Algeria breast cancer survivors shunned as ‘half-women’

This file photo shows Linda, an Algerian mother-of-three who was abandoned by her husband after being diagnosed with breast cancer, sitting in Algiers on Nov. 15, 2017. (AFP)
Updated 02 January 2018
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Algeria breast cancer survivors shunned as ‘half-women’

ALGIERS: As if losing a breast to cancer was not traumatic enough, Algerian mother-of-three Linda was then spurned by her husband for being “mutilated” and a “half-woman.”
“Cancer? It’s nothing compared with being rejected after 18 years of marriage,” the 50-year-old medical assistant said, still clearly upset years later.
Linda is one of hundreds of Algerian women to have been abandoned by their husbands or fiances after being diagnosed with breast cancer, a charity says.
Thousands of women are found to suffer from the disease every year in Algeria, leaving many with no option but to surgically remove a part of their body deeply associated with their feminity.
Hayat says her fiance dumped her after she told him she had an emergency operation to remove a breast.
“He told me: ‘I want a whole woman, not three-quarters of one’,” the 30-year-old student said, bursting into tears.
Samia Gasmi, the head of a cancer charity, says many women are dropped by their husbands just after they are diagnosed, leaving them alone to face drastic treatment — and sometimes even without a roof over their heads.
“Some sink into depression,” said the head of Nur Doha, which means “Light of Day” in Arabic.
“Others end up in shelters because they have nowhere else to go once their husbands abandon them.”
In a country where breast cancer is viewed as a private matter, patients are often reluctant to speak up — even sometimes hiding it from their own family.
“These women view their illness as shameful,” Gasmi said.
One woman refused to tell her own sister, she said, while another started wearing the Islamic scarf before chemotherapy so her husband’s family would have no idea when her hair started falling out.
One patient “chose to die with her two breasts rather than accept any removal.”
All women interviewed by AFP refused to appear in front of a camera and refused to give their second names.
Sociologist Yamina Rahou says this feeling of shame comes from the “pain of having a body part that symbolizes feminity amputated.”
Patients who have had a breast removed feel they no longer fulfil the role society demands of a woman, the researcher at the Social and Cultural Anthropology Research Center in Oran said.
Theologian Kamel Chekkat, of the Algerian Clerics Association, insisted men rejecting their wives after they have a breast removed is un-Islamic.
“It has nothing to do with religion, it’s education,” he said.
Islam “urges spouses to support each other,” he said, and an honorable man should look after his wife.
But not all men follow the code of conduct.
Saida, a doctor who is now 55, says she met her husband at university.
We “married for love. He even took part in protests for women’s rights,” she said.
But when she had a breast removed to fight cancer, he sought a divorce and custody of their son even before she had been released from hospital.
To add insult to injury, she said, he cleaned out her bank account.
“I hit rock bottom,” Saida said. “I didn’t have the energy to fight everything” at once.
Between 9,000 and 10,000 cases of breast cancer are diagnosed a year in Algeria, according to Farid Cherbal, a professor and expert in cancer genetics at the University of Algiers.
That is five times more than 20 years ago, which experts say is due to better means of detection, as well as lifestyle changes such as less physical activity, unhealthy diets and smoking.
Around 3,500 Algerian women die of the disease a year, Cherbal says.
Leila Houti, an epidemiologist and lecturer at the University of Oran’s medicine faculty, said breast cancer was often diagnosed too late.
Among the survivors who have become single, some despair of ever finding a life partner again.
“Who will want a woman like me?” asked Safia, a 32-year-old who has lost 10 kilogrammes (1.5 stone) in a year due to chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
But life is beginning to improve for others.
Saida, the doctor, won custody of her son.
Five years after her operation, Hayat, the student, is healing after therapy, breast reconstruction abroad and the support of friends and family.
And Linda, shunned by her husband for being a “half-woman,” is in remission and doing well with her children’s support.
With hindsight, she said, cancer actually freed her of a man who beat her and stole her salary.


Prince Harry and Meghan arrive in hot Fiji for 3-day visit

Updated 23 October 2018
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Prince Harry and Meghan arrive in hot Fiji for 3-day visit

  • The couple was scheduled to attend a reception and state dinner with Fijian President Jioji Konrote
  • They will finish their tour with a four-day visit to New Zealand

SUVA, Fiji: The Duke and Duchess of Sussex were greeted by hundreds of flag-waving well-wishers on Tuesday after arriving in Fiji for a three-day visit as part of their tour of the South Pacific.
School children in uniform and people of all ages lined the streets and waved both British Union Jack and Fijian flags as Prince Harry and Meghan’s motorcade drove past.
The couple arrived from Australia, where Meghan, who is four months pregnant, had her schedule reduced in recent days after a hectic start to their 16-day trip across four countries. Meghan has not announced any plans to reduce her schedule in Fiji.
After stepping off the plane, Meghan needed to hold her cream-colored hat to prevent it from being blown away as Harry inspected a guard of honor. There was a light drizzle and an official held an umbrella above Meghan’s head.
The couple was scheduled to attend an official welcome ceremony at Suva’s Albert Park that will mirror one attended by Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh in 1953. It was to involve traditional elements of Fijian culture, including dances and a kava ceremony. Members of the public are invited and 15,000 are expected to attend.
The couple was scheduled to attend a reception and state dinner Tuesday evening hosted by Fijian President Jioji Konrote.
Home to just over 900,000 people, Fiji is a former British colony that became independent in 1970 and later became a republic. Fiji remains a part of the Commonwealth group of countries and is a popular destination for tourists thanks to its warm climate and beaches.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that pregnant women not travel to a number of countries including Fiji and Tonga because of the presence of the mosquito-borne Zika virus, which can cause severe birth defects.
There is no vaccine for Zika, and the CDC says the best way to avoid infection for those who must travel is to take extra precautions to prevent mosquito bites.
The couple is scheduled to visit Tonga on Thursday before returning to Sydney on Friday night for the final days of the Invictus Games, Harry’s brainchild and the focus of their tour. The couple will then finish their tour with a four-day visit to New Zealand.