Rapper Taboo: From Black Eyed Peas star to cancer survivor

Jaime Luis Gomez, aka Taboo of the Black Eyed Peas, and a cancer survivor, went through an agonizing series of chemotherapy treatments of 12 weeks of six-hour daily sessions. (AFP)
Updated 15 November 2017

Rapper Taboo: From Black Eyed Peas star to cancer survivor

MEXICO CITY: Jimmy Gomez, better known as the rapper Taboo from The Black Eyed Peas, had money, fame and a multi-platinum career when a strange back pain brought his world crashing down.
The six-time Grammy winner went to the doctor and got a gut-wrenching diagnosis: he had testicular cancer.
He had more than 100 million record sales to his name and a string of worldwide dance hits like “I Gotta Feeling” and “Where Is the Love?,” but it meant nothing in the face of cancer’s cruel reality, he said in an interview.
At first, he was only able to piece the details together slowly.
“They didn’t tell me what type of cancer I had. They didn’t tell me what stage I was in. They just told me, Mr. Gomez, you have cancer,” said Taboo, 42.
“My life flashed before my eyes. I thought about my kids, I thought about my wife. Nothing prepares you for the shock of someone telling you you have that horrible disease.”
That was in 2014. It was only last year that Taboo went public about his struggle with cancer — now in remission after a grueling series of chemotherapy treatments.
Today, the Los Angeles native is an ambassador for the American Cancer Society and a vocal ally and fundraiser for cancer survivors everywhere.
He spoke to AFP ahead of the World Cancer Leaders’ Summit in Mexico City, which gathered high-level policy makers Tuesday for an annual exchange on fighting the world’s second-leading cause of death.
It was not an easy journey to get there.
First Taboo went through an agonizing series of chemotherapy treatments: 12 weeks of six-hour daily sessions that he describes as “war, torture and a nightmare” rolled into one.
“That was the feeling,” he said.
“I’ve never been to war, but internally, when they’re destroying your insides to kill everything that’s good to kill that one thing that’s bad, which is the tumor, it scarred me psychologically, emotionally, inside and outside.”
The idea that dealing with cancer is a “battle” has come in for criticism lately from some who resent the violence of the analogy and the implication that those suffering from the disease just need to “fight harder.”
But Taboo is an unapologetic anti-cancer warrior.
He is intensely defiant when he talks about the disease.
“I’m living, dude. I’m alive. See this face? I can actually smile and say, Look, I beat the f--- out of cancer,” he said, mouthing the end of the expletive.
He spoke to AFP decked out in black, his bald head crowned by a wide-brimmed “zoot suit” hat evocative of his Mexican roots, and sporting turquoise-and-silver jewelry in a nod to his Native American heritage on his mother’s side.
He cited his maternal grandmother as his biggest influence.
“She’s a Shoshone Native American woman who had a warrior instinct. And my warrior instinct kicked in” after he was diagnosed, he said.
But you need both love and fight to deal with cancer, he added.
At the American Cancer Society, he wants to be an “ambassador of love,” he said, breaking into the chorus of one of his biggest hits: “Where Is the Love?“
Last year, as a fundraiser for the Cancer Society, he recorded a song called “The Fight.”
His message today to others is that they can defeat cancer, too.
“I beat it down. And now I’m going to use this gift of life to give people hope and to say, Look, I went down that path too, I was there lying on that bed, you’re not alone. I am one of you and you are one of me. Let’s get charged up for life.”
Maybe the title of his next hit song.

Egyptian start-up Shamseya empowers people with medical information

Updated 13 December 2019

Egyptian start-up Shamseya empowers people with medical information

  • Online portal helps citizens find health services and hospitals suited to their needs
  • Aim is to develop new service to allow patients to locate exact services by phone

DUBAI: Cairo-born entrepreneur Ayman Sabae had long wanted to tackle the inadequacies of the Egyptian health care system. But it took the historic events of the Arab Spring to spark his eureka moment.

“It was a very vivid time in my life. For over two weeks, the protesters were put in a position where they had to function as a community to meet their daily needs,” Sabae said of the 2011 Egyptian uprising.

“I saw first-hand how people had to tackle everything from scratch without government help; they came together and created makeshift health clinics to address their own needs.

“It showed me that people are capable of self-organizing based on what people want — not simply because faceless executives decide what is best for them.”

Soon after the Egyptian revolution began, Sabae launched Shamseya, a health startup that puts people at its core.

“I founded my startup with the intention of creating tools that give power to the people,” he said. “Shamseya seeks the creation of a dynamic, community-based health care system.”

Egyptian entrepreneur Ayman Sabae. (Supplied)

According to Sabae, most Egyptians are eligible for social health insurance but much of the population misses out on quality health care due to national inaccessibility of information.

“A lot of people don’t get access to what’s best for them because they don’t know what’s available, they get lost in bureaucracy, or they are worried about the poor quality of services,” he said.

Shamseya, which runs on both grants and private consulting fees, has launched an online portal to help Egyptian patients find the health services and hospitals that are suited to their needs.

The Eghospitals platform is populated with data inputted by NGO or community members who conduct “mystery patient” tests at hospitals.

The results are collated into a comprehensive nationwide portal, which ranks and rates hospitals based on their specialities.

“The idea behind Eghospitals is to hold hospitals accountable with ad-hoc inspections,” said Sabae.

Each hospital receives an online rating, as well as physical signs that can be placed at the hospital premises as badges of trust.

The organization is also working on adding niche ratings, such as youth, women and disability-friendly facilities.

“Historically, there has hardly been any accurate or credible information in Egypt that enables people to make informed decisions about their treatment,” Sabae said.

“In Egypt, people tend to use word-of-mouth for health recommendations but this only reflects subjective experiences; it’s not sufficient for specific treatments. This is why we designed a patient-centric tool for the quality of hospitals.”

Shamseya, which describes itself broadly as a health solutions company, has also developed a platform that allows patient grievances to be flowed through the correct channels.

The platform, Melior, delivers valuable information about complaints to stakeholders across the health care system.

According to Sabae, the organization also has plans in the offing to develop a personalized citizen’s support program that guides people on how best to benefit from the Egyptian health care system.

Dubbed “El Naseh,” the initiative is designed to allow Egyptians to pick the phone and locate the exact services they need.

“The aim is to avoid lots of parallel systems and to maximize the efficiency of the national health care system. It’s about maximizing what we already have in the country,” Sabae said.

“Ultimately, the entrepreneur believes that the sustainability of any meaningful health care reform relies on ensuring full community engagement in the design, implementation and monitoring of the programs.”

Looking to the future, Sabae said: “Ideally speaking, I would hope for the full implementation of a universal health care system that would provide quality health care for all, regardless of their income, gender, geography, or social background.

“The only way this is possible is with a system that listens to the people, gives them choices and allows for feedback. A futuristic health system needs to be patient-centric — this is the only way to build a sustainable health care system.”


• This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.