Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 1 December 2020

Dubai mother who survived breast cancer urges young women to self-check

Tina Chagoury wants to spread awareness – among Arab women in particular – about the importance of early detection

Tina Chagoury exercised frequently, ate a balanced diet and as a professional dietitian advised others how to eat healthily.

She had breast cancer check-ups every year and was fully aware of the risks.

The mother of two never believed it could happen to her.

“I was probably the one who least expected it,” said the Lebanese resident, 40.

“It never occurred to me – not even in my dreams – that it would happen to me.”

But she was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer last year and, now recovered, is urging women to take prevention seriously.

We need to teach younger women how to be comfortable with their bodies and not to be ashamed if they feel anything

Tina Chagoury, breast cancer survivor

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and The National interviewed survivors across the country about their experience and advice for others.

About 2.1 million women worldwide have breast cancer diagnosed each year and 627,000 died from the disease in 2018, the World Health Organisation said.

Early detection gives patients the best chance of overcoming the disease.

“I was 39 in the summer of 2019,” said Ms Chagoury, who has an 11-year-old daughter, Sofia, and six-year-old son, Sandro.

“During a self-check routine, I felt a lump and because I do self-checks quite often I felt it wasn’t there before.”

Ms Chagoury got tested and reviewed her biopsy results through the hospital’s mobile app.

“I read and read and reread and I thought: ‘I am sure they confused me with someone else’.”

Ms Chagoury started her chemotherapy at the American University of Beirut as she was on holiday in Lebanon at the time.

The therapy was a success and she had surgery only to remove the area where the lump was found. Back in Dubai, Ms Chagoury then underwent radiotherapy.

“I did not recognise myself,” she said, of the gruelling treatment. “I would pass by the mirror thinking it is not me. I think this is one of the most difficult things in the life of a cancer patient.”

She chose not to wear a wig, which made her the subject of “indiscreet ... looks from strangers”.

“This affects the person going through treatment much more than you think.”

Ms Chagoury would rarely go out during that period because she was tired and in pain.

“But sometimes I would wake up feeling normal – not nauseous, not dizzy, not in pain. So I would go to the supermarket to pretend I am living a normal life.

“I would be happy with my trolley while pretending to be normal but they [people with indiscreet looks] would snap me out of it.”

Nonetheless, Ms Chagoury looks back at those times with pride and gratitude.

“Being a survivor is one the greatest feelings in the world – to be given a second chance and to be still alive today.”

Now in remission and no longer in treatment, her goal is to spread awareness – among young Arab women in particular – about the importance of check-ups.

“If there is one thing I would like to advocate for is to teach younger women how to be comfortable with their bodies [and self-check].”

She also said women should be encouraged to have mammograms before they reach 40.

She said most awareness campaigns are directed at older women.

“But pre-menopausal breast cancer is more aggressive and most women under 40 when they get diagnosed it could be too late.

“We need to teach younger women how to be comfortable with their bodies and not to be ashamed if they feel anything [and] to go to their mothers or fathers or doctors and say: ‘I was checking my breasts and felt a lump’.”

Not all women, however, feel “it is taboo” to voice their findings, she said, as most are simply scared of discovering cancer.

“Eighty per cent of breast lumps are not cancerous but there is still a 20 per cent chance,” she said.

“The sooner you find out the sooner you can get cured. Not checking and not seeking help will only make things worse.”

Updated: October 29, 2020 07:57 PM

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