Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 5, Issue 85, Tuesday, September 29, 2009



LS Pick

The grim killer

Cancer is a malady that can surreptitiously sneak into a person's life, creep into every intricate thread that binds the life together and leave shreds of anguish in its aftermath.

Cancer is one of the most dreaded words around the world, a word that means nothing more than the worst kind of personal calamity that can happen to a person or family.

Cancer is what devastated the close-knit Huq family in a way they never imagined possible. When his mother was diagnosed in August 2003, Nayeem Huq had just joined medical school, and at that point in life, did not have much knowledge about breast cancer and what its consequences might be for a patient and her family. Nayeem's mother, however, was a physician herself and was well aware of the steps she had to undergo for the treatment of her disease.

She underwent surgery at the Tata Cancer Hospital in India in early 2004, and was given chemotherapy and radiotherapy. The treatment was apparently successful, and Nayeem's mom came back to Bangladesh a healthy rosy woman who had defeated cancer, one of the most dreaded diseases in the world. For the next 2 years, she frequently went to India for follow-ups and came back each time with a stronger stride in her walk.

Life, however, works in different ways and when we least expect it, we are given a blow too harsh to deal with. 2006 brought in with itself one of the most painful realities for the Huq family. Mrs. Huq was increasingly plagued with severe pains in the back, constant fatigue and several spots in the liver. The diagnosis revealed the grim truth that the cancer had returned and had spread to her bones this time.

Chemo and radiotherapy were given once again, but the cancer was stronger this time around. By December 2006, the treacherous disease had extensively spread to her liver and bones, and within a couple of months, had reached to her brain. The prognosis was bleak as jaundice and fatigue ravaged her frail body, which had by now suffered extensive weight loss. Mrs. Huq breathed her last in March 2007.

Throughout the ordeal, Nayeem watched helplessly as his mother braved unimaginable pain and yet tried to feign a positive outlook. Being a student of medicine himself, Nayeem could understand what the disease was doing to his mother, but the son in him could not come to terms with the reality.

An intern at the Bangladesh Medical College now, Nayeem could not help regretting letting go of all the precious opportunities he could have seized to bring more happiness to the person he loved most, or all the times he could have spent with her just to create more memories. But life seldom gives a second chance and that is the reality he has to live with for the rest of his life.

The anecdote above is about just one of the thousands of real life women who fall prey to one of the most unavoidable forms of cancer in women around the world. Every year, around 35000 women in Bangladesh develop breast cancer, many of whom never seek treatment. However, the awareness about the disease has not paralleled the growing statistics. Breast cancer still triggers fear of rejection by friends and family among Bangladeshi women, who are inherently used to living their lives for and around their loved ones.

Concerns about family welfare keep women from putting their health before everything else and any health abnormalities are ignored in the hope of keeping their families in a safe cocoon, untouched by the harsh realities of life. But the low awareness and general ignorance of breast cancer also leads to greater chances of getting the disease, as Bangladeshi women fail to safeguard against it by taking the appropriate steps as and when necessary.

Grim statistics
Breast cancer is the second most prevalent form of cancer today and it is said, that in 2010, around 1.5 million people worldwide will be told they have breast cancer. While it is not yet exactly known what causes breast cancer, certain risk factors have been linked to the disease.

The greatest risk factor of all is gender. Simply being a woman is the main risk for breast cancer. While men also get the disease, it is about 100 times more common in women than in men. Age is also a big factor, as the women in the age range of 35 to 55 are more prone to breast cancer. About 2 out of 3 women with invasive breast cancer are aged 55 or older when the cancer is found.

Diets rich in fats, family history of cancer and genetic factors are also major causes of breast cancer among women. Lifestyle choices like not having children or having them later in life, not breastfeeding and lack of exercise have also been linked to breast cancer in women. Women with a history of breast cancer are also highly likely to be plagued by recurring cancer in the other breast after one breast has been treated.

Symptoms and stages
The most common symptom of breast cancer is a lump in the breast or some change in the way the breast looks. In some cases, nipple discharges or tenderness might be involved. Diagnosis of breast cancer can be done through mammography, FNAC or true-cut biopsy.

Breast cancer develops in four stages: In Stage 1, the size of the lump is less than 2 cm and the ancillary lymph nodes are not involved. In Stage 2, the size of the lump is between 2 to 5 cm and the ancillary lymph nodes might be involved and freely mobile. Stage 3 is when then lump has become more than 5 cm and the ancillary lymph nodes are involved and fixed. In stage 4, the cancer has spread to other areas, irrespective of the size. In the first 2 stages, early diagnosis can lead to remedy through surgery. However, there are always chances of recurrence and the regular treatment protocol is that follow-ups should be done every 6 months for the first 3 years and after that, every year for the rest of the lifetime.

A stitch in time…
The age-old adage 'prevention is always better than cure' applies to almost every aspect of life, including breast cancer. Being alert about one's health and proactively taking simple precautions can go a long way in reducing the chances of getting breast cancer. For one, a proper diet and a healthy body are a must if breast cancer is to be avoided. A Body Mass Index (BMI) of less than 25 is ideal and should be maintained throughout the lifetime.

Diets rich in fruits and vegetables should be consumed and fats should be avoided as much as possible. Alcohol consumption should be stopped, as well as consumption of foods of high glycemic index, like white flour, white rice, potatoes and sugar. Whole soy food products like tofu, soy milk and roasted soy nuts should be eaten in greater quantities as studies have shown a positive association between soy consumption and reduced breast cancer risk.

The best diagnostician of breast cancer is the woman herself. Women should be vigilant regarding any changes noticeable in their bodies, like lumps in and around the breast area, any swollenness or abnormalities in breast size. If any abnormalities are noticed, medical help should be sought immediately to start early treatment. If possible, yearly mammograms should be done just to be on the safe side. The tests may be a bit costly but nothing compares to the value of a life, don't you think?

By Wasia Mehnaz

By The Way

Three steps to perfect make-up

1. Dab It On: Start with a squeaky clean face and apply your favourite moisturiser. Dot foundation on blemishes and any place that's darker or redder than the rest of the face -- which would be under the eyes, around the nose, and on the chin. Apply only a bit at a time. And remember, the concealer goes on after the base is applied -- or it will rub off or cake.

2. Rub It In: Starting from the centre of your face and moving outward, smooth foundation on with clean fingers or a sponge. Blend in a circular motion, and finish with downward strokes, so that the little hairs on your face don't stand up. Pay special attention to your jaw and hair line, so that you don't get those made-up edges. For coverage at the jaw line, extend the foundation to your chin, and blend it downward. Don't forget the neck area. Now apply concealer, if required.

3. Lock It: If you're using a product that dries to a matte finish, or a cream-based formula, then you don't need to finish with translucent powder. Says Beck, "I prefer translucent powder over pressed powder, because it's finer and gets absorbed much better." Alternatively, use a brush to sweep the powder over your skin in downward strokes. Remember to tap off the excess powder from the brush before applying. You could also gently dab a velvet puff dipped in the powder for a smooth translucent finish. Powder only the oily areas, like the nose and chin.


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