Saudi Arabia: A Think Piece on Cancer

No matter how much I try not to think about it cancer does remain high on my mind.  I also have unanswered questions related to cancer which may never get answered.  For what it is worth, I’ve decided to share some of my experiences and resulting questions with American Bedu readers.  Perhaps putting more minds together some of the questions may get answers or at least make more sense.


Do you believe in coincidences?  I’m a caustic individual by nature and if a coincidence happens in spite of time and  distance, then perhaps it is not a coincidence at all.  What do I mean?  In February 2008 my cat, Max (Max a’Million) passed away at our home in Riyadh.  Although he had been a housecat his entire life and never went outdoors, he passed from feline leukemia – in spite of having been vaccinated for the disease. 


June 2008 I was initially diagnosed with breast cancer. I was treated and (thought) I put the cancer behind.  Life returned back to normal until October 2008 when my (late) husband was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of acute leukemia.


If my cat is included in to the equation, doesn’t it seem odd that 3 members of the same household were diagnosed with cancer within a 9 month period?  Was there some element in our house or its location which made us at higher risk for cancer?


  We lived in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs housing compound which is a private Saudi compound for Foreign Affairs employees.  We had a lovely home which was built by a Korean construction company which incorporated American features while maintaining Saudi traditions. We were mere minutes away from Riyadh’s city centre.  When my husband and I moved into our villa we learned that it had been empty for almost a year; it had been held for a VIP who was abroad but eventually it was determined that individual would not be back soon. His extended absence was our gain. We moved in and made our villa home.  Abdullah and I did as we had in Washington and combined our decorating tastes making our home a mix of culture and love.

Shortly after we moved in we had some problems with the water and sewage system. The maintenance crew fixed the problem right away.  However we came to realize this became a regular occurrence and about every 3 months the same problem would recur…and get fixed again….  The last time a maintenance technician was working at our villa, prior to our departure, he told my husband that our villa had a history of water and sewage system problems! Could this have been a clue that something wasn’t quite right?


I may never have my answers to these questions.  What I do know is that my husband and I enjoyed our villa from Spring 2007 until our departure from Riyadh in March 2009.  We left Riyadh so my husband could receive a stem cell transplant at MD Anderson Medical Center in Houston, Texas.  Little did either of us know back then that we would not return to Riyadh together.


I do know that 12.5 percent of Saudi’s diagnosed with cancer have breast cancer and that these women are usually diagnosed at a Stage 3 or Stage IV by the time they are first seen by a medical practitioner. 

Saudi men are more likely to be diagnosed with an acute leukemia than Saudi women.  Saudi is ranked 15th in the world for death due to leukemia.

I have a strong faith in God so I’ve never challenged why Abdullah was taken back home to Him in February 2010 or asked why my own cancer keeps progressing. Yet my own analytic nature does have me looking back at events and wishing for some answers to my questions.

20 Responses

  1. I don’t blame you for wondering if there wasn’t something going on with all those coincidences. This looks like perhaps this is a job for Erin Brockovich

    Do you know anything at all about any of your neighbors’ health?

  2. One of my favorite movies, Lynn!

    After we had left Saudi I did wonder if others in the immediate area had similar health issues…

    While it’s pretty common to know ones neighbors in America it is not as common in Saudi neighborhoods where there are 10 and 12 foot high walls between homes! If we had lived in a small town or a non-Saudi only compound I’m sure I would have known the neighbors.

  3. it is water under the bridge now but was on my mind so I put my thoughts to blog words…

    On Tue, Jun 7, 2011 at 4:05 AM, Carol Fleming wrote:

    > One of my favorite movies, Lynn! > > After we had left Saudi I did wonder if others in the immediate area had > similar health issues… > > While it’s pretty common to know ones neighbors in America it is not as > common in Saudi neighborhoods where there are 10 and 12 foot high walls > between homes! If we had lived in a small town or a non-Saudi only compound > I’m sure I would have known the neighbors. >

  4. I don’t know that it is ‘water under the bridge’. What if there IS something in the water or the soil that caused it? You wouldn’t want others to suffer as y’all have (IF it were to be true).

