I meet a lot of great people in this line of work.
But about a month ago I received the quite unexpected news that I would be meeting a princess. And to confess fully, I became a little unglued. The little girl in me twirled on her heels and gazed at the sky. I may have broken out into song.
But this was a serious event, speaking about my experiences with cervical cancer at Canada Place, during a four-day global conference called Women Deliver. I was invited by the World Health Organization, and Dr. Gina Ogilvie from the B.C. Women’s Health Foundation, a cervical cancer research doctor who, by coincidence, received $10 million toward her eradication efforts this week.
The panel took place Tuesday night and my head is spinning from the experience still today. This was an informed discussion on HPV vaccines, new self-testing methods, and the global effort to make cervical cancer history.
And, as I mentioned, a real live princess was there. But why, I wondered.
Reading the biography of Princess Dina Mired of Jordan, I was quickly reminded that being a member of a royal family is not all about fancy teas and dog shows. It’s hard work. On Tuesday night in Vancouver, I wondered if she would ever have time for such frivolous events at all.
Princess Mired lounged in a chair, her armed draped over another one as she casually chatted with women she’s met many times before. Advocates, NGO officials, doctors, other panelists. Once on stage, she spoke eloquently and authoritatively about the advances she’s made in Jordan toward better cancer care. Her resume is impressive, and the results of her work speak for themselves.
I sat in the audience awaiting my turn on stage, in awe of this powerful woman using her personal agency to drive change in a meaningful way. I suddenly felt very small and insignificant, just one very lucky woman with a story to tell. One woman who hadn’t done nearly as much as these mavens of medical advancement.
At one point in the evening, a poised and regal woman rose smoothly from her seat and spoke passionately of her experiences with women facing cervical cancer in developing countries. She spoke of women who would die for lack of access to health care. I learned that while cervical cancer is growing in survivorship in countries like Canada and Australia, this is not the case in places like Malawi and Nigeria.
Nine out of 10 women diagnosed with cervical cancer die, just because they weren’t lucky enough to be born in the right place. These women are sent overseas if they can afford it, or to a church to pray for healing in their dying days. These women’s lives matter just as much as mine does. But while my free health care is half an hour away, their hope for a future is just out of reach.
I learned from Princess Mired that some of these countries have the equipment, gathering dust without the plans in place to treat women, or the female doctors that would erase at least some of the cultural roadblocks to sexual and reproductive health care.
Later in the evening, I received a warm hug and welcome from that passionate woman from the audience. She handed me her card: Her Excellency Toyin Ojora Saraki.
She is a health-care philanthropist from Nigeria, who studied at King’s College and the University of London. She is the founder of the Wellbeing Foundation Africa and involved in some of the biggest foundations for health around the globe.
And again, a member of a royal family. In fact, two royal families.
Both Princess Mired and Mrs. Saraki use their position and personal agency to make the world a better place. They are both using their ‘power to change.’
Of course, every woman that I met on Tuesday was full of enthusiasm and passion, as advocates tend to be. But what I noticed was that even though the royals in the room stood out, they were not any different from us in that moment. They were there to help. They were giving their time. Their energy. Their compassion.
So, I thought to myself, what does it mean to be a princess? A royal?
That’s something I’ll never know. But at least now I know what it’s like to meet one.