Srinagar, Oct 1: Samreen (name changed) who was married for five years felt the ground slipping beneath her feet when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“The most challenging part was to go for mastectomy (a surgical operation to remove a breast). What traumatized me was the doctor’s revelation that they needed to remove my left breast. For some time, I refused and asked doctors for some other option, but there was none. After surgery, I felt like I was robbed. Something important has been snatched from me without which I felt incomplete,’ she said.
Similarly, Saima (name changed), was deeply disturbed after the doctors revealed that they had to remove her left breast.
“I was a healthy person. Neither too weak, nor too fat. Everyone liked the way I looked. But after my disease, I started losing weight. I started becoming thinner and thinner. I hated to look at myself in the mirror. I even asked my family members to take down all the mirrors in the house. The feeling of loss negatively affected their self-esteem and confidence,” she said.
Breast cancer survivors in Kashmir face many challenges (particularly changes in body image) on their road to restoring physical and psychosocial health following diagnosis.
Entitled, “Lived experiences of women suffering from breast cancer in Kashmir: a phenomenological study,” was aimed to gain an in-depth understanding of the lived experiences of Kashmiri women suffering from breast cancer within the context of their day-to-day lives.
The 2020 study conducted at the University of Kashmir highlighted two main themes that explained the lived experiences of women with breast cancer: (i) challenges encountered (altered body image, embarrassment, perceived worries, financial constraints, dealing with negative attitudes and stigma) and (ii) coping strategies (reliance on religion and spirituality, social support, living, as usual, optimistic attitude and will to recover, and venting out).
The findings revealed that breast cancer diagnosis influences women significantly as they acknowledged that it was the most traumatic experience of their life; however, with time, they started to accept the reality and made use of various methods to cope with their illness.
Dr. Mohammad Saleem Jehangir, Senior Assistant Professor Department of Sociology, KU, and co-author of the study said each year, a large number of women in Kashmir are diagnosed with breast cancer, and its incidence has increased significantly in the past decade, making this cancer a common health problem among women, particularly in rural areas.
“Generally, breast cancer patients will be treated with surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, or combined treatment. Nearly all patients who are diagnosed with breast cancer undergo surgical resection as an indispensable part of their cancer therapy,” Dr. Jehangir said.
However, he explained that breast cancer diagnosis and treatment have considerable negative effects on the physical, psychological, and social health of patients and can reduce their quality of life.
“Many patients with breast cancer suffer from physical and cognitive impairments, changes in body image and sexuality, fear of recurrences, economic stress, poor social support, role functioning constraints, and family crisis throughout the entire disease process. Disease-related stigma is common among patients with breast cancer,” Dr. Jehangir said.
He said there is a need for programs, workshops, camps on grass root level to spread awareness about breast cancer symptoms, self-examination, screening, and other issues among women so that it can be beneficial for early detection and successful treatment.
“Free counseling should be made available for women who have breast cancer to help psychologically cope up, and common masses should also be made aware of the importance of counseling,” he said.
Dr. Jehangir pointed out that although there are few organizations like the cancer society of Kashmir that work to help needy cancer patients.
“However, there is a need for more governmental and non-governmental organizations to come forward and identify women from low-income families and help them financially throughout their treatment process,” he said.