Cancer traditionally is a disease in Saudi Arabia that is not openly discussed. If an individual is diagnosed with cancer, the diagnosis is oftentimes kept within the family. There remain few support groups and resources for patients and family members, whether male or female. The culture of Saudi Arabia has most cancer patient and family members accepting what the doctor says and asking few questions. The majority of women in Saudi Arabia remain reticent to have yearly mammograms and few men are proactive and receive prostate exams. A lot of Saudi women will not even broach the subject that there may be a problem such as a lump until it is too late and the cancer has grown beyond the point where it is operable or treatable.
The most pro-active Saudi organization reaching out specifically to women with cancer in Saudi Arabia is the Zahra Breast Cancer Association. Some expatriates have also started up their own cancer support groups at western compounds. These efforts are great but there are not enough initiatives in the Kingdom towards providing education and awareness of cancer.
Barriers of culture that have been in place for generations are not going to be broken down quickly. Speaking to the older generation of Saudis is unlikely to yield results. In order to change mindsets new ways of thinking and approaching cancer need to start with Saudis youth whether it be youth in elementary, middle or high school. Saudi schools do have classes in health, science and biology. These classes would offer natural venues for a one week session about cancer. If I were to teach such a class I’d have several goals and projects for the students.
I’d have the students learn and distinguish between the different kinds of cancers using the cancer color chart as a guide. Each student would then be encouraged to wear a cancer ribbon at least for the duration of the class in support of someone they know with the specific type of cancer correlating to the color of the ribbon. Students would be encouraged to share their experiences and/or fears of cancer. I would also have both an oncologist and a cancer warrior come to their class for a discussion and question and answer session. The week session would end with students sharing short essays on what they have learned and conclude with a test on the material covered.
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