It is indeed a great feeling of pride to see that something starts small, grows big, and continues to advance year after year. When I established the Lebanese Breast Cancer Foundation (LBCF) with a small group of seven friends, nurses, and breast cancer survivors, I knew that we had lots of work to do. I had noticed in my clinic over several years that a large number of patients, like in many other populations, still presented with large locally advanced breast cancer and even metastatic disease. This is why I and many other colleagues took personal initiative and worked with the Ministry of Health to raise awareness and advocate for breast cancer early detection and screening during the month of October.
In addition, at LBCF, we decided to campaign throughout the year. We go to women’s workplaces, schools, associations, and all occasions to campaign against fear, asking women to examine themselves, get examined by their physician, and get a screening mammogram according to guidelines. We tell them that if we discover breast cancer early, they can survive, without even the need of having their breasts nor axillary lymph nodes all removed. Women listen. We see relatively more cases of early breast cancer nowadays. We also have more than 90% survival rates. Our efforts work!
I have also struggled over the years to help my patients who do not have medical insurance, to make sure that they are able to get their chemotherapy medications, get their surgery, get their radiation therapy, get them on time and get their costs covered. Although the number of people who have medical insurance in Lebanon is increasing and about 50% of people have the basic public type of insurance (and that only while they are actively employed), a large number of patients get their medications dispensed from the Ministry of Health. This puts a significant challenge on physicians who care about making sure their patients are adequately treated.
At LBCF, in addition to advocating for better coverage, we organize dinner and brunch events to raise funds to help needy patients. Every year, we invite women and their mothers, mothers and their daughters, for a fundraising brunch on Mother’s Day that we like to call Mother’s Health Day. We present our educational materials and we raise funds to support needy patients with breast cancer at the American University of Beirut Medical Center. Again, it works! We help large numbers of patients at AUBMC and outside of AUBMC. It helps to get support from public figures, especially those with a great heart who care for public service. This year, among others, former Minister Mrs. Leila Solh and former Miss Lebanon Nadine Nassib Njeim were present with us. We are also happy that Miss Njeim is now our LBCF Ambassador for health awareness and humanitarian missions.
Sharing our experiences and learning from each other is helpful. What methods do you use to raise health awareness and support needy patients in your community?