Dubai church launches Dh4m drive to support low-income cancer patients

St Mary’s Church is organising a fundraising walk to boost the fight against cancer

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Dubai's oldest church has launched a campaign to raise funds for the treatment of 53 underprivileged cancer patients.

St Mary’s Catholic Church is urging people to step out for a community walk, Mercithon 23, at Dubai Creek Park on Sunday, as part of a push to raise awareness about the financial assistance required by low-wage earners suffering from life-threatening medical conditions.

The aim is to raise Dh4 million ($1.08 million) from corporations and the public and for hospitals to come forward to waive or cut treatment costs for the patients, who range in age from 22 to 80 years.

If we can’t get [financial] support, I have decided not to go in for more treatment because my parents have already spent too much
Allen Rafiya, battling a rare cancer type

About 1,000 pupils of St Mary’s Catholic School lined up on Wednesday, with hands joined in prayer, to stand in formation to recreate the famous cancer ribbon symbol in the church grounds.

The school children also formed the number 51 to reflect the years since the country’s first National Day when the seven emirates united.

The aim was to thank government organisations that regularly support underprivileged patients.

Public fundraising is strictly controlled and requires permission from the authorities. Dubai Health Authority and the Community Development Authority are partners for the event.

Community comes together

“We stand together for a great cause to help cancer warriors who have such a strong will to live,” said Fr Lennie Connully, parish priest of St Mary’s Church.

“The patients we hope to support are from the Philippines, India, Sri Lanka, Lebanon, Pakistan and Nigeria.

“We want to show solidarity with needy cancer patients who have courage and determination to fight this.”

Organisers hope 15,000 people will be part of the charity walk this weekend.

Evan Rose, a sales executive from the Philippines, was overwhelmed that people were joining together to help residents with limited means.

The 42-year-old has stage three breast cancer, cannot afford chemotherapy and has been spending Dh2,000 every month for the past year on medication to handle infection and bleeding caused by the growing tumour.

“I don’t want to die, I really want to be remove this thing,” said Ms Rose, who was among the patients at the awareness drive.

“I’m in so much pain, but I don’t want to cry and lie on the bed.

Children from St Mary's School in Dubai  showed their support for the fight against cancer. Antonie Robertson / The National

“I want to be an inspiration as a person who fought cancer.

“Cancer is curable and I’m hopeful I can start treatment soon.”

Many patients on the church’s list work as nannies, housemaids, cleaners and maintenance staff.

Allen Rafiya has been battling soft tissue sarcoma, a rare type of cancer that begins in the fibrous tissues, muscle and fat that surrounds the bones and organs.

The 22-year-old has completed three cycles of chemotherapy after surgery to remove a malignant lump on her spine three years ago.

The Indian student found out last year that the cancer has spread to her lungs and she requires more chemotherapy and radiation cycles.

Financial barriers to treatment

“My mother sold her jewellery and my father has taken loans for my treatment,” said Ms Rafiya, who lives with her parents in Dubai and finished a bachelor’s degree in science while undergoing chemotherapy.

Her mother works as a nurse and her father as an anaesthetist in hospitals in Dubai that have been supportive of her care. But the medical bills are mounting.

“We have had a lot of help from hospitals, but my back pain has returned. I need more treatment.

“I do hope I will be cured. But if we can’t get [financial] support, I have decided not to go in for more treatment because my parents have already spent too much.”

It is such cases the church aims to highlight so patients with limited means have a chance.

Fakhria Lutfi, a member of Dubai's Brest Friends support group, said community backing was essential.

“Raising money for a good cause is very important,” said Ms Lutfi, a cancer survivor.

“For me, I celebrate each year. When we see a person who has survived three years or 30 years, you feel there is hope.

“It is hard when you are in pain, but people recover and that is the message we need to send out.”

The church invited representatives from other faiths, including the Hindu temple.

“We would like to work together with such initiatives that are in line with outreach activities we have planned at the temple and collaborate towards tackling challenges faced by the community,” said N Mohan, general manager of the Hindu temple in Dubai.

The charity walk Mercithon will take place between 8am and 4pm at Dubai Creek Park on Sunday. Further details are available on St Mary's Catholic Church's website.

Updated: February 16, 2023, 10:30 AM