Dubai Health Authority Rola Al Buheissi breast cancer
Al Beheissi has been attending check-ups for the previous three months and she is now in remission from breast cancer Image Credit: Supplied

When you ask Jordanian expat Rola Al Buheissi, 47, about her experience fighting breast cancer she will tell you getting the disease “was a gift from God”.

The working mother of two, who survived breast cancer after receiving a stage three diagnosis in December of 2013, said her experience with breast cancer started out of nowhere and all of a sudden, with pain in her chest.

“Before that day, I didn’t have any other symptoms and I don’t have any history in my family of breast cancer or any other type of cancer. The initial mammogram tests said that I had stage two breast cancer but after getting a mastectomy, it was found that it was in fact stage three,” said Al Buheissi.

I don’t have any history in my family of breast cancer or any other type of cancer. The initial mammogram tests said that I had stage two breast cancer but after getting a mastectomy, it was stage three.

- Rola Al Buheissi, Breast cancer survivor

Prior to experiencing breast pain that day, Al Buheissi said that she never got check-ups for breast cancer.

“I like to deal with things head on, so I immediately got a mastectomy to remove the breast, which was affected. I then started six months of chemotherapy and 25 sessions of radiation. I told myself that I am not sick. I carried on with my life, I’d start singing and dancing while getting my chemotherapy.”

Al Buheissi has been attending check-ups every three months and thankfully, the disease never returned. She however decided to get a mastectomy for her second breast because the doctors found unknown tissue and she did not want to risk getting breast cancer again.

“I believe that getting breast cancer was a gift from God. He took my breasts away, but it made me stronger, I now get regularly checked and take more care of my health, I got closer to people and I am surrounded by love,” she said.

Al Buheissi’s one advice for women and men dealing with the disease is to be mentally strong. They should try as much as they can to live as normally as possible. Meanwhile, she advised those who may be prone to the disease to get checked regularly because the earlier they get diagnosed the higher the chances they have of survival.

In fact, according to international statistics the five-year survival rate for women diagnosed in early stages of breast cancer (stage one and two) is 80–90 per cent. Meanwhile, for stages three and four, the survival rate falls to 24 per cent.

Furthermore, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), breast cancer is the most frequent cancer among women, impacting 2.1 million women each year, and also causes the greatest number of cancer-related deaths among women. In 2018, it was estimated that 627,000 women died from breast cancer. While breast cancer rates are higher among women in more developed regions, rates are increasing in nearly every region globally according to WHO.

Importance of early detection

According to Dr Dina Hamza, Senior Clinical Oncologist at Dubai Hospital, the first mammogram should be taken at age 40 and every year thereafter.

Those with a family history of breast cancer should begin screening earlier. If a woman has a first degree relative who was diagnosed with breast cancer at a young age, she should opt for yearly screening 10 years before the age of her relative’s diagnosis. However, she should start regular self-exams earlier.

She added that BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes can cause breast cancer and ovarian cancer among women as well as prostate and pancreatic cancer for men. Therefore, those who have this gene must strictly undergo periodic tests and consultations from the age of 35 years and lifelong thereafter.

Dubai Hospital and DHA primary healthcare centres including Al Barsha, Nad Al Hamar and Al Mizhar offer mammogram screenings.

DHA initiatives during Breast Cancer Awareness Month

In light of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, observed every year in October, the DHA will host a number of activities to raise awareness about the importance of early detection, and among the activities aimed at raising awareness about breast cancer is DHA’s annual Dubai Pink Ride Campaign.

The event, which is taking place in November 1, is expected to attract around 5,000 participants, including cyclists, motorbike riders and roller bladers, to raise funds for underprivileged patients affected by breast cancer.

Salim Bin Lahej, Head of Health Fund Office at the DHA said that the campaign aims to raise awareness about the importance of early detection and regular screening as breast cancer remains one of the most common cancers and early detection is essential to save lives and minimise the trauma and complications patients go through.

In addition to raising awareness, funds will be raised by those wishing to donate for cancer treatment.

Bin Lahej added that this year, the Pink Ride Campaign has been added to the DHA’s list of Dubai Fitness Challenge activities.

Dubai Fitness Challenge is taking place this year from October 18 to November 16, to transform Dubai into the most active city in the world.

Launched in 2017, by His Highness Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of the Dubai Executive Council, this initiative challenges everyone in the city to complete 30 minutes of activity a day for 30 days.

The DHA will also be launching its Hope Campaign, which will be held on October 31 at Zabeel Ladies Club.

It will include a session on the importance of early detection of breast cancer and will provide training by a specialised doctor on how to conduct self-evaluation for breast cancer. The event will also include a pink fashion show.