Living in a conflict zone is filled with uncertainty, restrictions and worry. When you are facing a life threatening and socially isolating illness as well, the emotional stress can be overwhelming. Our program in Gaza is helping to bring back hope to the lives of women living with breast cancer.
Breast cancer is a leading cause of cancer death in the Gaza Strip. Survival rates sit at around 65 percent (and can be as low as 40 percent), compared to over 90 percent in Australia. Most of us will probably know someone who has dealt with the trauma of breast cancer.
Like any serious illness, it affects every part of our lives. In addition to the physical burden of the illness is the emotional and mental stress caused by the trauma of treatment and the loss of ‘normal life’.
For women in Gaza, however, living in a conflict zone with limited electricity (only for six-eight hours per day), where most of the water is undrinkable, and experiencing cultural stigma and ostracism by your family (it is not uncommon for husbands to leave their wives after diagnosis), the psychological impacts are magnified. It is for these reasons that the Ahli Arab Hospital (AAH) has introduced an innovative new program for breast cancer patients. The Mind and Body program has been running since early 2019 and is already having an impressive impact on women with breast cancer.
This wonderful program is helping women receive the psychological help they need to cope with the emotional stress of living with the illness. Joining with other women, the program allows them to talk about their illness in a safe environment, knowing they are being listened to and that they are not alone.
One participant said, “My life changed completely. I learnt new techniques which helped me to start a new life and come out of my darkness and depression. I became more confident and empowered.”
There are currently more than 100 women participating in the program. They each attend 10 sessions which focus on activities such as movement and breathing, biomedical issues and the women’s family trees. The sessions allow the women to express their feelings in a safe space which decreases their stress levels. Due to the cultural stigma attached to having breast cancer, the program is restricted to just the women. This allows them greater freedom to express themselves.
The women have commented that they have an increased sense of self-esteem as a result of the program. The positive feedback has been consistent across all the participants. Putting the skills they learned in the program into practice in their lives has given them a new sense of purpose.
Some of the women find that their husbands are supportive of them doing the program, while others do not. One way in which AAH is working to address the lack of support from husbands is by providing transport for ladies to attend the sessions. This means there is no financial burden for the husbands. There is already significant financial pressure on most households because of the very high rate of unemployment. The women who attend the program also do not incur any financial burden. All costs are covered by the hospital.
Other feedback from women in the program reflects the positive impact the program is having. One woman said, “I went from a cycle of depression to a cycle of happiness.” Another said, “I am sick and my son is sick, but now I feel a sense of purpose through the Mind and Body program.” A third lady said, “Psychosocial support is more important than financial support. Financial support finishes, but psychosocial support stays with you for the rest of your life.”
Once the program has finished for the women, some of them will be encouraged to come back to the hospital and talk to future program attendees. The hospital also hopes that the program will be further expanded. Suhaila Tarazi, the Director of AAH, stated her heartfelt gratitude for the support provided by AOA over so many years. And we would like to thank you, our supporters for your support. Without you, programs like Mind and Body would not be able to continue.
The women of Gaza are looking to live a better life. In what is a terribly dark context for living, Suhaila says the light is there, provided by supporters like yourselves as you continue to support women with breast cancer.
Our ‘Women’s Health and Wellbeing’ program in Gaza is funded in part by the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP) and in part by your donations. We are proud to partner with the Australian Government in delivering this inspirational program.
To support this program select ’12. Palestine – Al Ahli Arab Hospital’ from the drop-down menu on our donate page.