Breast cancer survivors in Saudi Arabia speak out

With October being the Breast Cancer Awareness Month, many survivors have shared stories of their successful battle against the disease

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With October being the Breast Cancer Awareness Month, many survivors in the Saudi Arabia have broken their silence and are sharing stories of their successful battle against the disease.

Saudi Gazette spoke with several women who said that the main reason behind their recovery from breast cancer was hope.

One survivor, Jihan Ashmawi, is a member of the Zahra Association and holds a master’s in hospital administration. In 2007 she discovered, by coincidence, a strange lump in her breast. For more than a week she worried about where she should go and what she should do, especially considering that during that time, awareness of breast cancer was very low.

“I was afraid and I was not sure if it was breast cancer or not, because it appeared and disappeared,” Ashmawi said. “After a week I visited the radiology center and did the mammogram then the specialist asked me to do an ultrasound.”

After surgery, doctors started Ashmawi on two courses of chemotherapy.

“The first course was four sessions every three weeks, then 12 sessions every week which continued for three or four months,” she said.

After 25 sessions of radiation therapy, post surgery, Ashmawi started a course of biology medication from Germany, but could not continue as it affected her heart negatively.

After only 16 sessions out of 53 she had to stop, but she has now been taking heart medication and her condition is improving.

Ashmawi said breast cancer was a turning point in her life. It brought her closer to God, she changed priorities, and because of her hope, she considered her sickness a starting point for a new life.

One of her friends supported and encouraged her during her sickness to apply for her master’s, and after being accepted she wrote her thesis on breast cancer.

On the last day of her chemotherapy, Ashmawi gave her phone number to the nurse and told her to give the number to any new breast cancer patient who needed support or advice.

Eman Alnajar is a breast cancer survivor from Egypt who has been living in the Kingdom for the last 20 years.

On top of her son’s death in an accident, she discovered in 2013 that she had breast cancer.

“I was taking a shower, when I found a strange lump in my breast,” she said. “I was surprised because as a former TV reporter, I used to do reports about breast cancer and used to visit Abdullatif Cancer Screening Center. I visited the doctor in the center and had a mammogram, and then went to Dallah Hospital where I was told that I had breast cancer.”

Alnajar’s advice for any cancer patient is not to read about it online.

“The worst thing is to read from the Internet because the articles are demoralizing at best,” she said. “The information on the Internet makes you negative and it is not close to reality, since all the patient needs is strong volition.”

Alnajar’s tumor was very active and grew rapidly until it had become quite large, and so her doctor was forced to remove her breast.

She said that keeping hope and living an active life are some of the reasons why she has recovered from her breast cancer.

After her first chemotherapy session, Alnajar said she knew she would survive, and that she talked positively to herself and had support from her doctor and family.

“I start to say to myself that I would not live with the illness, but the illness would live with me,” she said. “Because I love this life and I am active and I have a wonderful life, I will not give away all this to the sickness.”

She said thanks God she did not lose her hands or legs, and that she lost only a breast that can be replaced with alternatives.

Jawaher, who is 30 years old, is another Saudi breast cancer survivor working as a specialist at a hospital. She was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was just 27 years old.

“I was praying at night when my hand accidentally touched my breast and I felt a hard lump,” she said. “After finishing my prayer, I tried to discover what was this strange lump. In the morning I went to the hospital and after 48 hours the result was that I had breast cancer.”

Jawaher was diagnosed with three separate tumors in her breast, one of them 4 centimeters in size.

She first had eight sessions of chemotherapy before doctors removed her entire breast as well as the lymph glands in her armpit.

Jawaher, who also suffered from heart disease since she was a child, said her mother discovered her illness during the medication process and supported her a lot.

She did not want to inform her mother about her disease because Jawaher’s father before dying was a cancer patient for around 20 years.

Currently Jawaher is in a good health and does her check-ups every four months.

“I used not to meet or gather with my friends because they will know that I am sick and unfortunately, our society is not like the West, Jawaher said. “Our society perceives cancer as something wrong or horrible. They will always say that this person is unlucky and I did not want to hear any negative words that may affect my psychological condition.”

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