May 27, 2014

A Senior Project: Early Breast Cancer Awareness for El Alsson Matrons

Two days ago, Noura was walking down El Haram. St, back from work when a car pulled up, and three men grabbed her, forcing her in. An hour and a half later she was in the ER drenched in blood; she was brutally stabbed as she resisted a cruel attack.  Noura, who is only eighteen years old, is my house cleaner’s daughter, and her painful experience is a mere delineation of the abject condition of women in Egypt today. Not only are our women denied rights of education, nor political participation, neither are they able to safely exercise the basic human right of walking on the street. The value of a women’s life is hugely undermined in Egypt today. 

This disquieting realization struck me a year ago. I believe that Egyptian Women’s great role in both revolutions was signified by their screams of poverty, struggle and inequality; Rebellion was their only outlet and ray of hope to free their stifled souls and beings. Though at the time, none of the issues facing women in Egypt were affecting my life, I knew that one day they would. And this knowledge only served to further heighten my sense of unease and helplessness. I was appalled and dissatisfied, yet acquiescence was not my preferred destination. Another complacent female was not the person I wanted to become. I decided this was the time to confront my unease; the decision coincided with the diagnoses of three women who are close to me with breast cancer. I witnessed the parallels in society’s injustice and oppression of women with the cruelty, the ferocity of this malignant disease which doesn’t discriminate age, body or gender.

I started to worry about my aunts, my grandmothers, my teachers and urged them to perform checkups, yet thankfully they were all aware of the disease and kept their health record updated. Then I looked around once more, and found that there are other women who are also close to me yet are oblivious of the disease. They are El Alsson School matrons. I was raised around them, some I’ve known since I was a child, others I’ve got to know over the years; they were my company on a new journey.


And so I found myself one afternoon, in a room jam packed with wondering matrons. It was a melting pot of nervousness, excitement, and weariness. I began to speak. ”You are definitely wondering why you’re here today, well we are here today to speak about breast cancer”. My words were met by frowns of disappointment, fear and skepticism. The typical response I expected. After all I wasn’t expecting them to be exited to talk about Cancer, a disease considered an anathema even to the most erudite people in society. Why would women engrossed in their daily struggle to survive, even think about breast cancer or consider a regular checkup? Cancer was a door they did not want to open and a cyclone of destruction they certainly didn’t want to become part of. A missionary was urgently needed to crush their willful ignorance of this disease; this was Dr. Reem Ayad (an eminent obstetrician and Gynocologist professional and a parent of fellow Alsson students Ahmed Shafik and Ali Shafik ) I have long known, who has a plethora of experience in working with underprivileged women. She welcomed the idea of a breast cancer seminar, not hesitating a second to support the women in need of her help. Her alacrity and her willingness to contribute and make a change were very inspiring to me. Quickly managing to break the barriers between her and the matrons, she simply explained to them what breast cancer is, the importance of self-checks early detection and the improving rates of survival.


By the end of the seminar, I saw gratitude  in the  matrons’ eyes, I was delighted to hear them asking how and where they can get Breast cancer screening. Their thankfulness and appreciation spurred me and heightened my feelings of responsibility towards them promoting me to  to take my project to another level and  fundraise to perform breast screens for all of them.  Through personal efforts, I managed to fundraise 9000 LE in 2 weeks. With the help of Mrs Nesreen the events planner, we managed to divide all matrons above 35 years  into groups to go to the hospital and perform the checkups. (  The school provided us with the buses ) all the groups performed the  screens however the unfortunate news was that one of the matrons Mrs. Mona was diagnosed with breast cancer.   However when I looked around me and saw the number of people who were openly willing to save her life; my mother my teachers, Doctor Reem, and El Alsson students who took part of pink day in which they showed their support to Mona by wearing pink and donating money. When I visited Mrs. Mona in her house after she had her biopsy I understood the importance truly of raising awareness upon seeing her little son Yassin hold to her, as he looked shyly away from me. She held him closely even though it pained her and I saw tears of worry and fear in her eyes. As her tears subsided, I was inundated by feelings of obligation to help Mona win this malicious battle and feel the reassurance that she would see her son grow. Informing Mona about her disease was a very difficult task considering her level of literacy and her environment. For her   cancer was a terrifying word and a stigma either bringing death or shame to woman. It was hard for her to understand the advantages of the early detection (the main purpose of the project,) of the tumor and the fact that the disease is treatable. However, as we progressed in her treatment, Mona came to understand that detecting cancer early shortened and eased the full recovery.  A Surgery to remove the tumor was safely conducted within weeks of the detection and after she recovered further tests were conducted and fortunately she was not in need of chemotherapy. Mona underwent sessions of radiotherapy and is now back to school and was greatly welcomed by all members of staff as they celebrated her victory against Breast Cancer. 

Mona is now a stronger woman, a proud survivor of Breast cancer. She no longer  views cancer as a source of shame, in fact She is a aware of the  importance of early detection and  regular screening  and tries to make other women in her community aware as well. She understands that a healthy diet is essential to her body and thus follows a nutrition plan with a nutritionist to help her maintain a healthy lifestyle. And most importantly, Yassin can now finally hold to her closely with no worries or pain.

 Mona’s battle made me feel the long life love spirit of El Alsson school, when we all came together we filled the gaps and contributed comprehensively to our community. The entire community was very amiable and cooperative, Mrs Soumaya, Mr. Karl, Mrs. Alison, Mr. Jamie, Mrs Amira were all firm supporters of Mona and me.  This project allowed me to view the world from a totally different lens; every step I took was a building block of my personality, molding me into a responsible person and teaching me the true meaning of commitment and the joy of giving and helping others. Mona’s beautiful smile is a constant reminder that with zeal and ardor any obstacle can be conquered. My mission with Mona is accomplished yet there are many other missions to embark on, women to empower, injustices to stand against and bulbs to light, Noura’s mission has just begun.

I would like to especially thank my mother who was immensely sincere and generous in her support of the campaign.  

Written by: Farah Oraby

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