‘Ladies, get that mammogram today!’

By Tariq Al-Maeena |

Carol Fleming, a former American diplomat has been brave enough to share her personal trials with me upon the discovery of a lump in her breast. This lady is an active proponent of empowerment and educational awareness for women, and is employed at King Saud ibn Abdulaziz University for Health Sciences. She also serves as a consultant and hosts special programs for Saudi Television Channel 2.

Living in Riyadh with her Saudi husband, she hopes that through her own discovery, she may be able to help others by sharing her journey in combating this often fatal disease. She writes:

“Breast cancer remains the leading killer of women in the Kingdom and throughout the GCC. This tragic news is further distressing by the fact that many of these deaths could possibly have been avoided if proactive measures had only been taken. To begin with once a young woman starts menstruating, she should perform a self-exam of her breasts each month for early detection.

Trust me, a woman will know if she feels something that does not belong or does not feel right inside her breast. However, many breast cancer cells cannot be detected through self-exam and here is where it is vital for a woman to have an annual mammogram. The mammogram is basically an X-ray of the woman’s breast and allows the doctor to determine if there are any mass, lumps or suspicious areas of cells in the breast tissue that could be indicative of cancer.

The good news is that breast cancer has one of the highest success rates for a full recovery. However, this is also contingent on early detection and action.

“I’d like to share my own personal experience as further reinforcing the need for the mammogram. I recently found a lump in my breast. As I mentioned, I did not know necessarily what I had been looking for when doing a monthly exam until I felt this lump and knew that it was something different. It was as if I felt a hard marble in my breast.

“My discovery was followed up by a mammogram. Ironically in my case, the lump proved to be benign but with the mammogram it was discovered I had other clumps of cells in my breast that turned out to be cancerous. As a result, I am now undergoing surgery to remove the cancer and may require some additional follow-on treatment. At the same time, the prognosis for my full recovery is very good.

“Breast cancer should not be a disease that one views as shameful or something not to talk about. Women should not be afraid or shy to examine themselves as well as be proactive with the annual mammogram. Instead, the woman is taking care of herself so that she remains healthy and able to continue to be a better wife and mother to her children.

“So in closing, if you are a woman and have not had a mammogram, make that appointment now! If you believe you have a lump or mass in your breast that does not feel right to you, do not hesitate in seeing a doctor. Your doctor will also answer your questions as well as demonstrate and instruct you on how to do a self-check if you are not sure how to perform one. And lastly, spread this message on to other women.”

— Carol Fleming (Al-Ajroush)

According to the National Registry for Cancer, breast cancer tops the list of various types of cancers that Saudi women suffer from, accounting for 19 percent of the total, as compared to 9 percent worldwide.

One major factor is the hesitation and apprehension of Saudi women about coming forward to undergo testing at an early stage and those who have been afflicted with this disease are being diagnosed with the illness well into its advanced stages.

There are grass-roots organizations that have been working to raise awareness levels. In May of this year, a campaign to raise breast cancer awareness among women entitled “Two Minutes of Your Time Saved My Life,” and organized by the Saudi Society for Obstetrics and Gynecology urged women to undergo an annual breast check.

Earlier in March, a workshop on breast cancer awareness run by Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation was held at Dohat Al-Jazeera School. A group of 15 women — including representatives from the health sector, social activists and breast cancer survivors — took part in five modules covering community profiles, development of volunteers and organizations, awareness and education, and fund-raising and advocacy.

But the target audiences still remain small and a minority in this vast country. Short of making it a mandatory annual ritual, the government can step in with a publicity campaign across the length and breadth of this country to raise awareness and provide free testing in all urban and rural areas.

The Ministry of Education should make breast cancer awareness a mandatory subject for their female high school curriculum.

And for all the men reading this column, it would be in your best interest to persuade your womenfolk to be examined soon. You could be saving the life of a loved one.


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Family historian of Broussard, Gregory, Sledge and Williams family tree

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