Breast Cancer Under Occupation: a Personal Perspective

Breast cancer is a disease that affects millions of women around the world. In fact, one in every eight women will get breast cancer in their lifetime. For women living in conflict zones, including the West Bank and Gaza, breast cancer can be particularly scary.

When I first learned about the high breast cancer death rates in Palestine, including a mortality rate of over 50%, I felt compelled to do what I could to address this issue. Many of the cases in the West Bank and Gaza are treatable. With proper screening, awareness, and early detection, many lives would be saved. Ensuring that women are able to be treated was a challenge we at Anera determined we wanted to address. With Anera’s capable staff, we started working on a program to address this issue and to support the only oncology center in Gaza, the Turkish Hospital Oncology Unit. Little did I know that just a few months later, this issue would become very personal to me.

In January, time stood still as I heard the words I never expected to hear. I had stage 3 breast cancer. Suddenly, everything changed. The program that I had been working on took on new meaning, and the obstacles and challenges faced by women in the West Bank and Gaza to obtain healthcare became more real to me than ever before. It was no longer an abstract issue, but quite literally a matter of life and death.

One of the biggest challenges I faced in pursuing treatment was the lack of resources and infrastructure in the West Bank, where I live. Medical equipment is scarce, and there are very few specialized oncology units in the area. To do my PET scans, I had to travel to Nablus on January 26th. On the day of my scan, 10 Palestinians were killed in nearby Jenin. Roads were closed, violence erupted, and I had to worry about getting back to my home in Ramallah along with dealing with cancer. The hospital I went to was overwhelmed with patients, as usual, and had limited staff and resources. The wait times were long, and the conditions were far from ideal.

But it wasn’t just the lack of resources that made accessing healthcare difficult. The ongoing conflict in the West Bank and Gaza also presented challenges. Movement restrictions, checkpoints, and the closure of borders would make it difficult to access medical facilities and get the treatment I needed. The fear of violence and the constant threat of military raids and attacks added to the stress and anxiety of dealing with cancer.

My personal experience with breast cancer has given me a new perspective on the work that I am doing to address this issue in the West Bank and Gaza. It has made me even more passionate about helping to improve access to healthcare and to support those who are working to make a difference in the lives of women in Palestine.

Breast cancer is a global health issue that affects women of all ages, races, and backgrounds. It’s important that we work together to raise awareness, increase access to screening and treatment, and support research to find new and better treatments. This is particularly important in areas like the West Bank and Gaza, where the challenges are especially great.

My experience has taught me that cancer knows no borders or boundaries. It can affect anyone, anywhere, and we have to join arms to do what we can to fight it. I am grateful for the care I am receiving and for the opportunity to use my experience to enlist support to help others.

Sandra with her daughters, Neda, Nura and Niveen.

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