October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month around the world. This is a chance to raise awareness of a horrible illness that is the cause of much suffering. It is a chance for communities to stay strong and talk about this silent killer, to help those who suffer most — the patients themselves and their families.
I was both shocked and saddened to realize how little people know about it, how they think it’s a taboo subject and don’t realize breast cancer is one of the leading causes of death for women both in the Kingdom and in the world. It is also the most common form of cancer in Saudi Arabia — in 2018 the incidence of breast cancer among women was 29.7 percent. Another little known fact is that it affects men, too, though in far smaller numbers.
There is a lot that I don’t understand about this form of cancer, but I do know that there are things women can do to improve their chances of catching it early. There is a tendency to ignore symptoms, to ignore that lump until the situation gets worse. Some use the excuse, “oh it’s just hormonal changes,” but that is really not wise. Routine check-ups and keeping an eye out for symptoms are the best ways to catch it in time, and visiting a healthcare provider for mammograms could save your life.
Studies have shown a higher risk of breast cancer for women above the age of 40 but it can occur in those under 40 as well. However, health experts have said that it’s not recommended for the latter age group to get a mammogram unless there’s family history.
Every year, the Ministry of Health holds breast cancer campaigns to help spread the word across the Kingdom. Mobile units are sent to smaller, remote towns to raise awareness about how to spot early signs of the cancer. Unfortunately there is still some resistance from women themselves and the subject continues to be taboo in Saudi Arabia.
We, as women, are sensitive creatures. We can fall apart and easily be broken like glass, and lose sleep for weeks or months if we’re faced with a life-threatening challenge. But, as women, we are also strong and can rise again after a fall.
A few years ago, I suspected I had a lump in my breast. Scary images came to my mind at the time after I noticed weird symptoms. I wasn’t sure if I should talk about it with my family or a friend or a doctor, so I decided to visit not just one but three hospitals. I needed to break the fear cycle, face this nightmare and take steady and straightforward steps until I understood what was going on with my body. Luckily, I received the good news that I was alright.
For this Breast Cancer Awareness Month — and throughout the year — my advice for every Saudi woman is to put her health first and make herself a priority. Once you understand your body better, you can ensure that you’ll be at ease. Never stop caring for yourself, perform manual check-ups, read more and be the change-maker in this world by telling other women to be aware of it too.
• Noor A. Al-Naboud is a writer and insurance expert.