    I understand how you might not have known anything about your neighbors but perhaps some people that live there or who have lived there will read this and if they know of others’ illnesses they will mention it here?

  5. THEN we can get Erin on it!

  6. The question is WHY. Why? Why? Why? I really don’t understand why children and good people have to suffer in a world created by loving god (so they tell us).

    In some cases I can understand, but in other situations It is beyond my poor powers of comprehension.

    You take care, girl.


  7. My friend and I discussed your situation and came up with a possibility of you both getting contaminated from your last post, but a sewage problem could have been the cause as well.

    On a side note, I was always worried about you being a blogger because some have been jailed or targeted for harassment in the past due to their religious views for presenting information that others deemed inappropriate.

  8. It could be a genetic problem, all these centuries of inbreeding have caused specific health problems, this tendency for males to develop specific cancers.
    I read up on the subject when you told me about Abdullah, and not only are middle eastern men far more prone to develop the disease, statistically, their chances are even more dismal than those of other groups.

    And from what I’ve been reading the majority of the Saudi population has adopted an industrialized diet, full of chemicals, refined sugars and flour, and preservatives. That won’t help either.

  9. Thanks for sharing this. That does seem odd to have 3 members of your family diagnosed with cancer in such a short time period. :-/

  10. I appreciate the thoughts and input.

    I agree Lynn that coming forward with my own questions may raise more awareness of anomolies and concerns.

    Abdullah and I (and my kitty Max) were both well-traveled so it is also hard to say if that contributed to our cases or not.

    Rose, I think any blogger who writes about Saudi Arabia will be subject to a lot of scrutiny.

    Well, in any case, tomorrow (pending cooperative white blood counts) I’ll be starting the new phase of chemo.

  11. My gut says it was no co-incidence, however since you all 3 travelled to many places together, it could be environment related but maybe a diff environment ?

    It’s kind of suspect when 3 genetically unrelated living together int he same place get it.

  12. My gut feels that too; I think that is why I felt like writing on this subject.

  13. AB if your gut is telling you something isnt/wasnt quite right with that villa…I hope you let someone in authority know to protect other potential house dwellers from possible harm.

    Did you live in that villa the whole time you lived in Saudi?

  14. @Coolred – no; we did not live in the villa our entire time in Saudi.

  15. I agree with Radha’s point of view. It’s something I wondered about, too.

    It would be interesting to see if there are any common links within KSA cancer patients, but privacy is also important. I am not sure if and when anyone will be made aware of the cause is linked to a particular place, water source, etc. With breast cancer, is it generally more related to the lymph system then? I find it interesting that it would affect different body systems in men as opposed to women. Is this considered typical? Other questions that I have regarding this include how are food items regulated in KSA AND what pesticides/chemicals are fruits, veggies, herbs, etc. treated with? Does the soil where said food sources are grown have to be tested regularly?

  16. Strangeone, I’m not sure if this is true but I have heard of some vegetable farms here in Saudi being irrigated by (untreated) sewage water. Also, I wonder what the percentage of fruits and vegetables is actually grown here in Saudi compared to what is importe from other countries; in which you would have to take those countries environmental factors into consideration and how that could affect the consumer’s overall health.

    American Bedu, I sincerely wish you well. This may sound odd but maybe God wanted the three of you to be bonded in some way by this disease. I know you would rather have a different bond but in this perhaps you are better able to understand the other’s suffering because you’ve experienced the same sickness.

  17. @Strangeone…I just found this…it’s true…yuck!

  18. I believe most of the fruit and produce in Saudi Arabia is actually exported. There are vegetable markets in the Kingdom and my husband and I would go them but most at the grocery stores is from all over the world.

  19. Perhaps we have found your link?

  20. very interesting…

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