla, based Broad Walk in Winchmore Hill, has become a leading campaigner for breast cancer awareness in the UK and abroad and in December 2005 launched a mobile breast cancer screening unit in the Punjab to encourage women at-risk to seek preventative advice concerning breast cancer.

The unit has been an unprecedented success and is currently surveying a population of over two million; nearly twenty cases of early stage breast cancer have been identified in the first three months. The free service which includes a mammogram, ultrasound and sympathetic advice is targetting those who for the first time can see beyond the stigma and fear that can surround breast cancer.


Winners of the Curry Contest with the judges

Staff working at the unit speak of women who are being encouraged to talk openly about their fears of the disease and who are being shown that in terms of prevention there is very little to fear.
Jeremy Hughes, Breakthrough Chief Executive, has worked closely with Pal Chawla and described how the entrepeneur's "determination and vision" have paid off.

Hughes declared the unit a "marvellous achievement" and has been invited to an all-party benefit dinner, held by The Tiffin club and supported by MPs such as Simon Hughes. As well as The Tiffin Club fundraiser, Pal Chawla is also working with the influential Rotary Club in the raising of profile and further funding.

Says Pal: "Breast cancer is an illness which despite a high level of media coverage still prevents some women both in the UK and abroad fearful of even discussing it. The success of Roko Cancer's breast screening unit shows that with the right support fear of cancer can be eradicated and lives saved. During my recent trip I was overwhelmed by the high level of positivity which the screening unit has generated. To hear women discussing breast cancer in a way which would have been unthinkable even a year ago was very humbling. This campaign is very much a personal crusade for me and is one on which I hope to build continuous success.

For Pal Chawla the unit marks another milestone in an ambitious programme supporting breast cancer awareness. For the disadvantaged women of the Punjab the unit is a lifeline.

There are now plans to provide a second mobile breast screening unit so that the message of breast cancer as a treatable condition can be reinforced.

In addition, a DVD produced by The Roko Cancer Appeal will also emphasise this message and urges women not to be so busy living that they fail to make make their own lives a priority.
Breast cancer survivor Veena Gulati believes the Roko (Stop) Cancer Appeal cannot be praised highly enough.

Says Veena: "Too many of us are shying away from the realities of looking after our health. We find a lump and we ignore it. We are losing mothers, daughters, sisters and friends and this simply has to stop. Many women have sensitive cultural issues to do with how they view their bodies and these must be respected but our health must remain a priority and that is why the Roko (Stop) Cancer Appeal is so vital – if spreading the word that breast cancer needn't be a sentence if caught in time, the lives of thousands of vulnerable women may well be saved.

Other supporters of the charity include Breast Cancer Care, the Vice President of India, Sandra Howard (wife of former Tory leader Michael), Cherie Booth QC, Sheila Dixit (Chief Minister of Delhi who launched the unit) and the Deputy British High Commissioner of India Mr Mark Runacre and his wife.

Other collaborators include action hero Jackie Chan and Bollywood actress Aishwariya Rai who is currently a face for L'Oreal.

To capitalise on this global support, Pal Chawla's plans include a documentary on preventing breast cancer, collaborative work with UK charities Breakthrough Breast Cancer and Breast Cancer Care as well as developing a new campaign targeting disadvantaged and at-risk women within the UK and India.

Neera Lakhmana, who is co-ordinating the charity's business links with big name organisations like Cobra Beer, explained: "We are very fortunate to have such sterling support because at the moment 80,000 women in India develop breast cancer each year – twice the levels in Britain where the figure is around 40,000.

"Where the UK is more open in discussing breast cancer, some BME cultures adopt a more private approach and this can be based on genuine fears, old-wives tales or hidden anxieties relating to faith or status. Our mission then is to first encourage older women particularly to talk openly about the illness so that if there is a problem they can seek medical attention."

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