Nov 2, 2011
by Jane Still
|Awatef, left, is grateful for the treatment
she received at Al Ahli Hospital, Gaza.
In June this year, Awatef Abu Toha’s mammogram showed a 1.5cm cyst in her left breast.
In Australia, a woman might have to wait a few days to get the results of a fine needle aspiration of such a lump. But because Awatef lives in Gaza, she had to wait two months. The result was not good – it was cancer. Like most women in Gaza who are diagnosed with breast cancer, she had a mastectomy.
Unlike women in Australia, who can look forward to an 80% survival rate at 5 years, Awatef’s prospects are not so good, at only 40%. Most breast cancers in Gaza are detected too late for surgery alone to be successful. Chemotherapy is not reliable in Gaza, and radiotherapy is not available at all, so women must wait for approval for treatment in Jordan, Egypt or Israel. They must wait for a financial assessment, and they must wait for the Israeli Defence Force to give them a permit.
Many women die waiting.
Anglicord last month held the Australian launch of its Women Die Waiting campaign, funding breast clinics through the Al Ahli Hospital, the only Christian hospital in Gaza. The clinics will offer screening as well as education so that women know to examine themselves, and when to seek a medical opinion. “Given the current treatments available in Gaza,” says Misha Coleman, CEO of Anglicord, “the earlier we detect the cancer, the more likely it is that surgery will be sufficient, and the more likely the woman is to survive.”
"If I got the pathology result earlier, I would have saved myself from the mastectomy operation,” Awatef told Dr Suhaila Tarazi, Director of Al Ahli Hopstial. “I am very scared of the outcome of the cancer."
At the same time she is grateful for the good medical care and the psychosocial support that the staff of Al Ahli Hospital have given to her during her treatment.
Since July 1 this year, the breast clinics at the hospital have screened over 500 women, around 30% of whom have required follow up treatment.