Dubai: “There is something wrong with your left breast,” a technician at Ibn Al Haytham Hospital in Amman, Jordan, told me after a mammogram and ultrasound. “You need a biopsy to determine whether the lump in your breast is malignant or not.”
This was in September 2021 when I was on a visit to my home country Jordan. I had my suspicions four years earlier but did not seek medical advice because I was in a state of denial. A big mistake which must be avoided at all costs.
Face your fears and follow your hopes. Just remember one thing: There is always hope and light at the end of tunnel.
As a breast lump can be a sign of cancer, it is wise to always seek a medical evaluation of the lump or swelling you may discover on your breasts. Be assured that the early detection, screening and diagnosis of cancer will significantly improve the chances of survival and quality of life, as well as reduce the cost and complexity of treatment.
On September 6, 2021, when I was diagnosed with stage IIB breast cancer, I was on the threshold of stage III, according to biopsy results and PET Scan findings. What a devastating news. I would have been in stage I if I had only sought medical advice when I first felt a breast mass and some changes in the area in 2017. This is why it is essential to visit a doctor early on.
Before going deeper into my story, I would first like to share the good news with you. On January 2, this year, I received the results of the PET Scan report that showed my full response to chemotherapy, surgery and radiotherapy. Now, I am in complete remission. Thank God, I truly feel grateful after 16 months of treatment.
Back to the beginning of my journey, when the doctor told me I have breast cancer carcinoma, I felt desperate because I did not know how aggressive it was. Many questions popped up in my head. No one in my family ever had cancer before. I wondered, why me? I experienced complex feelings of concerns, fear, angry, sadness, anxiety and depression.
In fact, it is okay to have some fears as we are human beings. But do not let your fears block your path of hope. For me, my fears lessened when I moved forward and embarked on my treatment journey. The good thing is that I was not alone during my fight against cancer. My loved ones, my family and friends were fighting with me.
I was advised by a friend to go to the Canadian Specialist Hospital because it is close to where I live to avoid travel hassles. I booked an appointment with Lebanese oncologist Dr. Abdel Rahman Labban. I visited him and brought with me the reports of the biopsy, PET scan, mammogram ultrasound that I had at another hospital.
He first told me that I was still in stage 2, and that it was estrogen receptor (ER) positive, progesterone receptor (PR) positive and growth factor (HER2-) negative. As a result, my treatment plan included chemotherapy, followed by mastectomy and radiotherapy.
Dr Arun Karanwal, specialist medical oncologist, Prime Health Care Group, Dubai, told Gulf News: “As per the latest data from the UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention, breast cancer forms nearly 20 per cent of all cancers occurring in both men and women. In just female cancers, this number goes up to 38 per cent .”
When should breast self-exam start?
Although breast cancer was earlier considered a condition for elderly women above the age of 55, now as per the American and European cancer associations it is advisable for women to begin breast self-exam in their thirties and go in for annual mammogram screening by the age of 40.
Elaborating on self-exam , Dr Karanwal advised , “a week after a woman’s periods get over, she can conduct a breast self exam. She needs to look for any change in the shape of her breast, any discharge , redness , swelling or lump in either of her breasts. If she finds something , she must report immediately to the nearest hospital for further examination and diagnostic screening.”
Who is at risk ?
As per the current trends every woman needs to be vigilant, but the particularly high-risk group is of women who have a definite family history of cancer in general or breast cancer in particular and those who may carry the mutation gene - BRCA 1 or BRCA 2. “The mutation means that these women have a very high chance of being detected with breast and /or ovarian cancer. Such women must take care to go in for early self breast examination and preventive mammogram screening . The age is determined by the age of their relative who was first diagnosed with this cancer. The younger family member has to begin screening ten years earlier than that age,” elaborated Dr Karanwal .
Why is preventive screening important?
As per the general statistics, there is a 90-95 per cent survival and remission in the case of breast cancer when detected in the first stage , explained Dr Karanwal.
“A woman whose breast cancer is detected in stage three has a drastic fall in survival rate , down to 50-60 per cent. Therefore, women are advised to be extra vigilant to detect pre-malignant or stage 1 malignant tumours which dramatically mean a high survival rate. Early detection is the key in treatment of breast cancer,” added Dr Karanwal.
- By Sajila Saseendran, Senior Reporter
I was so relieved once I knew what stage the cancer was in and what my treatment would be. I told my doctor let us proceed with the plan.
Chemotherapy was not easy for me as I suffered from fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite and hair loss. It was not easy for my family either, particularly my daughters and son. But they have been the real heroes throughout my journey as they helped me sustain hope, strength, courage and faith.
Throughout my journey, I was not alone in this fight. It was essential for me to rely on my family,friends and colleagues who served as my own support network.
Another PET Scan, another biopsy
After six months of chemotherapy, I had another PET Scan. The report revealed development of a new lytic bone lesion in my right Iliac bone. This required me to have a CT-guided biopsy, which was done in May 2022. The biopsy finding showed that I was positive for metastatic carcinoma. It was catastrophic news for me when my doctor told me, “You are in stage 4 now.”
At the end of May 2022, I underwent a partial mastectomy. The wound took three months to heal completely. This was followed by 30 radiotherapy sessions, 25 for my left breast and five for my right iliac bone. I completed my radiotherapy in October 2022.
Three months later, I had a PET Scan again. The report was released on January this year, bringing me the great news to start 2023.
Today, I am in complete remission and to help keep it that way, I continue to take a hormone therapy medicine to block hormones from attaching to cancer cells. I will continue taking the hormone medicine for eight years to help prevent cancer recurrence.
I am also on tablets for targeted treatment of metastatic breast cancer. I also need to continue to follow up with my doctor and undergo PET scan every six months and regular check-ups.
I believe the cause of my cancer might have been linked to my lifestyle, I changed many of my daily habits. After my diagnosis, I adopted a healthy lifestyle. My entire family also started eating organic food, no carbs, a lot more veggies and no sugar.
In fact, we gave up a lot of food that we used to love. My experience with cancer was a wake-up call for me to realise and appreciate the importance of enjoying the little things life. It was like an alarm bell to choose whether to let negativity control my life or live with positivity and enjoy every day to the fullest.
My cancer experience truly gave me a new outlook on life.