As part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we spoke to Gazal Kamal, the Palestinian mother to three children and founder of The Breast Cancer Club mobile app, to find out how her experience inspired her to create a virtual support network for breast cancer patients in the region. Kamal was diagnose in October 2020, undergoing chemotherapy at American Hospital followed by a double mastectomy in the US, which she opted for after testing positive for the BRCA gene. That was followed by radiation when she returned to Dubai.
The Breast Cancer Club app includes features such as support for the newly diagnosed, advice on how to navigate the new reality and post-recovery support. It also includes a discussion feature so people can share their personal experiences, get advice and guidance through treatment options, and tips for what to do after, in recovery. o
How did you realize something wasn’t right?
I felt a lump in my breast and had a continuous sore pain under my arm. I also saw that my nipple had inverted. Once a biopsy was done, it confirmed my diagnosis of having Stage 3 Breast Cancer. Having the support of those closest to me (family and friends) was what pulled me through it all. I tried it all: from meditation to yoga, to prayers, being alone, focusing on my breathing, spending time with loved ones – the combination of all of these helped me through – and I would say that having and keeping the faith really helped.
What inspired you to create the Breast Cancer Club app?
Having gone through what I had just been through, I felt something was missing. I wasn’t able to connect with other people who were going through the same thing and didn’t know where to turn to find answers and advice, or somewhere where I could connect with people — especially during Covid — who were going through something similar.
How do you think the Breast Cancer Club app would have helped you?
I wouldn’t have felt so lonely or had so much anxiety. I had so many questions I needed answers to from non-medical professionals. For example: what would get rid of nausea during chemo, what creams to use during radiation or what exercise was approved post-treatment.
What advice to you have to give to those going through breast cancer now?
Never lose hope, as cliche as that sounds… and, as hard as it seems, it is 80 percent mental. So, surround yourself with positive people and energies and thoughts and people who can help you stay in that state of positivity.
What advice would you give to parents on how to talk to kids about this?
It’s very important to be open and honest as children should also know that life will always have its challenges. I would say it’s important to reassure kids that we will always do our very best to try and get better, but at the end of the day it’s in God’s hands. Children feel secure when they are in the know and not kept guessing about things. My children were very resilient and I think that is because I was so open with them about everything from day one.
What was it like documenting your experience on Instagram?
It made me realize how many other women have or are going through a similar experience and how much-needed such an app is for the mental support of not only the women diagnosed, but also for their family and friends who are supporting them. It has shown me how supportive the community is and how ready people are to share their story to help and support others, and other people have been generous in promoting the app and raising awareness around it.
What books or podcasts you would recommend?
Books: Heal Your Body, by Louise Hay;The Royal Marsden Cancer Cookbook; Cancer Vixen by Marisa Acocella Marchetto. Podcasts: Breast Cancer is Boring; The Boobie Docs; Breast Cancer Conversations; Upfront About Breast Cancer; Living Beyond Breast Cancer.
Nadine Kamal is a science writer and educator based in Abu Dhabi. She has a BSc in Biology from the University of Waterloo and a Master’s in Education from the University of Dundee. Nadine has an avid interest in international education, refugee education and in the wellbeing of children and young adults.