x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Dubai breast cancer survivor urges women to self-examine and get checked

“Nobody knows what tomorrow will bring, that’s life, these things happen," says breast cancer survivor who knows the importance of early detection.

Barbara Harold, 61, has always been very focused on fitness and is even more dedicated now that she has survived breast cancer. Razan Alzayani / The National
Barbara Harold, 61, has always been very focused on fitness and is even more dedicated now that she has survived breast cancer. Razan Alzayani / The National

When Barbara Harold felt a small, pea-sized lump under the skin of her breast, she immediately knew something was wrong.

The 61-year-old now wants to warn other women how important it is to check suspicious changes after her own discovery led to a cancer diagnosis.

“I always used to do a self-examination. I hadn’t done one for a little while and I thought it’s time I did that,” she said. “Straight away I discovered this lump. I knew immediately that this was something I had to deal with.”

Dr Harold, a professor of education, went to see her GP the next day and was urgently referred to hospital, where a biopsy was performed.

“In my heart of hearts, I thought, ‘this isn’t good’,” said the Dubai resident, an expatriate from New Zealand.

Her gut feeling proved to be right and just days later, in February last year, she received the news she had breast cancer.

A series of tests were carried out before the grandmother of one had a lumpectomy.

After the surgery, she was told the disease had spread into one lymph gland.

Six sessions of chemotherapy followed, from April to July, and then radiotherapy.

“I have completed the bulk of the treatment. I’m now just on hormone-reduction tablets, which I have to take every day for five years,” she said. “At the moment, I’m clear, but I’m having regular check-ups.”

Dr Harold, who has been in the UAE since 2001, is urging other women in the target age group to be screened on a regular basis.

She waited until her late fifties before undergoing screening for the first time.

“There was no incidence in our family and I never gave it much thought, which was a bit foolish in hindsight,” she said.

“I was about 58 but everything was clear then and I think it kind of lulls you into a false feeling of security.”

Dr Harold, the director of graduate studies for the College of Education at Zayed University, has not let her fitness fall by the wayside.

“I really like to feel strong and healthy,” she said. “I have always been a regular gym-goer – just for my own, personal satisfaction.

“My fitness level helped me. I was relatively fit when I fell ill and even during the treatment. I think that was a help.”

Even when undergoing chemotherapy, Dr Harold was able to do some light walking on a treadmill.

“I was more fortunate than most in that the chemotherapy didn’t hit me as badly, but also I think you have to have an attitude – if you crawl into a corner and cry and get depressed, it doesn’t help at all,” she said.

“You have got to think positively. For me, getting my fitness back was important for my own sense of wellbeing.”

The mother of one joined a boot camp at her gym in Dubai. The three sessions of intensive exercise each week includes skipping, jogging, press-ups and jumps.

“It’s a lot of fun. The youngest is a secondary school student, I’m the oldest, and there’s eight or nine others in between.”

Maintaining a positive outlook has also helped.

“Nobody knows what tomorrow will bring, that’s life, these things happen. You have just got to grit your teeth and get on with it,” she said.

“Today I feel pretty good because of this fitness activity, I like my job and I’m surrounded by positive people.”

ecleland@thenational.ae