More Arab Women Speaking Out About Breast Cancer

Talking about breast cancer is virtually taboo in the Middle East, but some women there are determined to change that.

"Good Morning America" anchor Robin Roberts talked to three women in the United Arab Emirates committed to bringing breast cancer awareness to their fellow countrywomen -- two are breast cancer survivors, one a leading cancer surgeon.

Fakhria Lufti, a breast cancer survivor, said that the subject is still very hard to talk about in the country.

"There is a lot of women I know, they just don't talk about it, even when they refer to cancer, they just say, 'that disease,'" Lufti said.

Adila Nasser, another survivor, agreed.

"The people around me, my society, don't tell anybody you've got cancer, you mustn't tell people, it's shameful," she said.

Together with Dr. Houriya Kazim, Nasser and Lufti are determined to break the cycle of shame.

"I thought, I need to come out with this, I need to speak about it, I need to let other women be aware that this is around, and if they detect it early they will go on to live healthy lives," Nasser said.

Women everywhere have the same fears about dealing with cancer -- a major one being losing their hair from chemotherapy.

"You can hide your breast surgery under your clothes but the hair I think is something that is a giveaway," Kazim said. "It's not the nausea and that that bothers them, it's the hair loss."

Not Living in the Dark Ages

There are differences, though, in how breast cancer is perceived in the Middle East. Some women in the region say they will not admit to having breast cancer because they are afraid their husband will leave them.

But Lufti said that women everywhere fear that.

"Arab men, American men, I lived in the states seven years -- men are men, the same," she said.

Some women are also afraid to admit they have breast cancer because it may make their daughters less marriageable.

"It happened with a Lebanese family I knew," Lufti said. "[A friend] said, 'Maybe no one will ask me for marriage.' And I said, 'What does this have to do?' She said, 'My mother told me don't tell anybody.'"

Lufti, a mother of three, was living a full life of her own as a graphic designer and accounting manager for a local newspaper when she was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer.

Her first thought, she said, was, "I have to beat it, I have to live. Like anybody else, cancer is death. So I just said, 'No, God give me strength, whatever it takes, just let me beat this thing.'"

She took up Pilates and karate, earning a black belt. She even went dog sledding in the Arctic just four months after surgery.

Because of women like Nasser, more women are getting early screening, Kazim said.

"We don't live in the dark ages anymore here, it's advancing forward. Women are coming out of their shells," Nasser said.

Kazim said that while awareness of the disease is on the rise, the next step is educate women about how to deal with it.

"The awareness is there, pink ribbons are everywhere. I tell people, don't let those ribbons fool you, it's still a scary thing," Kazim said. "When you hear the words breast cancer, people are still afraid and the fear tells me that they really don't have the knowledge and they are still ignorant about the disease."

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