Cyclists ride 700km to raise funds for cervical cancer screening


Cervical cancer survivor K Lee Lee says cycling helped her build a stronger body and provided her with the necessary emotional support. Photo: Malaysian Medical Association

Every two minutes, a woman dies of cervical cancer somewhere in the world. It is the third most common cancer in Malaysian women, with Sarawak being the state with the highest rate of cervical cancer in Malaysia, and 75% of Malaysian women diagnosed with cervical cancer are below 65 years old, says clinical oncologist Dr Yolanda Augustin.

In light of this, 20 cyclists will cycle 700km from Kuching to Bintulu, over six days, to raise funds for cervical cancer screening for marginalised women in Sarawak. The Sepeda Amal Borneo 2023 charity cycling event, organised by the Malaysian Medical Association in support of Rose Foundation, started on July 15 until 20.

"The cyclists chose one of the roughest terrains in Malaysia to cycle. What we hope to achieve is to bring the Rose programme to women in Sarawak so that they don't have to make long trips to healthcare facilities to get screened," says consultant gynaecological oncologist and founder of the Rose programme Prof Dr Woo Yin Ling.

The Sepeda Amal Borneo charity cycling event will see 20 cyclists cycling 700km in six days from Kuching to Bintulu, Sarawak, to raise funds for cervical cancer screening for marginalised women in Sarawak. Photo: Rose FoundationThe Sepeda Amal Borneo charity cycling event will see 20 cyclists cycling 700km in six days from Kuching to Bintulu, Sarawak, to raise funds for cervical cancer screening for marginalised women in Sarawak. Photo: Rose Foundation

"The Rose (Removing Obstacles to cervical ScrEening) Programme provides a revolutionary approach to cervical screening, making it acceptable and accessible to women.

"It enables and empowers women to perform their own cervical screening using a simple self-swab which is easy-to-use, painless, and effective, instead of pelvic examinations by healthcare professionals. The HPV PCR testing is then undertaken by Rose Laboratory, followed by prompt delivery of results via SMS or WhatsApp. There is linkage to care where women with positive test results are linked to a colposcopist (specialised gynaecologist) for appropriate follow-up.

"This approach can save lives and spare women and families from the suffering and financial hardship associated with cervical cancer," says the professor from the Department of Obstetric and Gynaecology in the Faculty of Medicine at Universiti Malaya.

Augustin says that by providing easy-to-reach testing, cervical cancer can be detected early, making treatment more likely to work and save lives.

"When detected at an early stage, the cure rates for cervical cancer are high. But if detected at a more advanced stage, treatment is more complex. Cervical screening saves lives, empowering women to proactively care for themselves, so they can in turn care for their family and community," she says.

"The Rose programme is not merely a screening test. It makes sure all positive cases receive follow up treatment and support. This helps improve the health of marginalised women and their families, reducing the financial and psychological impact of the devastating illness within their communities," she adds.

There are many barriers to cervical screening in rural communities, highlights Augustin.

"A lack of awareness, fear, socio-economic deprivation and difficulty accessing screening due to logistics such as the time, distance and cost involved in travelling to the nearest hospital/clinic for screening are major factors that hamper screening," she says.

Cervical cancer is the third most common cancer in Malaysia, with Sarawak being the state with the highest number of cervical cancer cases. Photo: Rose FoundationCervical cancer is the third most common cancer in Malaysia, with Sarawak being the state with the highest number of cervical cancer cases. Photo: Rose Foundation

"The Rose programme however focuses very much on removing obstacles to screening and increasing accessibility through community based outreach. These women are from rural communities with minimal access to healthcare services. We work closely with local community leaders to bring screening directly to women in their local villages, longhouses and rural communities. We also work to ensure that women can access follow up treatment effectively, ensuring that no woman is left behind," she adds.

Over the last five years, Malaysia has demonstrated a strong commitment to cervical cancer elimination, through the adoption of highly sensitive Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) DNA testing utilising self-sampling. HPV is the main cause of cervical cancer.

"Through the Rose programme, women are empowered to do the test themselves. The test takes less than five minutes to complete, does not require a speculum, is painless, simple and highly accurate. Results are sent to the woman's mobile phone within three weeks and a patient navigation service then helps to guide women to follow up treatment if their test result is positive.

Community screening with vendors at a hawker center in Saratok, Sarawak. Photo: Rose FoundationCommunity screening with vendors at a hawker center in Saratok, Sarawak. Photo: Rose Foundation

"Once women participate in this programme, it is life changing. The vast majority will recommend it to their friends, family and local communities, they become community champions, empowering other women in their community to screen. This is part of what makes Program Rose so special and why we are passionate about screening in rural communities particularly in Sarawak," says Augustin.

Till date, over 23,000 women all over Malaysia have been screened through the Rose programme, and this is made possible through philanthropic donations and support from Etiqa. Through the Sepeda Amal Borneo fundraiser, in collaboration with the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA), we aim to screen many more women throughout Sarawak all the way from Kuching to Bintulu and Miri as well as more rural communities in Belaga, she says.

“I hope that this will be an annual event, and one that not just raises funds for charity but also draws people to the Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak, in Malaysia, especially to the forgotten interior regions,” says orthopaedic surgeon in Sabah and founder of MMA's annual charity cycling programme, Dr Timothy Cheng, 35, who is also one of the 20 cyclists.

Dr Timothy Cheng, an orthopaedic surgeon in Sabah and founder of MMA's annual charity cycling programme, is one of the 20 cyclists. Photo: Malaysian Medical AssociationDr Timothy Cheng, an orthopaedic surgeon in Sabah and founder of MMA's annual charity cycling programme, is one of the 20 cyclists. Photo: Malaysian Medical Association

For some of the participating cyclists, the initiative is very meaningful and personal.

Lee Lee K, who was diagnosed with Cervical cancer stage 3C in 2022, says: “Going through chemotherapy was a challenging journey because I had to cope with the side effects while working on my cycling jersey company and my full-time job at an IT firm. But cycling made me feel better throughout the chemotherapy by helping me build a stronger body and provided me with the necessary emotional support."

“In 2022, I lost three family members to cancer and it motivated me to take action to help fight the disease and promote cancer awareness. I hope to raise awareness on the prevalence of cervical cancer in Malaysia. It’s one of the most common cancers affecting women and I want to encourage women to prioritise their health and undergo regular cervical cancer screening, as early detection is the key to successful treatment,” says entrepreneur Indran Gegathesa.

“Having my own physical challenges, I understand that there are some things that can’t be changed. But we can do what we can to keep illness at bay. This ride to eradicate cervical cancer and support Rose Foundation will go a long way in helping women with early detection and providing the necessary support,” says lawyer-cum-corporate trainer Ernest Balasingam from Ipoh whose injuries prevented him from pursuing his passion in football and rugby.

"Through Sepeda Amal Borneo 2023, I hope to spread awareness on the importance of an active and healthy lifestyle to reduce risk of cervical cancer and to help patients who are living with the diagnosis," says medical doctor and adrenal cancer survivor Syazana Alia Sabrudin started her cycling journey after a major surgery and two years of oral chemotherapy.

"Whatever life throws you, you need to keep moving forward; you can change but don't give up," says Chuah Yew Lay, who lost his leg in an accident and wears a prosthetic.


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