This date has a special place in my heart, as well as the hearts of my children, my family and my loved ones. It was the day when my life—and my priorities—took a whole new direction.” So begins Breast Cancer, Break the Silence, a slim yet powerful and highly revealing booklet by Saudi Arabian physician and breast cancer survivor Samia Al-Amoudi, MB, ChB.
The reader enters Breast Cancer, Break the Silence through the emotional universe that all cancer patients share at the time of diagnosis: fear and a recognition that their life has suddenly changed forever. However, the author, being a Muslim woman in Saudi Arabia, writes about a quandary of cultural isolation most Western women cannot fathom. To that end, Dr. Al-Amoudi bravely turned her breast cancer diagnosis into a liberating campaign for women’s health that she describes in succinct and heartfelt language.
Although much of the book—such as chapters titled “Are You Susceptible to Breast Cancer?” and “The Day My Hair Fell Off”—serves as a spiritual and practical how-to guide for Muslim women diagnosed with breast cancer, there are chapters that deal with cultural barriers to care that are generalizable through many areas of the developing world, the most telling of which is titled “Letting Men Know.”
Dr. Al-Amoudi writes, “Because breast cancer has to do with an intimate part of the woman’s body, and because we are a society that thinks that women’s issues can only be dealt with in total silence, awareness about this killer disease becomes that much more sensitive.” That is why her ongoing campaign concerns empowering women by educating them about their right to consent regarding their own health care.
This book offers a sobering example of access-to-care issues faced by women in much of the developing world. For instance, in Saudi Arabia, women must get permission from their husbands before having a medical test or treatment. Hospital appointments are completely dependent on men as well, since women are forbidden from driving. In “Letting Men Know,” the book’s most powerful chapter, Dr. Al-Amoudi tackles this cultural barrier to women’s health care head-on, but with a voice that encourages dialogue instead of more silence.
In a chapter toward the end of the book, Dr. Al-Amoudi salutes the brave women who preceded her in bringing breast cancer out of the closet. Naturally, Betty Ford is among those pioneers. In 2006, Dr. Al-Amoudi joined that group of courageous women. This is a powerful and instructive book for its intended audience, especially young Arab girls and those who care about them. ■
Breast Cancer, Break the Silence, by Samia Al-Amoudi, MB, ChB, is available online at http://www.wardymag-en.net/books/break-the-silence/.
In 1974, First Lady Betty Ford spoke publicly about her breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. Remarkably, at the time of her action, public discussion of breast cancer in the United States was seen as off limits. Four decades later, cultural barriers to women’s health still exist, particularly in...