Use Your Imagination: Breast Cancer in Saudi Arabia

Each month American Bedu blog has a feature called “Use your Imagination.”  American Bedu will begin a story which encompasses some aspect of Saudi Arabia and then, you, the reader, get the opportunity to either finish the story or simply take it to the next level for someone else to pick up.  October was international breast cancer awareness month but I believe this is a disease that needs to be highlighted more often than one month a year. Breast cancer is the number one cancer among women in Saudi Arabia which is not caught in time and therefore fatal to them.  That is a tragedy because if breast cancer is caught and treated early it is among the most curable of all cancers.  Breast cancer is also perceived as the “Woman’s Disease” in Saudi Arabia.  So with a slightly new twist, I look forward to how you contribute to this month’s “Use Your Imagination” with the story of Khalid below.

 

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Khalid had not been feeling well for several months.  He was lethargic, losing more energy daily and had noticed he had a strange lump which he felt on his chest.  Or to be more specific, he could feel this strange lump in the area of his breast.  He was hesitant to tell anyone or see a doctor for to do that was to openly acknowledge his fear that something was not right.  He also could not understand why as a man he would have this hard lump which felt like a small pebble under his breast.  The prospect of cancer never occurred to him for he was a man.  And after all, breast cancer was exclusively a woman’s disease, something a Saudi man would have little to no involvement with.  The women took care of each other for those “female things.”  Yet he could not deny that the lump was slowly becoming bigger.

Khalid was a married man in his early 40’s with four children.  He and his wife, Munira, had a typical Saudi relationship.  His days were spent working as an engineer for Saudi Telecom Corporation (STC) while Munira stayed at home taking care of the children and overseeing her housemaid.  Most evenings he would drop Munira and the children at one of her family member’s home to visit and he in turn would join his male friends at a local coffee house or estraha and pass by the time.

Khalid and Munira had a close and loving relationship but only privately behind the closed door of their bedroom.  They would never think of embracing or sitting side by side with hands entwined in front of their children.  That was not typical of them or their extended family to make such public displays of affection.

However one night while laying side by side in bed, Munira remembered something she had wanted to ask Khalid and to get his attention placed her hand on his chest.  It just happened that the placement of her hand was at the exact spot of Khalid’s lump which had continued to grow even larger.  Initially Munira removed her hand in shock wondering what had she felt.  But as any concerned spouse, she then insisted that Khalid remove his shirt so she could see exactly what it was she had felt.

Although Munira was a traditional Saudi woman who did not have an education beyond high school, she quickly recognized that something was not right.  After all, her mother and several of her sisters had battled breast cancer which had been identified by similar looking tumors like the one on Khalid’s breast.  But could a man get breast cancer?  Wasn’t that the woman’s disease?

When Munira suggested Khalid see a doctor his initial reaction was to scoff at her which was actually a ploy designed to mask his own fear.  Yet Munira’s reaction further scared Khalid.  While he would not admit it to Munira, he knew there was something very wrong.

And now it is your turn to continue the story.  What does Khalid do?  What does he learn?  How does Khalid’s experience change his views about breast cancer?

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10 Responses

  1. This subject is one I recently explored with my friend Allen, who lives in Houston, TX. He is a two-time survivor of breast cancer. In our discussions, we wondered how men in Saudi Arabia would react to this diagnosis and whether or not they would be open about what is really wrong.

    I felt that a man in Saudi would most likely be very secretive about the real diagnosis because breast cancer is thought to be only a “womens’ disease”.

    What frightens me is that a man would be like Khalid in this story and not seek care until it’s too late.

  2. @Sally,

    I think without promoting further awareness to include that men can be equally susceptible to the disease would have a man like Khalid simply stay quiet.

  3. I think that the men here have a hard enough time letting their women go to the doctor for breast cancer… Therefore, I think that they would be far less likely to do so themselves if they found a lump.

    I spoke to a woman who has watched 5 of her relatives pass away from breast cancer in the past few years. She said that oneof her Saudi female relatives was not allowed to seek treatment because her husband didn’t want her to be deformed. Now how dumb is that?

  4. That, RCG, is part of the challenge Saudi faces in erasing the stigma that breast cancer is just a women’s problem.

  5. In your part of the story,you have already mentioned that he is too reluctant on not seeing the doctor

    But after the disclosure of the disease to his wife, he may opt for on going to his personal doctor and relying on him to keep it private. As you mentioned that the his wife was able to notice the abnormality,so the growing tension and constant followup by his wife will eventually lead Khalid to visit the doctor.

  6. Thanks for adding Oss!

    And I hope others will add more or write their own view. Spread the awareness…breast cancer can affect anyone.

  7. Men have chance at getting breast cancer too. Maybe a campaign should be made to let men know they are prone to the disease too.

  8. That sketch is me–only in reverse. In 2003 my youngest son “found” the lump in my chest while we were playing basketball. An inadvertent elbow caused pain that would not go away. I ultimately had surgery and chemotherapy and then three years later got to do it again, this time additionally with radiation. I have been fine since. I am 58 and am an avid mountain climber and pursue many other physical activities. What Kahlid may not know is that 1 out of 100 breast cancer cases belongs to men—he is not a freak and should not be ashamed. I had no idea the number was that large. This means that most men passively hide or die—they are out there—it is just that no one sees them. Life has choices but no guarantees–Kahlid can confront his fears or compel others to raise his four children without his influence. Best wishes to all. Allen Wilson Houston, Texas, USA

  9. Allen – thank you for sharing your experience.

  10. [...] forward to how you contribute to this month’s “Use Your Imagination” with the story of Khalid here.” – American [...]

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