25 June 2010
A group of Palestinian women gathered at the UNRWA community centre in Yarmouk on 5 June to help combat one of Syria’s deadliest diseases: breast cancer.
They attended a seminar to raise awareness about the disease among women in Syria, held as part of UNRWA’s breast cancer awareness campaign, which launched in March this year.
Several members of the Syrian Senology/Breast Cancer Committee, including chairperson Dr Suheil Samaan and Dr Hala al-Kahhal, joined campaign trainees to educate women about the disease, early detection, and effective treatment.
During routine check-ups with Dr al-Kahhal in Damascus, Denise McArthur, a cancer survivor and volunteer with Australian Volunteers International, became alarmed when she learned the breast cancer statistics for women in Syria.
She said: “Breast cancer is the number one cancer killer among women in Syria. Seventy per cent of patients are diagnosed with it at an advanced stage.”
Denise attributes her success in beating cancer to early detection. So with encouragement from Dr Samaan and Dr al-Kahhal, she devised plans to launch a breast cancer awareness programme.
Denise said: “I knew I had to spread the word and help Syrian women. My past experiences presented me with a chance to make a difference – to save lives.”
The awareness seminar held in Yarmouk covered a vast array of issues, ranging from instructions for conducting self-breast exams to ways in which one can help a family member or loved one in their fight against the disease.
The film “Fatenah”, which details one Palestinian woman’s fight against cancer in the Gaza Strip, followed the presentations and question-and-answer session.
Denise has been an integral member of the campaign to raise awareness among women in Syria. Since March, 80 people have completed the programme, which teaches women to train others in conducting awareness seminars about breast cancer throughout the country.
Training and seminars have been conducted and will continue to be conducted in all Palestinian refugee camps throughout Syria, as well as at multiple UN organisations and embassies.
UNRWA’s breast cancer awareness campaign is made possible thanks in part to funding from Australian Volunteers International and the Planet Wheeler Foundation. In addition to the provision of funds for the distribution of pamphlets and the community awareness meetings, their support has enabled many Palestinian women to undergo mammogram screenings free-of-charge.
Text and photo by Haley Bobseine
Denise McArthur’s 18-month volunteer position with UNRWA was funded by Australian Volunteers International which receives significant support from the Australian Government’s aid agency, AusAID.