A cancer support group is giving much-needed hope to those affected by cancer, especially the newly-diagnosed, by asking patients to have positive attitudes toward their health problems as doing so gives twice as much chance of surviving the disease.
Speaking about the group launched in 2010 – the Hayat Cancer Support Group, the first of its kind in Qatar – its founder and wife of the former American ambassador to Qatar, Ellie LeBaron, and administrative co-ordinator Amani Halawa, both cancer survivors, said many cancer patients and their families are already benefiting from the group.
“The group was borne out of my personal experience because when I was newly diagnosed with breast cancer, despite that the oncologists were doing their best to reassure me and give the best of information as they could, I was still yearning for more, especially to hear from somebody who has had breast cancer and survived it,” LeBaron said.
She noted that the main aim of establishing the group was to provide support for those affected by cancer by supplying them with all necessary information about the disease and how best to cope through treatment, which usually last for around one year.
“Once they are diagnosed with cancer, many people view it as a death sentence and they loose hope by isolating themselves perhaps they are not aware that they can survive. And I used to say to people that having positive attitude treats better than chemotherapy, radiotherapy, surgery or any other cancer treatments,” Halawa maintained.
She said a good number of people, especially in the Arab region, are unwilling to share their health problems openly due to some cultural believes and the closeness of the families.
“We recognise the fact that many people may find it difficult to divulge their health problems to strangers, and this is why we establish this group to offer support to newly diagnosed people.
“Our members comprise a good number of cancer survivors, who are willing to devout their time to share their experiences about chemotherapy, radiotherapy and what it feels like throughout the treatment period,” she said.
Presently, Hayat Cancer Support Group has around 30 members comprising expatriates and Qataris, 85% of whom are cancer survivors.
LeBaron urged people having any form of cancer to take advantage of the group to learn more on how they can survive the disease.
“Apart from providing support and relevant information to people that are going through cancer therapies, this group also gives reassurance to them that all will be fine and we believe when people that have similar experiences interact, they tend to understand each other better,” she said.
LeBaron said that those who wish to remain anonymous, especially Qataris and other Arabs, should feel free to do so but can still belong to the group and communicate with members via emails or telephone.
“People do not need to be physically present to be a member of the group … they can always seek support through our members. We are always ready to offer help so far it has nothing to do with giving medical advice. We always leave that to Oncologists,” she said.
According to both LeBaron and Halawa, because many people in Qatar depend most on their family for support on many grounds, the impact of cancer is also felt by family members, some of whom often misconstrue the disease as a death penalty for their loved one.
They also stated that due to cultural reasons, many prefer to remain in hiding, fearing stigmatisation by members of their own family or from within the community.
“We have had cases of some women who were having tough time from their families members because they do not have the understanding of the disease that it can really be cured and that people are actually surviving,” Halawa mentioned adding that on some occasions, many women have had to travel abroad to seek treatments for their maladies without the knowledge of any of their family members.
“There are also instances of some women, who never divulged to even their spouses that they have cancer for fear that the man could just take another wife due to the husband’s erroneous belief that the affected wife would soon die due to cancer. We have also seen cases of children becoming very paranoid about their mothers’ conditions,” she mentioned.
However, she said to help many overcome the problems of misunderstanding by family members, as well as reduce the stigmatisation of cancer patient, the group is providing counselling for member’ families and relatives on how to cope and at the same time care for the patients.
The group is also seeking collaboration with the only cancer hospital in the country, the Al Amal Hospital at the Hamad Medical Corporation, on providing counselling for newly diagnosed patients and their families as well as on packaging programmes about combating stigmatisation of cancer patients, she mentioned.
Halawa can be reached on [email protected]
or 6653-7872 for more information about the group.
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