Shanghai cancer survivors

Global Times: More Than Aware Visits Shanghai School

More than 1,000 children dressed in pink T-shirts with green sleeves sit closely to each other at the gym of Concordia International School Shanghai in Pudong New Area, turning the venue into a sea of pink and green as they await their special guests – 90 local women suffering from breast cancer.

Jointly organized by Concordia and More Than Aware (MTA), an expatriate-founded nonprofit organization to help breast cancer sufferers in Shanghai, the Pink-out event on Thursday morning was held to call for greater awareness of breast cancer, which is regarded as a cancer with a high mortality rate among females. According to statistics from World Health Organization, every year more than 500,000 women die of breast cancer.

“In the US, where I come from, October marks Breast Cancer Awareness Month,” said event co-organizer Chris Bishop, Concordia’s Athlete Director. “This year we wanted to bring it to Shanghai, raising children’s awareness of life and health.”

Thrivers, not sufferers

In front of nearly 1,200 Concordia students as well as visiting students from other international schools in Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Korea and Japan, MTA founder Suzanne Calton (pictured below left) introduced how her group helps local breast cancer sufferers.

“My mother passed away from breast cancer in 2011, and that’s why I wanted to help more people here in Shanghai,” said the woman, accessorized in a pink-and-green scarf. “That year I built More Than Aware, and to date it has had 64 members from 14 countries who voluntarily help organize charitable events, such as the annual charity luncheon to raise money for the breast cancer thrivers.”

Calton said that the term “thrivers” is a more proactive word than sufferers or patients. “Many people with cancer just passively wait for their diagnosis and follow the words of their doctors,” she told the Global Times. “For me, that’s very despairing. It makes me feel like I have no control (of my life). I believe that even if we have cancer, we can still do many things to lead a happier, healthier life.”

She mentioned a local “thriver” surnamed Zhou, who passed away last year in her 60s. “Zhou loved to dance, but years ago she had to give up dance to work in a factory to make a living.”

Zhou later got breast cancer. Nonetheless, instead of letting her cancer take over, she became very active in dancing again. “She started to do something for her soul, and her soul became happy,” Calton said. “She inspired me to realize that we can still control our lives regardless of what our health is; we can still make our lives better.”

When Zhou was young, her sister had once made her a skirt out of paper, as their family could not afford a real ballet dress. “At MTA’s annual charity luncheon last year, every attendee wore paper skirts in her honor,” Calton said. “That was a beautiful moment.”

Cherish life

When 90 breast cancer thrivers walk into the gym, they are given a long, standing ovation by the audience. They are members of the Shanghai Cancer Recovery Club, a local nongovernmental mutual-aid organization with 20,000 members suffering from cancers. Accompanied by upbeat music, there was joy and optimism on their faces.

Xu Zhizhen was one of the 90 who attended the event that morning. Having suffered from breast cancer for 30 years, the 70-year-old is now optimistic about her life. “At the cancer recovery club we held many hobby groups, like singing and dancing, to keep our lives varied,” she told the Global Times, adding that earlier this year her dancing group was invited to perform at the Milan Expo 2015 in Italy.

After the event, Amanda Abel, Concordia’s middle school counselor, went up to Xu and gave her a hug. “I had ovarian cancer three years ago, and I was very scared and frightened at first,” she told the Global Times. “Fortunately, I have friends, family and a church that encouraged me to cheer up and go through the hardest time. Now I’ve recovered and I’m very healthy.”

As a cancer thriver herself, Abel spoke highly of the event. “Events like this can teach kids to cherish life and help others.”

“I firstly heard about breast cancer at the age of 5, when one of my mom’s friends got it,” said 12-year-old student Noah Burns. “Today I learned more about the cancer. One day, if possible, I’d like to join in related voluntary works to help patients.”

“Sometimes I feel that I’m not a cancer patient at all,” Xu smiled. “I have a colorful and happy life.”

MTA’s annual charity luncheon will be held on October 30 this year. Visit for more information about the group and its charitable events.

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