Saudi sisters lead lifesaving awareness campaign over killer cancer gene

Reem, Rabab and Rana Hajjar, known as the Saudi Previvors, all underwent a double mastectomy after being found to be carriers of an aggressive cancer-causing gene. (Photo/Supplied)
Updated 01 November 2019

Saudi sisters lead lifesaving awareness campaign over killer cancer gene

RIYADH: Three Saudi sisters who took drastic steps to avoid developing breast cancer are leading a lifesaving awareness campaign to help women throughout the Kingdom.

Reem, Rabab and Rana Hajjar, known as the Saudi Previvors, all underwent a double mastectomy after being found to be carriers of an aggressive cancer-causing gene.

Their mother was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 29, and the sisters agreed to early blood tests which detected a high risk of them also falling victim to the killer disease.

Now, partly through an online help platform, the siblings are leading the way on women’s health issues, driving community efforts to promote awareness and teaching Saudis about the importance of self-examination, breastfeeding, physical activity and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. 

Their Saudi Previvors group aims to educate the public on health and wellbeing by focusing on ways to prevent the onset of breast cancer by taking proactive steps to lower risk factors. 

The BRCA gene blood test, which the sisters took, is done to determine if a patient has changes or mutations in their DNA that increase the risk of breast cancer in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes.

With a high incidence rate of breast cancer in the Kingdom, the Hajjar sisters hope to save lives by sharing their experience and knowledge with other women.

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Through an online help platform, the siblings are leading the way on women’s health issues, driving community efforts to promote awareness and teaching Saudis about the importance of self-examination, breastfeeding, physical activity and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

As well as their mother, other women in their family had also been diagnosed with breast cancer at an early age. When their mother’s cancer returned in 2015, doctors strongly advised the sisters to be tested. They were all found to carry the gene and decided to undergo a double mastectomy to remove breast tissue. It was at this time that they set up their group on Facebook.

“We started a page on Instagram and on Facebook. If you take proactive steps to prevent this from happening, you become a previvor. We are an open book, and many physicians refer patients to us for support,” said the youngest of the sisters, 31-year-old Rana. “We hope our story can influence others to take these steps.”

Awareness events, such as those happening in October for breast cancer, are an important way for individuals and families to learn about issues that affect their health. Simple adjustments to lifestyles can be enough to help limit the risk of developing life-threatening diseases and illnesses.

By taking proactive steps to prevent cancer from occurring, the sisters consider themselves to be “previvors” rather than “survivors” of the disease, hence the name for their group.

“We provide full support — physically, emotionally and mentally, by being positive and sharing our story. We believe that if a woman is brave enough to face this, it’s better than living in fear of the unknown,” said Rabab, 35.

Using the anonymity of the internet has helped many Saudi women to overcome the embarrassment, shame or fear that had previously held them back from asking questions.

Through their group, the sisters are able to help women work through their experience, explain about taking the blood test, and how to physically and emotionally manage results and procedures. 

Reem, 36, the eldest of the three, said: “Love yourself unconditionally, find the strength within you, take the step … our motto in the campaign is ‘your femininity is in your strength.’”


Oman, UAE praise Saudi Arabia for reaching a deal between Yemeni parties

Updated 28 min 14 sec ago

Oman, UAE praise Saudi Arabia for reaching a deal between Yemeni parties

  • Gulf countries praise Saudi Arabia’s role in brokering the Riyadh Agreement.
  • The deal ends a feud between the government and the STC and refocuses efforts on fighting the Houthi militia

RIYADH: Oman welcomed on Tuesday Saudi Arabia’s efforts in bringing together the Yemeni government and southern separatists to sign a power sharing agreement. 
The two parties signed the Saudi-brokered deal in Riyadh last week to end a power struggle in the country’s south. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman hailed the agreement as a step toward a wider political solution to the Yemen conflict.
Oman’s foreign ministry said it “hopes the agreement will pave the way for a comprehensive settlement in Yemen.”
Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Defense Minister, Prince Khalid bin Salman, visited Oman on Monday and met Sultan Qaboos bin Said.
The UAE Cabinet also welcomed on Tuesday the signing of the agreement and expressed confidence that it will establish a “new era of unified and effective work to meet the aspirations of the Yemeni people.”
“The Cabinet affirmed the UAE’s support for all efforts exerted by Saudi Arabia, through its leadership of the Arab Coalition, in order to stabilize Yemen and allow it to regain it role in the region,” the state WAM news agency reported.
The new arrangement calls for an equal number of ministries between the Southern Transitional Council (STC) and the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
The Kuwaiti Cabinet also welcomed the Riyadh Agreement on Monday and thanked Saudi Arabia for its efforts.
Yemen’s government was forced to flee the capital Sanaa when Houthi militants and their allies seized the city in 2014. 
The government and the STC are part of a military coalition against the Iran-backed Houthis, which also includes Saudi Arabia and the UAE.