Transforming the Lives of Women With Breast Cancer

March 5, 2014


Juggling her daughter’s brain tumor and the financial despair of her and her husband’s persistent unemployment, 46-year-old Nadira Glamo?ki?? ignored the lump she felt on her breast at the beginning of 2010.

She was too focused on her daughter’s treatment, too worried about the costs associated with contacting a doctor for herself.

Nadira remained in a dangerous medical limbo until April 2013, when JDC’s Women’s Health Empowerment Program (WHEP) brought a mobile mammogram screening project to her hometown of Jajce, a small city in central Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Established by JDC in 1995, WHEP focuses on the importance of early detection of breast cancer while providing psychosocial and other support services for women currently living with this disease. The program — a partnership with Susan G. Komen since 2004 — is currently active in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Hungary, and Russia, and also works with Israeli and Palestinian survivors through JDC’s COPE Forum.

In addition, WHEP provides leadership training for breast cancer survivors, enabling them to form NGOs, run peer-support groups, and advocate for better health care services.

WHEP’s visit to Jajce, in partnership with local NGO Nada, targeted about 50 women — all over the age of 40 and without a social security pension. After Nadira’s mammogram, she was sent to Sarajevo, about two hours southeast, for an ultrasound and breast biopsy.

Nadira was diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer and underwent seven chemotherapy treatments, beginning in June 2013.

About a month after participating in WHEP’s signature Race for the Cure event in Sarajevo that draws more than 6,000 participants each year and funds hundreds of mammograms and thousands of post-surgery health kits — Nadira was operated on successfully.

She’s now cancer-free.

Some women have used the resources, guidance, and support provided by WHEP to enter the world of breast cancer advocacy, like 50-year-old Mileva Zulic of Bihac, a small city in northwestern Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Until five years ago, Mileva was healthy, energetic, and active — employed in an art workshop alongside her husband.

But in 2009, after discovering a lump in her breast, Mileva was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. Life was full of new challenges — like costly medical procedures located eight hours from Bihac in Sarajevo — but she was buoyed, too, by the WHEP support system; getting to know other breast cancer survivors became a source of strength and an integral part of her day-to-day life.

An activist and volunteer with the Red Cross since her youth, Mileva was inspired by her fellow survivors and her oncologist to found Behar, an organization for breast cancer patients and survivors in her area.

The organization takes an active role in a series of humanitarian events — among them the Race for the Cure, which saw 110 women from the Bihac area travel the nearly 200 miles to Sarajevo one year.

Mileva thought her cancer was behind her, but at a regular checkup in 2012, a doctor and WHEP volunteer found a lump in her left breast — an abnormality an earlier doctor had missed when she underwent a mammogram and ultrasound. Though it was first thought to be solvable with minor surgery, doctors later found a four-centimeter tumor and metastasis in 14 lymph nodes.

With grace, strength, and the same optimistic spirit with which she founded Behar, Mileva bravely tackled her prognosis, even attending the Race for the Cure in Sarajevo with 500 other breast cancer patients two days after a chemotherapy treatment.

Today, she’s cancer-free once more, and regular checkups indicate the future looks bright.

WHEP is crucial to changing the discourse surrounding breast cancer in the Balkans, ensuring that women throughout the region, women like Nadira and Mileva, receive the care and support they need.

“Mileva and Nadira are two extraordinary women who exemplify courage and deep commitment. They have not only fought their own battles with breast cancer but also continue to break social stigmas and taboos surrounding this disease by assisting other survivors and reaching out to the general public,” said Nela Hasic, WHEP’s regional director. “This is the true essence of women’s empowerment and the work that WHEP has done for two decades.”

WHEP’s work in Bosnia and Herzegovina is generously supported by Susan G. Komen. WHEP’s work in St. Petersburg, Russia, is generously supported by the Parasol Foundation Trust.

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