ABU DHABI // Even though she is only 11, breast cancer is a very important issue for Jana Jadayel.
The Lebanese girl was greatly affected when her best friend’s mother was diagnosed at the age of 42.
“She had to do chemotherapy for eight months, the first time in the US,” said Jana, who lives in Abu Dhabi. “Then it came back two years later.”
The woman is still undergoing chemotherapy.
Jana and her friends were among the hundreds of residents who took part on Friday in the Pink Walk for Early Detection, an initiative by Abu Dhabi Media, publishers of The National, at Zayed Sports City.
Most of those who spoke had personal links to someone struck by the disease, which is the second-biggest killer of women.
“It’s become more common now and I’m doing this to show support to her and all women out there,” said Jana. “I want to become an oncologist when I’m older.
“So many people are dying because of this disease and they’re all still very young.”
Jana’s mother, Rasha Kabbara, who works for Health Authority Abu Dhabi, said women and men were still afraid of having check-ups for breast cancer.
“The awareness is getting better but still people are afraid, and I know many who don’t want to check,” Mrs Kabbara said.
“They just want to live their lives. It’s sad. Some of them are very young and they’re dying.”
Palestinian Marlene Hamam was diagnosed three times with the disease. The first time she was in her early 30s.
“It’s important to stay hopeful and to enjoy your life,” Ms Hamam said. “My family was very supportive and I kept fighting. It’s important to keep your chin up and to keep fighting, no matter what happens.”
Salma Inas, from Iraq, came to honour the memory of her aunt, whom she lost two years ago to breast cancer.
“It was diagnosed after it was too late already,” Ms Inas said. “She did chemotherapy for a year and it was a real shock to me when I found out. She was only 42.”
Since then, Ms Inas and her mother have regular check-ups.
“It wasn’t hereditary but you never know,” she said. “You don’t have to be over 40 or in your 30s. I’ve heard of 25-year-olds that have been diagnosed, and even men.”
Her children’s nanny lost her mother and aunt to breast cancer.
“It’s important for us, especially for families who have experienced this, to take part to raise awareness and make sure all of us women do monthly self check-ups and yearly checks, because it really saves lives,” said Ms Inas.
“I believe it’s God’s will but something could have been done if we discovered it earlier. This is a message to the whole world to make sure everyone takes it seriously. It’s very important for patients to have hope to continue living among us and to love their life.”
Mohammed Al Saadi, an Iraqi-French resident of the capital, went to the walk with his wife and two daughters in memory of his aunt, whom he lost this year to colon cancer.
“This subject is very close to my heart because someone from my family died from it,” Mr Al Saadi said. “She was suffering for four years and she was only 66 when she died.”
He said many women only thought about the disease when it affected them.
“It’s necessary to raise awareness about this disease yet many women don’t think about it or only when it’s too late,” Mr Al Saadi said. “It’s a concrete problem for me now because it really hit me hard. She was still young.”
Indian Sadiq Mohammad went with his wife to show support for his friends.
“One of my friend’s mother-in-law died last year and my mother-in-law had breast cancer but she had one breast removed,” Mr Mohammad said.
“It’s a chance for us to be proactive. Cancer is becoming more common nowadays and we only read about it in the news. My wife did her first check-up a few months ago.”
From young to old, residents came from the four corners of Abu Dhabi to highlight the importance of the disease.
“Not many people in the UAE know about breast cancer,” said Habiba Ismail, from India. “It’s really vital to raise awareness. My 18-year-old daughter is studying medicine and we both get regular check-ups.”
Gunashree Kanaan, 14, said women should be more aware of their bodies and their health.
“If something happens to them, they should know,” she said. “They should avoid it at all costs and the only way to do so is by getting regular check-ups.”
Participants were able to enjoy different activities before the walk, including face painting, hair braiding, massages, manicures and entertainment from the Dubai Drums.
Healthy snacks and drinks were also provided.