[PHOTO AT LEFT - Wheelpower: A Metro Candon biker pedals his way in the Daet, Camarines Sur leg of Tour of Hope 2009. Photo by Ramon Ty]

MANILA, JULY 21, 2009 (STAR) By Ching M. Alano - All it takes is a hefty dose of will power — and wheel power — to beat the female scourge that is cervical cancer. This more than 50 bikers set out to prove in the Tour of Hope 2009, daring to ride 500 kilometers on their trusty two-wheelers to raise awareness for cervical cancer prevention. With their collective adrenaline running high, the fearless riders sought to conquer the Southern Luzon route. Composed of women and men wearing colorful biking gear with their hearts on their sleeves, the pack pedaled from Muntinlupa City all the way to postcard-pretty Camarines Sur. From sunrise to sunset, rain or shine.

Against the southern provinces’ awesome tourist backdrops, nothing could have dashed the bikers’ hopes of finishing the event as they stayed faithful to the Tour of Hope’s theme “Dare to be Bold.” The theme highlighted the three X’s in the cervical cancer advocacy: eXposing the truth about cervical cancer, eXceeding one’s limit in supporting this worthy cause, and eXclaiming every woman’s right to life (and if we may add, right to ride).

Have wheels will travel? Why not? Traveling on a bike is probably the best way to see the country up close — and rather personal. It certainly beats looking out the window of your stuffy bus or listening to your tour guide’s monotone voice that can put you to sleep. Or if you happen to be in Hong Kong or Toronto, ending up with a Chinese-speaking tour guide. Ni hao!

While some of us can only hope to be able to ride a bike around the neighborhood, biking is very in today. I know of some corporate people who must be quite bored in the boardroom and can’t wait to leave the asphalt jungle and ride their bikes into the sunset far away from the smog-choked city.

And now comes the Tour of Hope (TTOH), a non-profit initiative of a group of like-minded people of different backgrounds to set up bicycle tours to increase awareness and raise funds for health prevention and education projects benefiting resource-limited communities. Tour of Hope 2009 is a joint project of CIF/CECAP (Cancer Institute Foundation/Cervical Cancer Prevention Network), Bravehearts, GlaxoSmithKline Philippines in partnership with Team David’s Salon, the country’s first all-women multi-sports team, dedicated to promoting sports and sharing their passion for health and wellness.

So, how did our daring bikers fare? Well, completing its second Philippine leg, Tour of Hope was able to raise more than half a million pesos through pledges and sponsorships that would be turned over to CIF/CECAP for cervical cancer screening services in low-resource settings. In each stop of the tour, lectures were conducted, with more than 1,000 women learning about cervical cancer and how this killer disease among women can be prevented through healthy living, regular screening, and vaccination. Way to go, guys!

Now, you can participate in the Tour of Hope — vicariously, that is — through Hope for the Flowers featuring stills from Tour of Hope and portraits of courageous cervical cancer survivors. The exhibit is ongoing at the atrium of the Mall of Asia until Tuesday, July 21. Behind Hope for the Flowers exhibit is top-notch photographer Jun de Leon.

A man battling a cancer that afflicts women? I happen to personally know Jun de Leon as a great friend, a loving son, a devoted husband, and a doting father to four daughters. With his eye for beauty, women have always inspired Jun. And now, he takes up the cudgels for cervical cancer. “Why do we have to put the health of the women in our lives at risk and let something like cervical cancer take them away from us?” he asks rhetorically.

Behind Jun de Leon, showing off their images to inspire hope, are photographers Jed Santos, Ramon Ty, and Miguel de Leon.

“This exhibit is, more than anything else, a celebration of women,” Jun exclaims. “Cervical cancer is a disease that afflicts them — but instead of hiding from it, women are facing it head-on with their characteristic grace.”

Take the case of Veron de Guzman, mother of five who’s been fighting her battle against cervical cancer since 1998. She was only 47 then and had to live off selling bananacue after her husband left her for another woman.

Veron, now 58, says she has two other friends battling cancer. One has breast cancer and the other has ovarian cancer. Veron is president of the Cancer Fighters Support Group that helps spread the word about cervical cancer prevention.

“A cancer-fighting vaccine is already available today — women should know this and ask their doctors more about it,” says Dr. Carrie Pacheco-Purugganan, obstetrician-gynecologist and medical affairs manager for GlaxoSmithKline. “For cervical cancer, acquisition is fast among young people and it develops over a period of 10 years. And aside from sex, there are other modes of transmission like contaminated bedsheets, fingernails, etc.”

The good doctor stresses, “I can’t emphasize enough how important it is for Filipinas to take note that this disease is preventable. Tools like screening and vaccination (three shots can last up to seven-and-a-half years and now, GSK has even reduced the price of its vaccine by 60 percent) prove that we’re not helpless against the Big C.”

For these intrepid women and men, the Big C can only mean Celebration — celebrating the art of life.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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