‘There was a lump sitting right there on my chest that I never noticed’
DUBAI // July 15, 2015 is forever etched in Naima Thompson’s memory – the day she learnt she had stage one breast cancer.
The 48-year-old drama teacher, whose mother died of colon cancer eight years before, endured an “agonising emotional rollercoaster” after a mammogram revealed a lump in her chest that she had not noticed.
But it saved her life and the Dubai resident believes every woman in the UAE should have access to free mammograms under their health insurance or through a national screening programme.
Ms Thompson, from Trinidad and Tobago, visited her family doctor during her annual trip back to her home country, where the general practitioner insisted that it was time for a mammogram.
“There was a lump sitting right there on my chest that I never noticed,” she said. “Suddenly it was the only thing I could see – it was 2.5 centimetres of cancer sitting on my chest.
“I knew there was a chance that I could also be diagnosed with colon cancer some day, so I had colonoscopy checks to be proactive.
“I felt I led a responsible lifestyle – eating well, avoiding alcohol and exercising regularly – and my chances of being diagnosed with cancer were therefore slim.”
After the diagnosis, Ms Thompson was told she would face a lumpectomy, followed by eight rounds of chemotherapy, 35 rounds of radiation, 17 rounds of targeted drug therapy with Herceptin and five years of taking the medication Tamoxifen.
The treatment also weakened her heart muscles but the most difficult aspect was trying to answer the question “why?”
“However, I got to experience a glimpse of what my mother suffered, which drew me closer to her,” she said. “I was also rewarded by the doctors considering my cancer to be a ‘good’ cancer. I met so many other women suffering from more difficult cancers, so I realised how fortunate I was.”
Ms Thompson was declared cancer-free after her lumpectomy in August.
After a year she describes as the greatest struggle of her life, Ms Thompson is encouraging women to have mammograms and breast checks, and believes sharing stories such as her own will increase uptake of preventive tests and screening.
However, she believes more can be done on an institutional level in the UAE to help ensure women get the right checks regularly.
“Large corporations should provide annual prostate, breast and colon cancer screening, free of charge, for all employees,” she said.
“That encourages healthy living and allows early detection, which protects everyone.
“Cancer treatment should be free or highly subsidised for all.”
Published: September 17, 2016 04:00 AM