Palestinian mother launches breast cancer app for UAE women

Gazal Kamal says she wishes a platform such as her Breast Cancer Club was around when she was diagnosed

Breast cancer survivor Gazal Kamal has launched an app called Breast Cancer Club, to connect women who have been diagnosed in the UAE. Photo: Gazal Kamal
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In October 2020, at the height of the pandemic, dealing with lockdowns and homeschooling, Gazal Kamal, a Palestinian mother of three young girls, started experiencing a dull ache under her arm. She also noticed one of her nipples had inverted.

But, despite her husband’s insistence, she was not in a huge rush to schedule a mammogram. She was put off by having to get a referral. Kamal had regular ultrasounds and, other than a few benign cysts, they had always come back clear. An advertisement on the radio for a wellness check spurred her to action. This time, however, the scans led to a biopsy and she was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer, six months after her 40th birthday.

It was the beginning of a long and gruelling road to recovery. And she only had a week to decide on a plan of action.

I wish somebody had said to me: ‘For your PET scan, they inject radioactive dye into you so take an Epsom salt bath after to detox'
Gazal Kamal, founder, Breast Cancer Club

“‘Start treatment.’ That’s all I was hearing,” Kamal says of the first few days after her diagnosis. “But what do you do? Do you follow the recommended protocol? Do you want to undergo chemo? Are you happy with your doctor? What does your insurance cover? I had so many questions, and the hardest part, initially, was navigating the unknown when I needed to have made decisions yesterday.”

She spoke to a few friends and acquaintances with similar diagnoses, but struggled to find anyone in the same boat. “I wanted information,” she says. “I didn’t have anyone to bounce ideas off. One person I knew had had breast cancer 15 years ago. The other chose a more natural route. I wanted to know what my specific procedures would entail.

I would be online in the middle of the night trying to find anything I could. I found a couple of fantastic apps, but it wasn’t my community. They were in the US and everyone was meeting up in a different state at a different hour. It was frustrating.”

And so the idea for Breast Cancer Club was born. The mobile application, which Kamal fittingly launched this month — which marks Breast Cancer Awareness Month — features various forums divided into different stages of the breast cancer journey, including newly diagnosed, alternative therapies and family support. It is a local platform to connect with other women in the UAE and explore treatment options based on first-hand experiences. It’s an app Kamal feels she would have benefited from herself.

Kamal, a mother of three, wants to break down cultural taboos associated with the disease. Photo: Gazal Kamal

Testing positive for the cancer gene, Kamal opted for chemotherapy in Dubai, followed by a double mastectomy and the removal of her ovaries in New York. The final stage would be radiotherapy, also in Dubai.

“I didn’t ask the right questions,” she says. “I didn’t even know what the questions were. If you have an app where people say: ‘For your first appointment, this is what you should be asking,’ that would be so helpful. I wish somebody had said to me, for instance: ‘For your PET scan, they inject radioactive dye into you so could maybe take an Epsom salt bath after, so you can detox.’”

I don’t understand why we need to struggle because so many women are going through it

The one piece of advice Kamal would offer? “Get yourself checked, don’t be like me where time is passing you by and you don’t want to get a pap smear or an ultrasound, just go get it done.”

Breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer in the UAE. It is also the most prevalent worldwide. Kamal believes, given these statistics, the right access to the right information should be consolidated and readily available

“You don’t get a booklet,” she says. “You don’t get anything. It’s like welcome to your new world, now go research it. I don’t like that. I don’t understand why we need to struggle because so many women are going through it. It should be much more clear.”

Kamal also felt inspired by the unwavering support from her friends and family, who were there for her at a time when most people were self-isolating in response to Covid-19. With the launch of Breast Cancer Club, a self-funded app, she feels she is able to give back that feeling of community and, at the same time, break down any cultural taboos associated with the disease.

“I can’t tell you how many people have messaged with their own story. I want to help people and get the word out. I don’t want this to be a secret. I don’t need to hide and feel sorry for myself.

“My treatment has been successful but the road is long. I am still dealing with the physical aftermath of surgery and with the side-effects of medication. Things are harder, but I appreciate life more, I know where I’m going, and I’m in a better place than I was before cancer.

“Building the app was a very cathartic experience. My life recently has been defined by breast cancer, but I’m tired of being boxed in. I don’t want it to define me. I want to define it.”

And with the launch of the Breast Cancer Club app, she is off to a good start.

Updated: October 27, 2022, 4:12 AM