By Sagar Vishnoi:
I met Ritu Biyani last month, when she was in the capital as a speaker in the DEF Mobile Summit for being honoured as “Ordinary women doing extraordinary things” in the Red Rickshaw Revolution.
I was moved after meeting her. I saw her inspiring journey through her words. Ritu is a record holder in the Limca Book of Records India and the first women to do a solo drive to the four tips of India. She also started the first mother-daughter duo expedition on cancer awareness across the country. Dr Ritu Biyani Joseph, a breast cancer survivor, launched project High>>>Way in 2006, an amazing and unique drive to link adventure sports with cancer awareness mission across the country; the very first of its kind undertaken in India thus creating history. A dental surgeon by profession, mountaineer, skydiver, a paratrooper and a wonderful person to chat with, here she talks about her mission:
How did this extraordinary journey begin?
It was August 2000 and chemotherapy had led me to go bald. A dental patient came in and asked whether I had taken a tour to Tirupati. When I told her about my breast cancer treatment, she stood up and left the clinic thinking cancer is a communicable disease. People are literate today, but they still have misconceptions. So to spread awareness, I used my passion of travelling for this mission.
What was the reaction of people to your awareness workshops? How much are people aware of breast cancer?
Different reactions came. Initially people asked, “tumhara breast nikal diya gaya kya?” Whether it’s urban or rural,90% women are unaware of breast cancer symptoms and 70-80 % about cervical and oral cancer. People in the tribal areas were very receptive. In the six month journey, I had 140 workshops attended by 26,000 people, covering 30,220 Kms in 177 days including 26 states .
Were men receptive in the same way ?
Cancer doesn’t see anyone. I included graphics and pictures to engage people and when I used to tell men that 1% of men get breast cancer too, they used to listen with more interest .
What are your future plans? Shall we expect to see another pan India awareness campaign ?
Well , now workshops are being conducted in corporate sectors, schools, MBA colleges, hospitals and Army camps. In 2010,we had International awareness workshop and for the time being, I am heading to Uttarakhand for relief camps.
What message would you like to give to the youth?
I want to convey some lines which form the motto of my life :
EXPLORE… one’s own inner strengths and spirits
To UNLOCK and EXPAND …one’s own horizons
STEER through all odds and trying times… on the highways called life
OVERCOME the fear of unknown in one’s roller coaster quest
EXPERIENCE those exhilarating moments of going beyond
To CELEBRATE …the whole existence