The saga of a valiant woman

Mareeg.com-In recent times, the local press has carried stories of Saudi women who have earned recognition beyond the borders of this country. Most of the women were gifted in the sciences and the arts. However, for one it was a precipitous battle for survival and she is none other than Dr. Samia Al-Amoudi who battled the greatest challenge of her life under difficult circumstances, and has today earned the right to live.

As Dr. Al-Amoudi relates: “This is my story and the beginning of my fight against breast cancer, for myself and for all women in Saudi Arabia and for women worldwide. My struggle with breast cancer is a message of love I extend to every woman to emphasize the importance of timely and regular checkups.

“My journey as a breast cancer survivor and an advocate for women’s health began the day I came home from having lunch with my children. I went to my room and, by chance, touched my breast. I felt a lump. In that moment, my medical instincts sharpened. I examined the lump, checking its size, and searched for lymph nodes under my arm. My worst fears overwhelmed me, and I knew what I had.

I began to cry out to God in tears and walk in circles around the room helplessly. I regretted being a doctor at that moment because sometimes it is true what they say: ignorance is bliss. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2006 and received my biopsy result on my birthday. The results confirmed it was stage II, of an aggressive type, and was HER-2+.

“My responsibility as a mother compelled me to share this news with my children first, and I wanted them to hear it from me. I spoke in words they could understand so that we would face this crisis together as a family, which I felt would strengthen their characters and will. I have always told them that being a believer begins with facing crisis. I prepared myself for the battle and decided to fight with all the faith I could muster.

“Instead of leaving Saudi Arabia for treatment, I chose to have my colleagues treat me in my homeland. I placed my trust, my health, and my life in their hands. I trusted them immensely, and I have the greatest faith in the ongoing medical advancements in Saudi Arabia as well as in my own people. This faith, in itself, has been an integral part of my treatment.

“Many people have asked me how this could have happened to me, a doctor. The fact is that I, like many others, can get so distracted by the daily responsibilities of being a working mother that it is sometimes easy to neglect oneself. My message grows from this experience: Take action toward early detection. If you are a woman over the age of 40, get a mammogram. Evidence, such as the first screening trial in Saudi Arabia in 2007 (BI-RADS), shows the benefits of screening [1, 2].

“My mission is to break the silence and spread this message using the media and whatever other means of communication is available. In order to help save the lives of women in Saudi Arabia’s closed and conservative community, the taboo of discussing breast cancer must be overcome.

“My first step in helping to overcome this taboo was to write my story in a local daily. I will never forget the bizarre question an editor asked me: ‘As a well-known physician, don’t you think that publicizing your story amounts to self-defamation?’ I told him that this was exactly the kind of prejudice I feel compelled to challenge. Having a disease is not a crime or a cause for shame but rather a chance to warn and save others.

“This vision inspired me to establish the Sheikh Mohammed Hussein Al-Amoudi Center of Excellence in Breast Cancer at King Abdulaziz University, located in Jeddah, to conduct research studying the gap in available medical services and improving the quality of services available.

“The most prestigious recognition I receive is from people who give me positive feedback and encouragement, proving to me that this work is not in vain. People are now talking about a subject that was once forbidden in Saudi society. As a cancer survivor and patient advocate, I am now seen not only as a doctor but also as a close confidante and as a fellow patient who understands. A girl once told me ‘You have taught us things that our mothers, scholars, and teachers have not: how to be strong and have a positive attitude’.

“A man told me that before reading my articles, it never occurred to him to discuss breast cancer with his family. Afterwards, he discussed with his mother the importance of getting a mammogram. All of these kind words inspire me to continue the fight to increase research and spread awareness. Women’s health and cancer patients’ rights often go unrecognized and are not advocated sufficiently.

“My focus now is on breast cancer patients’ rights in prevention, treatment and employment law. My mission is to empower women with the knowledge of their health rights, particularly breast cancer patients, emphasizing their reproductive and adolescent sexual health, and women with physical limitations, especially the deaf and mute.

“I do not intend for my story to be a cause for pity but rather an example of how important early detection of breast cancer is. I would like my voice to reach every household in every neighborhood to break the barriers of silence … to have a better tomorrow for my daughter and for every daughter in the world to be empowered with the knowledge to advocate for her health rights.”

Dr. Samia’s voice is one that surely deserves to be heard.

— The author can be reached at talmaeena@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @talmaeena