Spare us the ‘sympathy tilt’, say UAE-based breast cancer survivors

Dubai: “It’s always difficult to give bad news about cancer because no one wants to hear it. Not that I don’t know how to do it, but because many aspects come into play.”

The candid statement from Dr. Houriya Kazim, the first female surgeon in the United Arab Emirates who has worked with thousands of breast cancer patients for 30 years, should have everyone sitting up.

According to Dr Houriya, who runs the Well Woman Clinic in Dubai, “Cancer remains the most dreaded word today. People immediately start thinking they are dying – albeit with breast cancer , studies tell us that five times more people are diagnosed with breast cancer than they die from it, and death doesn’t have to be short-term.

Despite having worked with thousands of breast cancer patients for 30 years, Dr. Houriya Kazim says it’s still difficult to break bad news to a patient.
Image credit: Vijith Pullikal/Gulf News

Given the sensitivity, the pioneering Emirati doctor said, “My job is to give the patient truthful information in a way they can understand. News delivery is important. It must be done in the right way and must give them hope in a realistic way.

Whether it’s a doctor, friend, or colleague, what people say and do when they encounter a cancer patient is the subject of much discussion.

Everyone wants it but…

Cancer survivors suggest that although most people mean well, certain comments and actions can act as triggers for anxiety or depression in an already traumatized patient.

“The last thing I want to hear is that I’m ‘lucky’ or ‘lucky’ that my cancer was diagnosed early. The terms ‘lucky’ and ‘cancer’ do not exist in the same sentence,” said Kimberley Schofield, an American expat in Abu Dhabi who was diagnosed with breast cancer in November last year.

Kim

Kimberley Schofield has a strong message for women: “For God’s sake, go get checked out. Bad news doesn’t get better with time.
Image credit: Vijith Pullikal/Gulf News

She said being diagnosed with cancer of any kind is the most frightening and devastating experience in a person’s life because they know they have cells in their body that can kill. “I was alone when I learned of my diagnosis over the phone. And even though I was expecting this call, it was not easy to process the information. I will never forget what I felt at that moment.”

But Schofield said she was very grateful to be in the hands of an excellent team of doctors and also to have a supportive family and circle of friends.

She also has a strong message to all women: “For God’s sake, go get checked out. Bad news doesn’t get better with time.

No ‘sympathy tilt’ please

Shivani Radia, a British national based in Dubai who was diagnosed with breast cancer in September last year, also shared her experience.

She recalled how she would struggle with comments – like ‘you’re so brave’ or ‘everything will be fine’ – and even awkward behavior like a cheeky look or a ’tilt of sympathy’ – the typical sideways tilt of the head when someone just finds out you have cancer and feels too sorry for you.

S

Shivani Radia emphasizes the positive role the community can play in helping a cancer patient overcome obstacles.
Image credit: Vijith Pullikal/Gulf News

Radia, who along with Dr Houriya participated in a recent roundtable entitled “From Fear to Hope” held in Dubai, said the community can actually play a very positive role in helping a cancer patient to fight the odds.

As a fiercely independent mother of three, Radia said she could never bring herself to ask anyone for help. She therefore greatly appreciates all these people who take it upon themselves and get involved, especially during her difficult days. “It can be anything from sending me a meal; picking up the children from school; get their costumes sorted for a show; or just making sure they get the attention they need.

How

Advice on how you can help a cancer patient overcome obstacles.
Image credit: Vijith Pullikal/Gulf News

However, not everyone has the ability to rise to the occasion. Dr. Aida Suhaimi, a clinical psychologist at Camali Clinic, Mental Health Partner of Medcare Hospital, puts it into perspective.

She said a lot of people don’t know what to say or do when they meet a cancer patient, so they end up saying or doing the wrong things.

“Don’t feel obligated to say anything. Instead, try to listen – it’s the best thing you can do, to start with,” she advised.

DrA

Dr. Aida Suhaimi says that many people don’t know what to say or do when they meet a cancer patient, so they end up saying or doing the wrong things.
Image credit: Vijith Pullikal/Gulf News

Cancer patients talk about how they’ve had to deal with questions like, “What stage is your cancer at?” », « Is it curable? “, “What are the chances of it happening again? ” etc. More often than not, they don’t have the answers.

Dr Aida said a cancer patient struggled with a high level of uncertainty. “This is true from the earliest stages of examination and investigations, through waiting for test results, diagnosis and the course of treatment. It is a very long process and at each phase the patient feels overwhelmed by a mixture of emotions.

Emotions can include varying degrees of sadness, fear, anger, frustration, guilt, anxiety, and loneliness. “So it is important that these feelings are not invalidated. Ignoring the patient’s feelings by saying “don’t be afraid” or “don’t get angry” is not advised. They need time, they need to be allowed to express their feelings.

Unpleasant feelings triggered

Ingrid Valles Po, an Indian expat, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003, agrees. Now cured of cancer, she recalls her own battle with the disease in which certain types of comments triggered unpleasant feelings.

She said: ‘I didn’t want to hear something like ‘the bald looks good on me’ or ‘the color of your wig looks good’ when I was having chemotherapy. It would just make me less confident. In fact, at that time, I didn’t know anyone else who had cancer and I was full of doubts. But I read a lot about cancer and later I also joined the Brest Friends support group. It helped.

Ingrid

Ingrid Valles Po, Cancer Free Now, Cancer Free Now, recalled her own battle with the disease in which certain types of comments triggered unpleasant feelings.
Image credit: Vijith Pullikal/Gulf News

Launched by Dr Houriya in 2005, Brest Friends offers patients and survivors a platform to come together, swap notes and support each other. “Patients are full of questions and concerns and they expect an informed response. As a doctor, I make it a point to listen to them,” Dr Houriya said.

An informed response is the key

An informed response is key, because nothing can be more annoying than a barrage of misinformation for a cancer patient. Radia recalled how she would be inundated with the occasional nutritional advice that would leave her more exhausted than energized.

“As a patient, what I find really helpful is having someone there for me in silence and in difficult times. Someone who is pragmatic will come to my door and say they will walk with me, my children and my family,” Radia said.

Dr. Aida also points out that people mistakenly think they need to find a solution quickly when they encounter a cancer patient. “The patient really needs practical help. There are two aspects here – emotion-focused coping and solution-focused coping, so work around these strategies to provide the needed help.

Life Changing Experience

Dr. Barjis Sulthana, psychiatrist at NMC Al Nahda Specialty Hospital, summarizes: “The diagnosis of cancer is a life-changing experience for the person as well as those close to them. The psychological impact is emotional, behavioral and cognitive. It depends on various factors including the type of cancer, the stage, the treatment options available, the treatment modality as well as the person’s personality.

Doctor B

Dr. Barjis Sulthana recommends a personalized approach to managing a cancer patient’s feelings.
Image credit: Vijith Pullikal/Gulf News

She said: “Various psychiatric disorders, including sleep problems, emotional problems, depression, anxiety and panic, adversely affect a person’s quality of life as well as treatment and prognosis. “

As such, Dr. Sulthana stresses the need for a personalized approach to managing these symptoms. And every thoughtful word or action, no matter how small, by others counts towards that end.

Comments are closed.