One in eight women in Pakistan suffer from breast cancer. Over 90,000 cases of breast cancer are reported annually, and almost around 40,000 women lose their lives as a result. These numbers are frighteningly high!
One would expect stringent measures to deal with the case but there is a huge stigma related to the disease, which makes it extremely difficult to be diagnosed and cured. Let us debunk some falsehoods, which prevent women from seeking treatment, and make it easier for them to reach out to oncologists.
1. “Breasts are a woman’s asset, don’t even think about cutting them up to look for cancer shmancer.”
Like any other body part, breasts also need to be looked after and regularly checked. There is nothing wrong with associating breasts with sexuality, but it would be a huge disservice to yourself if you ignore about the health aspect of it. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the breast cancer rates are getting worse and it is not even sparing the younger generation.
2. “Haww. How can you get your breasts checked like that?”
While we have various measures of morality, getting yours breasts checked should not be one. Especially if this means losing your life because of it. Do not punish yourself by not going to an oncologist.
3. “Breast? Tauba tauba you’re so horny”
Nothing about the female body or the word “breast” is meant to be sexual, unless the woman is intending for it be used in that context so get your dirty mind out of the gutter.
For every problem to be addressed, it must be acknowledged. If we keep using terms like “cancer of women”, it would be difficult for people to be understanding about it and to remove the stigma around the usage of the word breast.
4. “You can catch breast cancer by touching a tumor.”
There are a lot of misconceptions about the causes of the disease. It is important for you to visit an oncologist and understand that atomic energy in Pakistan is not causing it, neither is touching a tumor. Researchers are still trying to understand the causes, and they range from genetic to environmental.
5. “Cancer ke baad tind hojati hai, you should be careful about showing your face outside.”
The hair loss is a result of strong medication during chemotherapy. It leaves your hair patchy, so many patients opt for shaving the rest off. However, that doesn’t mean your life has ended. If you’re too conscious about not having your hair, there are wigs you can wear, head scarves to tie around your head or be confident and rock your new head with pride.
6. “Don’t let that male doctor touch your breasts, he’s a man.”
The ratio of female to male students in medical colleges ranges from 70 to 30 percent. Out of this 70 percent, only 10-15 percent of women end up practicing medicine. This automatically means that we have more male doctors than female doctors, and they exist to make our lives easier. If there is a lack of female oncologists, there is nothing wrong in visiting a male oncologist. Pakistan, at this point, has the highest number of breast cancer patients in Asia and the number should not increase because of reluctance to visit a male oncologist. This should actually push women to practice medicine in order to accommodate other women.
7. “They cut off your breasts if they find cancer in them. Think about what will people say about a woman without breasts.”
A mastectomy is one aspect of breast cancer treatment, which needs to be addressed separately. The first is that cancer CAN be cured without a mastectomy. There is no such thing as cancer being passed off to children if a mastectomy is not performed. Doctors only opt for the procedure if it is absolutely necessary.
The second is that a marriage can be sustained even after getting a mastectomy done. There are so many options for women nowadays; one of them is breast reconstruction. So if anyone out there is worried about their relationship with their husband deteriorating because of this, do not worry. You can lead a very normal life after a mastectomy. You can not only reproduce but also breastfeed. So, do not think of it as a death sentence.
8. “No one will want to marry you once they know that you had the disease.”
Young women suffering from breast cancer in Pakistan are increasing by the day. While there is a lack of a national database on the statistics, oncologists do highlight the growing number of young patients. If you refuse to educate yourself, do not know methods of self-examination, and are reluctant about visiting an oncologist; you are wasting precious time which can be saved in treatment. Marriage prospects will always be available for healthy women. So get up and fight for your life.
9. “You are cursed. We cannot have someone with this disease in the family.”
A lot of women do not seek treatment because they feel that their in-laws will not react appropriately to the disclosure of them suffering from the disease and will not provide the required support in the process. Same is the case with the husbands. While this is a very legit concern, this should not let the disease eat you out. The only thing which will help in this case is talking about the issue and creating the right kind of awareness.
10. “Unkay pass mat baitho, tum abhi jawan larki ho, unn auntie ko breast cancer hai”
While people think that a person suffering from cancer is a symbol of death, and do not offer the right kind of support; remember that it is them who need to be more understanding – be it family, friends, or work colleagues.
11. “Tu toh larka hai, tumhein breast cancer exam ki koi zaroorat nahi hai.”
While not the primary victims, men are vulnerable to breast cancer, too.
12. “I look so weak. I don’t even have the energy to take care of myself anymore. I should just die.”
Women have major self-esteem issues when they undergo the treatment process. It is alright to feel weak and vulnerable; fighting a disease such as cancer is not easy. It requires a lot of strength and support. It is absolutely fine if you are afraid and do not know how the situation will unfold.
All of you women out there, remember that this is your life and it is very precious. You need to make a promise to yourself to take care of it and support each other in the process.
Cover image via: evoke.ie