Raising cancer awareness among rural womenfolk

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Dr Lim (left) explains to two women villagers some of the details on the ‘Know Your Lemons’ leaflet during the outreach programme at Kampung Buduk Nur.

THE Society of Cancer Advocacy and Awareness Kuching (SCAN) has expanded its early cancer-detection programme to the interior areas of Sarawak.

Collaborating with Sarawak Breast Cancer Support Group (SBCSG) and Sarawak Heart Foundation (SHF), SCAN recently carried out an outreach programme, focusing on early detection of breast cancer, at Kampung Buduk Nur in Ba Kelalan.

It took the team two days to reach the village high up north, known as being among the remotest rural pockets not only in the state, but also in Borneo.

The volunteers were divided into two teams — the first 20-member group, including project leader Dr Melissa Lim, departed from Kuching and reached Lawas earlier than the second group. Then the next day, they spent six hours travelling on board four-wheel drive vehicles (4WD) along logging roads to get to Ba Kelalan.

Photo shows the 4WDs, which took Team 1 to Ba Kelalan.

The Team 2 comprised surgeons from Sarawak General Hospital (SGH) Breast Clinic Dr Adibah Ali and Dr Sharifah Ashrina Wan Ali, as well as SCAN advisor Datin Dayang Mariani Abang Zain, who travelled via flight a bit later.

According to Dr Lim, who is also a SCAN committee member, the outreach programme coincided with Kampung Buduk Nur’s ‘Pesta Beras Adan Ba Kelalan’ (Ba Kelalan Adan Rice Festival), which ran from March 10 to 12.

“It was a good thing, indeed, as the village headman Yudan Meru announced the project at the start of the festival, where he called upon all the womenfolk to join the programme where they could go for free check-ups,” she told thesundaypost recently.

Dayang Mariani (top row, fifth left), Dr Zulkifli on her right and Dr Lim on her left, join other members of outreach programme in a photo-call, taken before the start of the event at Kampung Buduk Nur in Ba Kelalan.

Dr Lim said her team successfully conducted screening on 84 villagers, of whom 59 were screened for breast abnormalities.

It was informed that the breast screening involved using the ultrasound machine donated by the Church of Latter-Day Saints.

“From the 59 women screened, two had abnormal findings and they were referred for mammogram, which is only available in Miri, about 350km away from Ba Kelalan.

“The limited resources in this village pose a barrier for early diagnosis and timely treatment of breast cancer,” she said.

A general health screening was also carried out during the outreach programme, facilitated by six nurses from Sarawak Heart Centre in Kota Samarahan and two from Ba Kelalan Health Clinic.

They facilitated the examinations of glucose, cholesterol, blood pressure and body-mass index (BMI) levels on the villagers who came for the check-ups.

There were also medical doctors present to provide personalised diagnoses, including former Sarawak Health Department director Datuk Dr Zulkifli Jantan, while Lawas District Health Officer Dr Lianne Alychia Hendriks also came over to support the programme.

Nonetheless, the focus was on breast cancer.

The villagers going for health screening, conducted at the village hall.

Apart from facilitating the breast screening, Dr Adibah Ali and Dr Sharifah Ashrina also held breast cancer awareness talks for the rural womenfolk from various Orang Ulu ethnic groups.

Dayang Mariani conducted a ‘Cancer Survivor Session’, where she shared with the participants her journey as a breast cancer survivor.

There was also a demonstration on breast examinations, which women should do at least once a month.

Dayang Mariani conducts the ‘Cancer Survivor Session’.

The SCAN team, jointly led by Dr Lim and fellow SCAN committee member Dr Fitri Suraya, used a mannequin to show the proper way of checking for lumps in the breasts.

They later distributed pamphlets, readily translated to Bahasa Malaysia, from Know Your Lemons, a US-based non-government organisation (NGO) that advocates women to learn recognising the symptoms of cancer and understanding the right time to go for a proper examination.

Dr Lim said what her team had found out from this outreach programme was that the majority of women in the village were unaware of the breast cancer risk factors.

“They do not know what a mammogram is – let alone the availability of such service; some have never heard about cancer at all!

“Awareness and education, not only of cancer but also of one’s general health and well-being, should be delivered to this marginalised population.

“We hope to create better awareness among the women in this village through breast health education. They need to know about the importance of breast self-examination,” she added.

The SCAN team managed to interview several cancer survivors in Ba Kelalan.

Two of them – one was diagnosed with nasopharyngeal cancer and the other, gastric cancer – shared their respective journeys of going through life with cancer, their treatments and the healing process, offering hope and support to those still fighting.

The team also interviewed a medical assistant and a wife of a cancer survivor, as they wanted to gain a better understanding of the challenges faced by the caregivers and the impact of cancer on families.

These interviews were captured on film by Kai Productions, of which the finalised video would be shared via various international platforms to highlight the cancer care gaps faced by various indigenous communities in Sarawak.

Switzerland-based Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) supported both the video production and breast cancer outreach programme led by Dr Lim.

Adding further, she hailed the outreach programme in Ba Kelalan as ‘a resounding success’.

“The team is already looking forward to visiting Dalat during the Pesta Kaul this June,” she said.

“This initiative has made a significant impact on the rural community’s health and well-being, in that it has served to raise awareness of cancer and provide the vital support and advice to those in need,” she said.