Saviour On Wheels
The Mammombile, run by Germany-born Shadi Ganz, brings early detection and screening to the doorsteps of rural women across Tamil Nadu.BY Anila Mathew Vivek
A psychotherapist, artist, and scientist, Shadi Ganz wears many hats effortlessly. She is also a fighter who not only bravely fought breast cancer but is determined to help others fight the disease, which has become more like an epidemic in India. When Ganz discovered a lump in her left breast eight years ago, she assumed the worst. Later, her rational thinking led her to understand that cancer in the breast does not translate into a death sentence. She drew up a logical plan of action to tackle the issue instead of riding an unhealthy emotional roller coaster. Then residing in Africa, she immediately returned home to Europe. On undergoing mammography screening and an ultrasound-guided biopsy, Ganz was diagnosed with a malignant lump. The lump was removed surgically, following which she underwent chemo and radiation therapy.
“WE WANT TO EXPAND SCREENING SERVICES, SO THAT MORE WOMEN CAN BECOME SURVIVORS OF BREAST CANCER INSTEAD OF VICTIMS. WE ARE CURRENTLY TRYING TO RAISE FUNDS FOR THE SECOND BUS FOR KARNATAKA.”Shadi Ganz,
Founder, Shadi Ganz Foundation Mammombile
While on a visit to Tamil Nadu, she discovered that the healthcare system in India did not mandatorily provide for a single mammography machine in a whole district. This was in sharp contrast to the high-tech hospitals and treatment available in Europe. This defining incident led to the birth of the Shadi Ganz Foundation Maemo mobile Charitable Trust in 2012. She recounts the turning point that led her to register the foundation: “Artists are often sensitive visionaries, close to nature and the earth, and can act as protectors. I believe artists are born to be warriors and I am one of them. Maemo mobile was a vision born out of solidarity, to empower women, to have breast and cervical examinations in a safe atmosphere and space. At first, it was an abstract vision, like standing in front of a blank canvas, a fountain of color and shapes spreading in my head.
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While India’s medical profession has made big steps to eliminate and fight cancer, some of India’s districts do not have a single mammography machine available for breast cancer screening. That was my turning point to register the Mammomobile foundation and become a philanthropist. I believe that Mammomobile is the best way to save lives.” Chaired by renowned oncologist Dr. V Shanta, the foundation has been running mammobuses across Tamil Nadu. This is an extension of Ganz’s experience in her home country, Germany, which has 85 sophisticated mammobuses or mobile cancer screening centers, though there are breast centers available in nearly all cities and small towns. Cervical and breast cancer are the most common causes of deaths due to cancer among Indian women. Early detection and proper treatment can improve this prognosis and can help cure the terminal illness. Women, particularly in rural areas, often delay seeking treatment until it is too late. Often, decisions regarding medical treatment are not taken by the patients due to existing social structures, lack of education and financial constraints. Women are also unaware of the self-examination of breasts and can rarely identify the symptoms.
Other than the mammobile touring rural Tamil Nadu, the foundation also conducts comprehensive awareness campaigns in Bengaluru, improving medical education and most importantly, expanding breast screening services. Ganz emphasises the government’s significant role in preventing the incidence of breast cancer.
The mammomobile is a custom-built screening bus, which facilitates the screening of women for common types of cancer, such as breast, cervical and oral cancers, safely and effectively. Named Vanakkam Amma (meaning ‘Welcome Mother’ in Tamil), it is equipped with digital mammography and ultrasound systems and has been effective in screening over 20,000 women in 92 villages across the state. The Cancer Institute in Chennai decides the logistics and Ganz monitors the reports once every three months. In cases where a cervical examination diagnoses malignant cancer cells, they are removed in the screening vehicle under local anesthesia using the LEEP (Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure) technique. Up to 500 mammograms are provided free of cost every month by the Shadi Ganz Foundation.
The venture, entirely funded by family and artworks from well-known artists and friends, is supported by Dr Shanta’s Adyar Cancer Institute, Chennai. “When mammomobile began operating, it gave them the ability to directly offer complete breast and cervical cancer examinations by mammography and ultrasonic scanner, in addition to their awareness programmes,” says Ganz. Other than the mammobile touring rural Tamil Nadu, the foundation also conducts comprehensive awareness campaigns in Bengaluru, improving medical education and most importantly, expanding breast screening services. Ganz emphasizes the government’s significant role in preventing the incidence of breast cancer.
“It is time for the government, nongovernmental organizations and the public to come together and fight breast cancer in rural and urban settings alike,” says Ganz. “The mortality rate is high compared to the western world. Overall, less than 50 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer survive five years after diagnosis.” Outlining future plans of the Foundation, Ganz explains, “We want to expand screening services so that more women can become survivors of breast cancer instead of victims. We are currently trying to raise funds for the second bus for Karnataka.” A word of advice Dr. Ganz has for women is to have a healthy attitude. “Love yourself and live without regrets,” she says.