Friday, October 19, 2007
SITI (not her real name) was only 23 when she died, but seven of those brief 23 years of her life were spent battling the breast cancer that was caught too late because of ignorance and misplaced shame.
She felt the lump early on, but was too embarassed to bring this up in family discussions. The horrified look on her parents' faces upon learning the need for a radical mastectomy ("You're a woman, you need your breasts!" were her mother's exact words) was yet another reason why she chose to continue to suffer in silence before the pain became intolerable.
There could not be enough words to describe the pain and suffering that the disease inflicted on her, and the anguish that her parents and family experienced watching her suffer. She became one in the statistics of women who succumb to breast cancer every year. According to one report, each year, breast cancer is newly diagnosed in more than 1 million women worldwide and more than 400,000 women die from it. Breast cancer as a public health problem is growing throughout the world, but especially in developing regions, where the incidence has increased as much as 5 per cent per year. The mortality: incidence ratio is much higher in developing countries than in developed countries: only half of global breast cancers are diagnosed in the developing world, but they account for three-fourths of total deaths from the disease.
Now, what flashes into our minds when we see a pink ribbon? Breast cancer and the need for a concerted effort to fight the disease around the world. Thanks to the global campaign for greater awareness, supported by giant pharmaceutical and cosmetics companies as well as organisations and individuals, we now automatically associate the colour pink with breast cancer.
Indeed, more people are taking part in the race for good deeds that include fund-raising for researches into the disease. In Australia, for instance, the Breast Cancer Institute issues a Health Diary every year to raise essential funding for breast cancer researches. Since its launch in 1999, the diary has raised more than $2.4 million for the clinical trials research programmes of the Australian New Zealand Breast Cancer Trials Group. In the United States, activists created a programme called "Look Good ... Feel Better" which helps women manage"appearance-related" side effects of cancer treatment. Cancer patients, often bald following chemotherapy sessions, are treated to free workshops on make-up applications as well as the opportunities to try on wigs — on the theory that make-up reinforces self-esteem.
What about the Muslim society? Our women are exposed to as much risk of breast cancer as any other women. Our community, too, should participate in this race for good deeds. The Canadian Islamic Congress in Toronto recently announced that it was giving away pink hijabs to 200 Canadian women across the country who will volunteer to wear them on October 26 to raise funds for breast cancer research. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
The Canada Islamic Congress (CIC) is calling for Canada-wide support in making that day the "National Pink Hijab Day". "Wearing a pink hijab on that day will send a doubly powerful message," said CIC national vice-president, Wahida Valiante, "that breast cancer does not discriminate between Muslim and non-Muslim and that wearing a hijab is a personal choice to be respected by all ... It should not be reason for abuse or discrimination. We warmly welcome non-Muslim women to wear pink hijabs in solidarity with their Muslim sisters."
For Brunei Darussalam, where Islam is the way of life and hijab a sort of national dress for our women, donning a pink hijab would be easy and another good deed to be recorded by Allah Almighty.