x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

First scan was lifesaver after woman learned of campaign

Rafah Mahmood had her first scan for breast cancer last year. It was an act that ultimately saved her life.

Rfah Mahmood and Dr Trish Snozyk.
Rfah Mahmood and Dr Trish Snozyk.

ABU DHABI // Rafah Mahmood had her first scan for breast cancer last year. It was an act that ultimately saved her life. Originally from Iran, Ms Mahmood, 56, is from a culture where such topics are not discussed, and where knowledge is limited. But thanks to the Breast Cancer Awareness Month campaign, she decided to take a mammogram. "By chance I went to have a mammogram last year. I had not felt anything abnormal but results showed something was different.

Two weeks later, Ms Mahmood was told she had early-stage breast cancer and would require surgery, chemotherapy, and possibly radiation treatment. While the diagnosis was devastating, it was early enough to do something about it. "The doctor asked me if I would prefer to have the lump and area around it removed, or a mastectomy. I said, 'take all of the breast'." Ms Mahmood also underwent a course of chemotherapy, causing her to lose her hair temporarily.

On April 29 she was told her cancer was in remission. But Ms Mahmood is aware that her story is very different to others' who have suffered breast cancer in the Middle East. "Sometimes people do not want to talk about their own experiences because of shame," she says. "I wasn't worried about talking about it with my family, even my friends but I know there were others who did not like to talk." She says families often believe that hereditary breast cancer is more common than it is. Statistics show that a small percentage of breast cancer cases are hereditary.

"The worst thing is when the lady has many daughters and others think it is all about family history. They want to keep it a secret because some people will not want to be engaged to the daughters." As soon as Ms Mahmood sought treatment at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City in Abu Dhabi, she joined the Ladies of Courage support group which helps those affected by the disease. Dr Trish Snozyk, a senior consultant in family medicine at SKMC, leads the group on the third Thursday of every month.

"It was not an easy thing to set up. It is still a very small group. There are about 50 women being treated here but the average number of women at the group is five," she says. "The most we have had is 15. People do not go outside the family for support. The concept is completely novel." Most of the women are in their 50s or 60s. But she says, there are younger women who seek advice on the phone rather than in person.

munderwood@thenational.ae To find out more about the Ladies of Courage, call 02 610 4003.