Dr Jeremie Arash Rafii Tabrizi, Associate Professor of Genetic Medicine, with colleagues outside WCMC-Q before the start of the ultra-run, equivalent of eight-and-a-half marathons.
Doha: A researcher from Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar (WCMC-Q) has completed a 360km ultra-marathon around Qatar to raise awareness about women’s cancer issues.
Dr Jeremie Arash Rafii Tabrizi, Associate Professor of Genetic Medicine, spent four days running through the Qatari desert, covering the equivalent of eight-and-a-half marathons.
Setting off from the WCMC-Q campus in Education City, he headed north on the Al Shamal Road as far as Al Ghuwayriyah, before turning southwest to reach Zekreet on the west coast. He then ran south to within about 30km of the border with Saudi Arabia before heading northeast towards Doha on Salwa Road, arriving at the Corniche four days later to a hero’s welcome from friends and family.
Dr Tabrizi, who specialises in research in ovarian and breast cancer and runs the Stem Cell and Microenvironment Laboratory at WCMC-Q, said: “The main reason I wanted to run is that there is a taboo in the Middle East around cancer.
“People who fear they have the disease can be very reluctant to seek treatment because of the taboo and I think that can change if people know more about cancer.
“There is a widespread belief that if you are diagnosed with cancer then it will definitely be fatal, but this is not correct. Because of this fear, cancer patients in the Middle East often are in advanced stages because they don’t go to the doctor when they first realise something is wrong.
“I want people to understand that in many cases cancer can be treated. For example, breast cancer can very often be cured with an operation and radiotherapy if action is taken at the appropriate time.
“My message is that if you think there is something wrong, don’t be afraid to go to your doctor straight away to get it checked. I think this is particularly important for women because in the Middle East they play such a key role in society as the centre of the household and the well-being of the family is often very dependent on the health of the mother.”
Dr Tabrizi ran alone, with his wife driving a support vehicle carrying food, equipment and supplies. He organised the run independently and named it the Qatar Ultra Running Event.
In 2012, Dr Tabrizi completed a 119km Ultra-Trail Mont du Blanc race that follows a mountainous route through France, Italy and Switzerland, but he said the run around Qatar was a very different experience.
“Running in the desert is all about mental challenge. It appears to be easier because you don’t have to worry about running up and down hills but I found it just as challenging. The landscape is very featureless so you feel you are not making progress and then you are in a mental battle to keep going.”
He endurance required for the long-distance run made it an appropriate challenge to raise awareness of cancer issues.
“The difficult, long fight of patients against the disease, with ups and downs along the way, is similar to emotions you feel as you are running for a long period of time. There are parallels between the run and the long path of research we have to follow as we try to find new treatments for cancer and move to a knowledge-based society.”
Dr Tabrizi, also a gynaecologic oncologist at Hamad Medical Corporation, started running between 3am and 4am each day when the temperature in the desert was about 5 degrees C, rising to 24-25 in the middle of the day.
“The heat was not too bad but I was still drinking about one litre of water every hour during the hottest part of the day. The wind was very violent and that was more difficult to deal with than the sun.” He stopped to set up camp between 6pm and 8pm daily. Along the way he rescued a stray saluki dog and now is at home while he searches for someone to adopt it.
“It was a tough experience but I hope it will have a positive effect in terms of raising awareness of women’s cancer issues and our research. The support for research in Qatar has been very strong and we are carrying out some very valuable studies at WCMC-Q. I hope we will be able to continue on this track.”
Dr Khaled Machaca, Associate Dean for Research, WCMC-Q, said: “As always, he has proven his sceptics wrong as he has completed the ultra-run and his research has flourished. His lab has completed exciting research in the areas of cancer and stem cells and has been extremely productive, with many publications. He has cared for many patients with gynaecologic cancers. This required a sheer determination to succeed. Arash represents the vision and determination of the research programme at WCMC-Q.”