Hue: Catholic nuns and Buddhist women together to fight breast cancer

Every year, 4,500 Vietnamese women die from cancer. Over a ten-year period, the rate jumped by 69 per cent. Lack of preventive measures and financial means as well as social stigma deter people from seeking treatment. A group of Catholic nuns, medical practitioners and Buddhist volunteers organised a seminar to raise awareness about the problem, and allay fears about the pain.

Jun 24, 2016

HANOI: A group of Catholic nuns, together with some Buddhist nuns and volunteers, have joined forces to help Vietnamese women prevent breast cancer and cope with the social stigma associated with it. In ten years, breast cancer increased 69 per cent.

The group held its first seminar to raise awareness last month in Hue, a city in central Vietnam. Titled ‘Communication of Cancers and Breast Cancer’, the workshop was organised together with Community Capacity Development, a local NGO.

Some 40 Catholic sisters, Buddhist nuns and female volunteers attended the event. Sister Mary Nguyen Thi Van, a Saint Paul de Chartres nun, was one of them. She was also a special keynote speaker.

A breast cancer survivor herself, she once found it hard to share her experience. Diagnosed in 2006, she was reluctant to tell other people because breast cancer is considered a bad omen among women.

“At first I did not dare to tell other nuns about my disease, although I had a burning pain in my chest and was extremely afraid to get hospital treatment and die of the cancer,” Sister Mary said.

After receiving encouragement from her superior, she was diagnosed and her left breast was removed at the hospital, where she spent five months recovering.

The nun, who is now healthy, urged participants to be brave and face the risk of breast cancer by getting medical treatment right away rather than hide it.

In recent years, cancer has been growing at an alarming rate in Vietnam. From 2000 to 2011, the rate jumped by 69 per cent. This is largely due to the lack of screenings, and patients waiting until the disease is in its late stages. This points to the need for education.

In addition, heavy pesticide use and food contamination facilitate the growth cancer cells. And very often women cannot afford the cost of care.

"The workshop is aimed at enhancing understanding of cancers, especially breast cancer, among Catholic and Buddhist nuns and volunteers, who will then pass on to other people the information about cancer suffering, prevention and treatment at early stages," said Dr Pham Thi Kim Ngan, the community group's director and founder.

During the workshop, Dr Nguyen Dinh Tung, president of the Hue Breast Cancer Society, said that women in their 40s run a greater risks of developing breast cancer, which is one of the most common cancers facing women in Vietnam, with 12,000 new cases each year and 4,500 deaths.

Sister Mary said the Group plans to include cancer prevention as well as HIV/AIDS training in marriage preparation classes.--Asia News

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