ACCESS, MI Photo and article courtesy of Dado, Natasha "Breast cancer survivors stress importance of early detection, diagnosis." The Arab American News, 10.31.2014, 07:35 AM Rpt. Avon BHOP E – Newsletter.
STERLING HEIGHTS — Arab American breast cancer survivor Hiam Hamade often discusses her own experiences with the disease in the hope of showing other women who have it that they can still live happy, healthy and normal lives after a diagnosis.
Hamade was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004. She said the disease is preventable with early detection; and is more treatable the sooner a diagnosis receives medical attention.
Hamade is the supervisor of the ACCESS Chronic Disease Prevention Programs and head of the organization's Breast and Cervical Cancer Control Program (BCCCP).
She spoke with The Arab American News Saturday, Oct. 25 at the ACCESS Macomb Center where an event took place for people to learn more about how they can reduce their risk of breast cancer or find it early.
The event also included free medical procedures, including breast cancer and cardiovascular screenings.
Dearborn Heights resident Sahar Elhosiny, 44, was diagnosed with breast cancer after a lump was found in her breast. She attended the event and is currently undergoing chemotherapy to treat her cancer.
Elhosiny also stressed the importance of early detection and diagnosis.
"I advise everyone to check themselves out as much as possible and as early as possible, so they'll be saved," she said.
The stigma of cancer in the Arab community often prevents people from opening up candidly about the disease or getting the medical care they need to fight it fast enough. Some women don't seek help from the BCCCP until they experience pain in their breasts or develop an infection.
Hamade said only a small minority of women find it shameful and embarrassing to discuss breast cancer; and that attitude is more commonly shared among newly arrived refugees and immigrants.
"We've been getting a lot of refugees over the past two or three years, especially from Iraq, and now they are coming from Syria," she said. "The ones that come from Iraq, when we check them in the room, we see that they are in the late stage and they keep it to themselves."
She said the stigma of breast cancer in the community makes it more difficult to find Arab American breast cancer survivors who are willing to share their stories, because they do not want to be recognized.
"The first thing is that our women, they don't go to the doctors unless they are really, really sick," Hamade said. "And then sometimes they keep this to themselves, because they think that it is not a priority."
There is a misconception among people in the community that once you are diagnosed with breast cancer it is fatal and not treatable.
"It is not a death sentence," said Laura Zubeck, director, patient community education and volunteer services for the Karmanos Center.
She said advanced breast cancer requires more aggressive care, which might not be able to be treated.
"It is easier to cure breast cancer," Zubeck said. "Breast cancer is very curable and 95 percent of those cases that are caught early can be cured.
"Come early. As soon as you think something, as soon as you feel something is different, you need to come in," she added. "But women should come in every year for an annual exam. They should see their healthcare providers. We have systems set up in the community that allow them to seek regular screenings without insurance."
Hamade said those who can't afford healthcare should never be swayed away from getting treatment for breast cancer.
The BCCCP offers mammograms and clinical breast exams to low-income women over 40 years old who have limited access to medical care. It also provides cervical screenings at no cost.
A lot of women have died of breast cancer, because of the lack of early detection and no access to mammograms. One out of four female cancer survivors have had no access to cancer treatment and many have become victims of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke and other medical complications because they can't get affordable screenings and medical lab work done.
"I have a lot of refugee clients here and I ask them if they have insurance," said Azza Ahmed, who works for the ACCESS Macomb Community Healthcare Research Center. "If you are over 40, you can have a free mammogram, a free breast exam."
The BCCCP also disseminates Arabic language versions of the [Susan G.] Komen for the Cure educational materials.
Hamade has been a part of several educational seminars on breast cancer in the community, many of which are bi-lingual and address risk factors, warning signs and the importance of regularly-scheduled screenings.
She said bilingual services are also provided at ACCESS and that clients who don't speak English and need a translator can have a navigator accompany them when seeking medical care.
"We can provide them with a navigator," Hamade said.
EARLY DETECTION METHODS
Health care professionals encourage women— especially those in their 40s or older— to conduct a breast self-exam once a month to get familiarized with their breasts, so if they notice changes, they seek care from a specialist right away.
Breast self exam is an option for women in their 20s and 30s. A clinical breast exam at least every three years by a medical expert is recommended for women in those age groups.
It is crucial that those diagnosed with breast cancer immediately inform family members, because the disease is hereditary.
A woman with breast cancer could actually be hurting her family members by keeping it a secret.
A lot of people get breast cancer screenings, because one of their family members was diagnosed and they know early detection can help prevent breast cancer.
Ahmed said the emotional support those diagnosed with the disease receive is important.
"I think if they discover it early there is better treatment," Ahmed said, discussing the importance of early detection.
"I encourage them to get help. Speak to me. I am a woman just like you, so talk to me. There is somebody to help you, but you have to speak up."
The ACCESS Community Health and Research Center is located at 6450 Maple St. Dearborn, MI 48126.
For more information on the BCCCP or to reach Hiam Hamade, call 313.216.2206