Samira’s struggle as a breast cancer survivor: “I wish to receive the treatment I need and have relief from these hardships”

58-year-old Samira* lives in Deir al Balah, in central Gaza. A mother of seven children, she used to be a teacher before she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017 and was forced to retire. “I used to be strong and healthy and was easily able to do outside activities. But I can’t anymore. Since going through chemotherapy, I have lost my voice and I breathe very heavily,” she said.

Samira was accompanying her daughter-in-law to her postnatal care visit at a healthcare clinic, when she was invited for a clinical breast examination. The general practitioner detected abnormalities on her breast and referred Samira for a mammogram at Al Maamdani Hospital. This was the moment Samira’s treatment journey began.

In July 2017, Samira had surgery at Nasser Medical Complex, and was then referred for chemotherapy at the European Gaza Hospital. For three years, Samira was receiving chemotherapy on a regular basis, every three months. Due to there being no radiotherapy services in Gaza, she was later referred to the service at Augusta Victoria Hospital, in occupied East Jerusalem. This meant she had to apply for permission from the Israeli authorities to exit Gaza and access her treatment.

The first time Samira applied for her permit, in October 2017, she was rejected. She made several other attempts and, though these applications were approved, her husband – who planned to accompany and support her on her journey – had his permit applications rejected. Samira felt insecure and worried about travelling on her own.

To avoid the issue of her husband’s permits being rejected, Samira was referred instead to Egypt for radiotherapy. But when she travelled to Egypt in June 2018, she was told by doctors there that radiotherapy would no longer be needed as it was more than one year after she was supposed to receive it. So she returned to Gaza and continued her chemotherapy sessions.

After completing her chemotherapy, Samira was tired and suffering from the impact of the treatment. She stopped going for her follow up sessions and when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, she was even more hesitant to go to the clinic.

Samira’s situation was made worse in 2020 when her son was diagnosed with a serious colon disease and the family struggled to pay for his medical care. Samira also suffered from new symptoms including pneumonia, vomiting and hematuria (blood in urine).

The last five years have been the toughest Samira has ever experienced. With multiple interruptions to her treatment – and appointments scattered and fragmented across Gaza, East Jerusalem and Egypt – every step of her journey of survival was met with challenges. Five years on from being diagnosed with breast cancer, Samira is not feeling any better and she has lost 26 kilograms in weight.

She has just started another round diagnosis and medical examinations to identify the cause of her current symptoms. “My only wish is to travel outside of Gaza to a place where I can receive the proper treatment I need and have some relief from these hardships,” she said.

As an occupying power, Israel must ensure patients in Gaza have unimpeded access to the medical treatment they need. Instead, it is imposing illegal collective punishment on them and two million people in Gaza through its 15-year blockade and closure.

Please email your MP today, and ask them to demand that the UK government takes urgent action to support Palestinian breast cancer patients, like Samira, get the vital care they need.

Email your MP

*Name changed to protect identity.

Photo: Pink October activities in Gaza. (Credit: Culture and Free Thought Association).

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