I've been putting it off for six months and I finally did it - my first breast cancer screening via mammogram. I turned 40 this year and well, that's when they say you should do it and keep doing it once a year. I am fortunate to have great healthcare coverage, and so there was nothing but my own (considerable) trepidation holding me back.
Turns out it was fine, it was absolutely fine. Like most things that scare us, the reality was much better than the scary scenario I had created in my head. It's like an unexpected Christmas present to myself.
Although I've argued before that there is enough in the way of breast cancer awareness in the west – there I believe the whole "pink" movement has reached a level of consumerist insanity, and any cash raised should instead be funnelled into research – that is not true in the Middle East and particularly the Gulf. Here cultural differences and long-held taboos mean breast cancer is still often left untreated. Yet cancer is the third leading cause of death in the UAE, and among women, breast cancer is the most common malignancy. Adding to concern, in September the Dubai-based Centre for Arab Genomic Studies revealed their results of an analysis of national statistics on cancers dating back to 1981, which found women in the UAE tend to develop breast cancer at least a decade earlier than their counterparts in the West.
Emirati women over 40 must obtain a mammogram to renew their Thiqa insurance card, but there is no such safeguard in place for many other nationalities. It makes me sad thinking about how many women in the UAE who might like/need the screening cannot afford it or do not know how to arrange it.
And then there is everyone else: worried about what they might find, fearful the test will be unpleasant, or just plain lazy. There is so little in life that we can control, we owe it to ourselves to take care of the things we can.