As COVID-19 restrictions are being lifted, many oncologists, gynecologists, and surgeons are starting to see patients with larger breast tumors and positive axillary lymph nodes. A large number of those women skipped their mammogram screenings for two years or more and didn’t visit their doctors because of the pandemic. In addition, in Lebanon, and in countries with low resources and financial difficulties, many women did not consult with their physicians at the beginning of any breast abnormality, nor did they do a routine mammogram screening since they were unable to pay most of the out-of-pocket costs.
To raise awareness for breast cancer during the pandemic, the Lebanese Breast Cancer Foundation (LBCF) ran a very popular and successful Khabazte campaign (“Did You Make Bread Campaign”), and taught women how to examine themselves and seek medical attention to report any changes in their breasts. We also made a TV drama series in Arabic called “Month Number 10” about women who had breast abnormalities or cancer detected, and followed their daily life activities and love affairs.
After two years of limited activity during the COVID-19 pandemic, October Breast Cancer Awareness Month returned in 2022 with a variety of traditional and innovative activities worldwide. In 2022, we also resumed media campaigns, interviews, and in-person meetings and lectures throughout Lebanon. Many women-centered organizations and survivors campaigned in cities and countryside towns throughout the Middle East and Arab countries. Various institutions, businesses, schools, universities, and embassies were eager to educate their staff. It was a pleasure to present scientific data to the public. The public is eager to hear medical advice from experts, rather than getting it from unreliable sources on the internet. Women can also learn more effectively when they see breast cancer survivors telling their stories and encouraging them to carry on with early detection and screening recommendations.
In a tradition of lighting up landmark historical sites and natural wonders of Lebanon, starting with the Raouché Rocks in 2012, we lit up the beautiful Waterfalls of Jezzine (the 5th highest in the world at 82 meters) in a city located in the high mountains of South Lebanon. This event took place much in part to Ms. Cyrine Azar, a social advocate, who led the event with the support of local dignitaries—it included presentations on early detection of breast cancer, mammography screening, disease management, and patient support, as well as healthy lifestyle recommendations. At sunset, the audience moved to the bottom of the valley and watched the beautiful Jezzine Waterfalls light up pink.
Landmark Jezzine Waterfalls of Lebanon lit in pink to raise awareness for breast cancer early detection during October 2022 campaigns.
Another major popular activity we resumed is the “I Took the Cut” campaign at Beirut ABC Mall, which LBCF organizes in collaboration with L’Oréal Cosmetics. Women, teenagers, and even younger girls come to receive a free haircut and donate their hair to patients with cancer undergoing chemotherapy. This campaign enables us to have a great collection of wigs made by reputable hairdressers that we can offer to patients with breast cancer who get chemotherapy-induced alopecia. The wigs are stored at the Lebanese Breast Cancer Foundation at the American University of Beirut Medical Center and are made available to any patient in the country.
Hair donors and hair stylists volunteer at the “I Took the Cut” campaign in Beirut, Lebanon.
One benefit of these efforts was that they created greater awareness for breast cancer screening and self-examination. When mass screening and access to medical care is not easily accessible, breast self-examination is an important tool to detect changes or palpable masses in the breast before patients present with large tumors and locally advanced breast cancer. However, in addition to self-examinations, clinical breast exams during clinic visits are still strongly advised. We continue to follow recommendations for mammogram screenings to detect cancer at very early curable stages.
In our experience, breast cancer survivors make great advocates. We do not forget patients in treatment for breast cancer, and patients with metastatic disease, especially when some awareness campaigns include celebratory pink October events. We carry on support group activities, advise on new therapeutic advances and medications, and we advocate for better access to the best modern multidisciplinary treatment for all women.