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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 17 November 2018

UAE hospital initiative aims to show there is life after cancer

Tawam Hospital is launching a cancer survivorship programme that it is hoped will be used nationwide

Cancer survivor nurse Mary Akkermans wants patients to know there is life after the disease. Victor Besa / The National Section
Cancer survivor nurse Mary Akkermans wants patients to know there is life after the disease. Victor Besa / The National Section

A UAE nurse who battled back from breast cancer is throwing her support behind a health campaign showing patients there is life after the disease.

Mary Akkermans was dealt a double blow when she was diagnosed in 2009, at the same time her mother in Canada was facing her own cancer fight.

Her mother sadly died from cancer - while her brother-in-law also succumbed to the disease - but she never lost hope and thanks the sterling support she received in the UAE for the fact she is alive today.

Now the 60-year-old is supporting a new survivorship programme for cancer patients which has been launched at the hospital where she works, Tawam Hospital in Al Ain.

The initiative has been set up thanks to a team effort from staff, with fellow cancer survivors being asked to volunteer to share their success stories with patients and psychologists on hand to provide vital support from the point of diagnosis and families fully involved in the process.

“I am alive today because of God and the UAE,” said Ms Akkermans during the Emirates Oncology Conference held in Abu Dhabi.

“I received a biopsy in 2009 and at the same time my mother had a biopsy in Canada which turned out to be positive for lung and secondary in her liver so I immediately flew to Canada.

“I wasn’t even in Canada 12 hours when I was told that my biopsy was positive for breast cancer and I needed to come back.”

Dr Moza Al Ameri, director of the breast cancer care centre at Tawam hospital, wants the new cancer survivorship programme to be introduced in every hospital in the UAE. Victor Besa / The National
Dr Moza Al Ameri, director of the breast cancer care centre at Tawam hospital, wants the new cancer survivorship programme to be introduced in every hospital in the UAE. Victor Besa / The National

Since she was a non-resident so she could not get treated in Canada immediately.

“When my mother was diagnosed because of the lack of resources and her age, it was decided that she receive only palliative care and that they would not treat her cancer.”

Her mother was 76.

Ms Akkermans flew back to the UAE and immediately had a bilateral mastectomy.

“I had excellent and faster care here and my mother and I made a plan that we would meet for Christmas.”

Sadly her mother died in October of that year, during a tough period in which her brother-in-law also passed away.

“Within three months I lost them both.

“But I told my mother we would meet in heaven.”

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Ms Akkermans is unmarried and has no family in the UAE, but she was not short of support in her hour of need.

“The care I received here, I would not have gotten in Canada or anywhere else in the world but I also had amazing support from friends in the UAE and staff at Tawam hospital and without that tremendous support, I don’t think I would be here today.”

It is this support that she wants others in the UAE to benefit from.

“I want cancer patients to know that there is life after cancer and you have to let go of your fears.

“I know that we fear that the cancer will come back but you can get hit by a bus tomorrow.

“We need more people who have survived to support in counselling to tell patients look, this is survivable.

“You will have a life, you will dance in your granddaughter’s wedding, you will get married. This is treatable and you will have a great life afterwards so don’t worry about it coming back.”

Dr Moza Al Ameri, director of the breast cancer care centre at Tawam hospital, is one of the main driving forces behind the survivorship program, which is currently only available at Tawam, but it is set to be incorporated at hospitals throughout the country over the next five years.

“We are still in the initial phases but I guarantee this program will be in every hospital in the UAE,” she said.

“This is a passion of mine. My aunt, who is in her eighties, is a cancer survivor and she said that she didn’t want to waste her life because of cancer. She refused to allow cancer to be the end of her life.

“There is always hope and we want our patients to know that. Many of them wrongly believe that once they receive a cancer diagnoses then it means that their life is over.

The hospital receives about 1,300 new cancer patients every year.

Dr Khalid Balaraj, chairman of the Emirates Oncology Conference and head of oncology services at Tawam hospital, said it is crucial that cancer patients receive comprehensive care.

The survivorship program could take up to five years to be fully implemented and functional, he said.

“The next phase in cancer care is comprehensive care.

“Such a program is in its initial phases but is crucial and extremely beneficial to patients.”