“If breast cancer is detected at an early stage, it is more likely to be cured, allowing the woman to lead a normal life,”
....Dr Habibullah Talukdar Raskin, head of the cancer epidemiology department at the National Institute of Cancer Research and Hospital.
Taslima, a 41-year old lady from Munshiganj, recalls a day two years ago when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
"It was an evening in April, and I was sitting at my doctor's chamber. I could not imagine that the fever I had for several days and the loss of weight were signs of cancer. My world suddenly became dark," said Taslima.
No one in her family, her relatives or her neighbours had been diagnosed with cancer before. So when her family learnt that Taslima had cancer, they felt totally helpless. They did not know how to handle a cancer patient.
"After the diagnosis, we could not lead a normal life for almost a week," Taslima continued. "I wanted to live a long life so I started treatment," she said.
Her right breast was surgically removed, she said.
Then the chemotherapy began.
"It was like fighting a battle," said Taslima, who is now waiting for her eighth chemotherapy session at the cancer unit of Shaheed Suhrawardy Medical College and Hospital in the capital.
"After each chemo session I feel very ill. I become weak, I vomit and I have other problems. I cannot do anything after that," Taslima added.
She has five children. Her two elder sons bear the expense of her treatment. So far they have spent about Tk7 lakh on treatment.
Along with the physical and economic loss, Taslima is suffering from depression. She cannot accept her complete loss of hair. She still does not know if she will recover from the disease.
Anjumanara Begum is another victim of breast cancer. She has been fighting the deadly disease for 10 years.
"Since 2009, MRI, CT, PET, chemotherapy and radiotherapy have become integral parts of my life. I and my family no longer live a normal life," she said.
The 51-year-old woman lives in Jaldhaka upazila of Nilphamari. But she has to travel to Dhaka every now and then for treatment.
Anjumanara's immune system has become very weak because of the cancer treatment. That is why she falls ill very often. Last month she was hospitalised with dengue, and was in a very critical condition.
She has three daughters and a son.
She stays with her elder daughter in the capital's Agargaon area when she comes for treatment.
Over the last 10 years, her treatment has cost around Tk1 crore, said Anjumanara's husband Mohammad Sahidullah.
Breast cancer is at the top of the list of the cancers that cause death in Bangladesh.
A joint study by GLOBOCAN and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) revealed that 12.7 thousand women in Bangladesh get breast cancer every year.
Around 19 percent of the female cancer patients in Bangladesh are suffering from breast cancer.
"If breast cancer is detected at an early stage, it is more likely to be cured, allowing the woman to lead a normal life," said Dr Habibullah Talukdar Raskin, head of the cancer epidemiology department at the National Institute of Cancer Research and Hospital.
The patient, however, must go through regular check-ups and follow-up treatments, he added.
However, prevention should be the primary measure, said Dr Habibullah.
He suggested breastfeeding to prevent breast cancer. It benefits both mother and child.
"That is why campaigns should motivate mothers to breastfeed their children to protect themselves from cancer," said the oncologist.
Winning the battle against cancer
In 2003, Tahmina Gaffar,48, became feverish at night for many days, and lost weight steadily. She was brought to a doctor who suggested mammography, a breast cancer detecting test.
The test revealed a lump in her right breast. Doctors then suggested having a biopsy done. Finally, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Tahmina started her battle against the cancer.
When she first learnt that she has cancer, she thought she was going to die soon.
"At that time, cancer meant death. But, I did not want to give up. I went to Mumbai for treatment. The breast was removed and then the chemotherapy treatment started," Tahmina told The Business Standard.
She returned home after having one chemotherapy session in Mumbai. She had five more chemotherapy sessions in Bangladesh. She said the chemotherapy was very painful.
"I lost my hair and my eyebrows after chemotherapy. I looked so weird that even my grandchild could not recognise me. That was pathetic," Tahmina recalled her painful experience.
However, the problem was more social than physical, she said.
That time, cancer was thought to be an infectious disease, she continued.
"No one came to our house. Relatives did not eat anything in our house. When I went to someone's home, I did not eat anything with a spoon or on a plate because I thought they would throw it away after I left. I could not share this with anybody," said Tahmina.
"Everyone used to say that no one would marry my son because I am a cancer patient," she added.
Tahmina is now a 64-year-old women. She won the fight after five years of treatment. She now works for the Aparajita Society Against Cancer, an organisation for cancer survivors.
Because her cancer was detected at a primary stage, and the treatment was started without delay, she has recovered. Now, she does free-hand exercises every day and goes for a routine follow-up once a year.
"Aparajita Society helped me bring a smile back in my life. Now I read poetry and listen to music. I work to make people aware of cancer," she said.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. In Bangladesh, the 10th of October is celebrated as `Breast Cancer Awareness Day' since 2013. This year's theme of the day is 'Breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast cancer.'