x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Women share experiences of breast cancer at Abu Dhabi charity luncheon

Anantara Ladies Luncheon is one of several initiatives undertaken by Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank to mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

ABU DHABI // It was a sea of every shade of pink as women of all ages gathered at an annual luncheon to mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Survivors of the disease, which is the most common form of cancer among women, shared their stories at the Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank-sponsored Anantara Ladies Luncheon, which helped to raise money for research and awareness programmes.

Breast cancer accounted for 13 per cent of the 407 cancer deaths in Abu Dhabi last year.

“It seems few families in our community have not been affected by cancer,” said Fiona Derby, head of sponsorship at ADCB and organiser of the event.

Sheikha Hissa bint Shama bint Khalifa attended the luncheon and described breast cancer as a cause close to her heart.

“Knowledge is power against the fight against cancer,” she said. “We know that cancer does not discriminate against age or gender.”

Dr Grace Edwards survived breast cancer and she shared her story to let other women know how important it is to examine themselves for early signs of the disease.

She had cancer diagnosed at the age of 51 in 2008 and said her world ground to a halt.

“It was a shock at the time,” the English doctor said. “I just felt numb. My husband nearly fell to the floor.”

Dr Edwards underwent an operation to remove a quarter of her breast and had chemotherapy to combat the disease.

One of her toughest moments, she admitted, was losing her hair.

“I just wasn’t prepared for it,” she said. “They said it would happen but I didn’t think it would to me.”

Thankfully, Dr Edwards, now 56, was declared cancer-free last year.

Surviving has made her open to new experiences and, four-and-half years ago, she moved to Abu Dhabi to head up the UAE’s first Midwifery Programme.

Beating breast cancer is something that also made Scottish expatriate Moran Cromery-Hawke take on new challenges.

Last year, after being cancer-free for five years, she and a group of fellow survivors took on sub-zero temperatures in Antarctica in a 12-day trek to raise awareness of the disease.

Ms Cromery-Hawke, the executive director of Operation Smile UAE, an international charity that helps children with facial clefts, said conquering cancer gave her a second chance at life.

The 56-year-old had cancer diagnosed seven years ago. Discovering a cyst on her breast, she booked an appointment with doctors.

On the morning of her appointment she found a small, hard lump in her breast. Doctors took a biopsy and, five weeks later, Ms Cromery-Hawke was asked to come in for another appointment.

Ms Cromery-Hawke was told she had breast cancer and would need a lumpectomy and chemotherapy.

“I called my husband and burst into tears,” she said.

The toughest part, she said, was telling her daughter, then 16, and her son, then 13.

“But they were good about it,” she said. “They both said ‘you will be fine, Mum’.”

Within days she had had an operation and began a course of chemotherapy.

Ms Cromery-Hawke was given the all-clear six years ago. Her doctors told her to go home and celebrate. “It felt brilliant,” she said.

Having the illness diagnosed early is essential, she added. “Even if you find a very, very small lump, get it checked out. Even if you have just one of the cancer symptoms, go get a check-up. Early detection saves lives. We are here as proof of that.”

Addressing the audience at the luncheon, held at the Eastern Mangroves hotel in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday, Dr Sawsan Al Madhi, who heads the Pink Caravan’s awareness campaign, said women should carry out regular self-examinations so they know what feels “normal”.

“Know what your breast feels like,” she said. “This means when something is abnormal, there is a red flag.”

Signs or symptoms of breast cancer include change in breast shape or size, change of colour of the skin, discharge and a continuous ache.

Any lump the size of a chickpea should be checked by a medical experts, said Dr Al Madhi, who suggested monthly self-examinations.

Money raised at the event will go to the Pink Caravan charity.

ADCB will be holding several initiatives this month to raise awareness of breast cancer, including a charity run and a Pink Polo Match. The bank is also asking each customer to donate a dirham after every bank transaction.

jbell@thenational.ae