One woman’s story of fighting breast cancer in Bangladesh

Dr. Akhtarunnessa Chowdhury

:: “It was very sudden. One day, I felt a different kind of pain on my breast.”

Breast cancer survivor Dr. Akhtarunnessa Chowdhury, a retired professor who taught in Dhaka University’s zoology department, told her story of hope, triumph and early detection to Arab News, seven years after she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“I noticed the existence of breast cancer in my body at the age of 59, in the year 2010. It was very sudden. One day I felt a different kind of pain on my breast. It was happening continually at regular intervals. Immediately, I (thought of) breast cancer and did the mammogram. But in the mammogram report it was found ok,” Chowdhury said.

Later on, she visited her doctor and underwent a detailed examination, including an ultrasound, and was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was diagnosed at the very last stage of first phase and underwent surgery within a week of the detection.

Chowdhury recalls: “The time was very critical for me. Just one year before, I lost my husband, Abul Hussein Nizami. At that time, I was in charge of the dean of my faculty. It was huge mental pressure for me. On the other hand, the treatment was very expensive and cost around $14,000.”

With courage and resistance, Chowdhury decided to fight back against cancer.

“I decided to fight back. Even after the operation, during chemotherapy and radio therapy, I continued taking classes at university regularly, not even taking leave for a single day. During those days of therapy, I even organized the marriage ceremony of my only son.”

The only problem she suffers from now is that an abnormal band of fat has settled on her left hand, due to dying cells in some areas of the affected hand. “I was never frightened of it,” she said, “as I believe psychology can change the physiology.”

Now, at the age of 67, Chowdhury has retired from the university — although she still supervises a select group of PhD students — and become an iconic breast cancer survivor and a continuous source of inspiration for many of the women who are struggling with breast cancer in Bangladesh.

She has joined forces with the Shanti Cancer Foundation, which teaches women and men how to detect breast cancer through self-examination.

“Cancer patients require palliative care to heal them from the trauma and we need to work vigorously to change the outlook of society toward breast cancer. Whenever I get the chance, I do this work,” Chowdhury said.

Despite her harrowing experience, Chowdhury made a fresh start after her diagnosis and is forging the path for women who are going through difficult times with breast cancer in Bangladesh.

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