'You lose your sense of identity': UAE's young breast cancer warriors share their journey

Two survivors who beat the odds to lead a full and fulfilling life, share their experiences with Khaleej Times during Breast Cancer Awareness month


Nandini Sircar

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Published: Fri 14 Oct 2022, 2:45 PM

Last updated: Sat 15 Oct 2022, 5:12 PM

Portuguese expat in the UAE, Miriam Lopes Rodriguez was reveling in the joy of being a new mother while breast feeding her child and bonding with the little one.

But soon enough the course of events in her life were set to change. After some time, while still nursing her child, she started feeling a lump in her breast but had no real warning markers. So, she dismissed it as a normal body change that often women go through, post-pregnancy.

Speaking to Khaleej Times, she says, “When I was breastfeeding my newborn son, I felt the lump. I didn’t feel any pain, but I thought let’s check with the doctor. But at that time (2020) Covid started and I didn’t feel any symptoms so I thought it might be a simple lump which would eventually disappear. I had also just stopped breast feeding so I told myself it was best to wait it out. But later in early 2021, I went to see my doctor and was asked to undergo several tests. By September 2021, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“But even before the reports arrived and it was confirmed, a part of me felt something was wrong, but then I kept telling myself this can’t happen to me yet, as I am still quite young. I was 31 then.”

When asked how she accepted the reality that must have hit her hard, Miriam says, “You don't need to accept you just need to follow. I was a young mother with two children. I had to care for them. So, I knew I had to follow the best treatment for myself. In my case, I didn’t have much time to think about things. The overriding thought was how I could stay with my kids for a longer period of time,” says the Art Curator and conservationist, who is cancer free for now.

Miriam, who is undergoing breast reconstruction surgeries, recalls her uphill journey post diagnosis.

“I did chemotherapy. I did the surgeries to remove the lump. I decided to have the mastectomy. First, I did the total radical mastectomy and then I decided to have prophylactic mastectomy just for prevention. Recently, I had the first step of breast reconstruction.”

Miriam, who has a 45-year-old aunt with a similar history, underlines, that when one is initially diagnosed they shouldn't "overthink and blame" themselves, unnecessarily.

“One might think…this has happened to me so what did I do wrong? You cannot control everything in your life. The only thing you can control and at the same time cannot control completely is the food you put in your mouth. You can control the quantity, but you don't always know the quality of your food. So, one must be careful on those fronts. I’d like to emphasise ‘Don't think it is your fault’. Everything will pass. Enjoy the life that you have, and your family. Love your body, your new body, your new lifestyle and everything will be okay,” says the reassuring cancer warrior.

Doctors highlight although any lump formed by body cells may be referred to technically as a tumour.

But not all tumours are malignant (cancerous). About 80 per cent of most breast lumps that are biopsied are benign (non-cancerous).

However, based on reports from the National Breast Cancer Foundation, one in every eight women around the world develop breast cancer.

It’s said, hereditary breast cancer accounts for about 10 percent of all diagnoses.

Narrating her tryst with breast cancer is Anisha Oberoi, who is the founder and CEO of Secret Skin which is a platform for Sustainable Beauty and Skincare brands.

Despite her stellar accomplishments, she didn’t have it easy either.

Anisha, who was in her mid-twenties in 2010, was headed for her MBA programme from a prestigious Ivy League School.

She says, “I was about to go to France, to INSEAD. I had worked in fashion, and this would have been the natural career progression path for me to work in fashion in other parts of the world. But I had felt a lump and it was an easily distensible lump, like a pea size. I was told that it could possibly be a fibroid and I was asked to watch my menstrual cycles.

“I was in India at that time, and I was misdiagnosed twice by gynaecologists. They did not recommend me to visit the oncologist. Twelve years ago, there weren't such close connections between gynaecologists and oncologists. I feel the two practices now go more hand-in-hand and you're able to pick up on suspicious lumps during the detection process.”

But had it been detected earlier, she feels she would have certainly been spared of the surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.

Anisha points out, it was a shocking diagnosis at that age: “It was really debilitating. You lose your sense of identity. You feel victimised and you feel a loss of a sense of worth. You feel you are not going to be able to achieve your dreams, whether that's professional or personal, to deal with marriage and children or growth in a career. It's a huge setback. So, I think that the biggest challenge is the mental challenge and the spiritual struggle of finding worth and value in your life again.”

But braving all her challenging treatments at such a young age, Anisha eventually did head for the business school that she had set her goal on.

Medics highlight although breast cancer in young adults is rare, but it tends to be diagnosed in its later stages. They highlight it is also usually more aggressive.

“When one is younger, you're so addicted to the superficial as one is, and especially when there are no incidents in the family, I think it doesn't even strike you. When you're young and your parents buy insurance for you, they're not really thinking of the worst-case scenario. But you need a lot of support (once diagnosed),” opines the Indian expat.

“I think mothers need to be very careful when they take their daughters to a gynaecologist. If they have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), that’s when the oral contraception starts and as we know prolonged use of oral contraceptives no matter what it’s for, increases the risks. But you don't know all this when you're 12 to 18 years old,” says the lady who fought a tough battle with her illness.


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