By: Tahani al-Sabri
In Sana’a, pink balloons in the sky of the capital were launched to celebrate the end of October, globally designated as Breast Cancer Awareness month. The event was part of a month-long program carried out by the “National Foundation for Cancer,” which included awareness campaigns on the importance of early detection by visiting schools and villages near the capital.
Ten thousand balloons were launched from several centers, including the main center of the Foundation as well as seven, schools in different parts of Sana’a. Even members of the national dialogue participated in the balloon launch, doing their part to emphasize the importance of the health of women, who represent more than half of society.
Dr. Malik Ali Saber, Administrator General of the Foundation, said, “this step comes with the opening of the expansion of the Hayat Center to Fight Against Breast Cancer, which provides free services for the early detection of breast cancer. The opening of this center is ment to send an expressive message from the Awareness Foundation.
He continued, “the Foundation cooperated with many global agencies and institutions and has launched a number of initiatives to support campaigns that focus on breast cancer patients in particular. In these efforts, the Foundation participated in several seminars and events that returned profits for the benefit of treated breast cancer patients.
The Foundation’s new initiative this year is called “Balloons of Hope.” It is intended to raise awareness of the importance of early detection of the disease. The launch of thousands of balloons signifies the intention to deliver the message of early awareness to as many people as possible.
Sebbar confirmed that the Foundation has recorded cases of breast cancer in girls as young as 17 and 18, so the Foundation decided to visit secondary girls’ schools to inform them of the risks of breast cancer. “We visited more than 50 girls high schools in Sana’a, in addition to neighboring villages near to Sana’a and Taiz, but we were surprised at the rejection we faced in tribal societies, where women are prevented from early detection because religious authorities believe there is no reason to “reveal what is hidden;” in this case, what is hidden is an often fatal disease.
There are no accurate official statistics for the number of breast cancer cases in Yemen, but the number of tests in the Foundation since 2010-2013—3,000—indicated that roughly 35% of them had cancer.
Dr. Mohammad al-Bokari said: “There are a several cases of breast cancer in which we are able to reach the core of the cells at the center of the tumor. There are also cases where financial circumstances prevent us from continuing treatment.
Mona Ali Khaid was diagnosed with breast cancer at the end of 2006. Hers was a fairly typical tail of discovery. “Pain began in one of my breasts and I thought it was natural and normal. Because of our financial situation, I could not have an examination to find out the reason for this pain that only felt from time to time. After two years of pain had passed, one day I simply couldn’t tolerate it anymore. The pain was squeezing me as I might squeeze an orange. So I went to the doctor, who hid my condition in order not to harm my psychological condition, but the days revealed to me that I had breast cancer.
“I took the prescribed medicine until the doctors amputated the breasts where the cancer cells had been located. Then I thanked God for keeping me from traveling from Taiz to Sana’a, where the dosages of cancer in Sana’a often cost more to treat. Especially since my financial circumstances do not allow me to pay for transportation, the price of the drug and providing for five children as a sole breadwinner takes all of my resources
Ali Khaid added, “It is true that awareness of the seriousness of breast cancer is very important for Yemeni women to grasp, but what is the use of this awareness if the financial situation for some women is such that they can barely provide for their children? There is no doubt that these women will never go to examination centers. I was immensely confident after my tumors were excised, but after two years the pain returned again strongly and I found my children and my family huddled around me. They looked at me tenderly and treated me with a gentleness I had never seen before. Some of them cried. Then I realized that my malignant disease had returned, and my uphill battle from suffering and misery would start again.
“And here I am, going back to treatment and praying that God heal all breast cancer patients. I know that if I had had the examination earlier, I would not have this scourge. But I trust in God and I cannot reject his will.”