FLORIDA – October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, a time where people across the country work to raise awareness and funds towards research for a cure.
It is estimated that approximately 12 percent of U.S. women will develop invasive breast cancer during their lives, with over 200k of invasive and 64k of non-invasive forms of the disease in women and 2,500 in men. American women are at higher risk for developing breast cancer than any other cancer save lung cancer.
Early detection through screening is important in preventing deaths, but Muslim women are among the fewest to get tested.
According to the American Cancer Society, there are over 3.1 million breast cancer survivors in the United States.
Former social worker and retired teacher, Djamilah Abdel-Jaleel’s fight for her life against the disease began more than 15 years ago, but her commitment to increasing breast cancer awareness and helping find a cure began before her diagnosis.
“Prior to my diagnosis I walked with my dear friends, Saba and Fatimah, both of whom lost their mothers to breast cancer,” Abdel-Jaleel told About Islam.
“We walked at Jones Beach in October. It was brisk but beautiful. We didn’t participate in all of the fanfare. That was 2000 I think. I’ll have to check my T-shirt.
After that, I walked with my job. My supervisor was a survivor and had a banner with all the names of survivors who worked with us. I didn’t realize that soon my name would be on it. By the time I left, numerous names had been added.”
Walking in Memory of Lost Muslimahs
Born and raised in New York, Abdel-Jaleel continued to participate in breast cancer walks when she moved to Tampa, FL, where she continued to struggle with the disease.
“I tried to build a team with my dear friend Ratiba, may Allah be pleased with her. She was young and had a young child. She died in her 30’s,” Abdel-Jaleel told About Islam.
“Somehow. Ratibas passion and her story touched everyone. Nothing ever worked as far as treatment for her. She was always on chemo or having some type of procedure. Always sick and trying to be strong for her son. Her husband and mom were and are amazing. Both were by her side for everything. She lost her battle almost 2 years ago.
I walked in her memory that year. We also lost a teacher to breast cancer the same year, so we had a large turnout and had their names on our shirts.”
The following year, I was diagnosed with stage-4 MBC, the death sentence of breast cancer. The one you don’t survive, and I didn’t walk.
Fighting to the End
Despite her diagnosis and debilitating treatments, Abdel-Jaleel joined survivors and supporters for the 2018 American Cancer Society’s Making Strides of Tampa presented by Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa.
“I like to walk for the camaraderie,” explained Abdel-Jaleel. “I always feel sad when I can’t walk.”
MBC gives you 9 months to live. New immunotherapy drugs extend it to 24, and research and cocktails have upped that to 27.9.
Whatever Allah gives me, Alhumdullilah. I’m enjoying this time with family and friends, trying to strengthen my relationship with Allah and family ties.”
Abdel-Jaleel described to About Islam ways medical professionals and people generally treat cancer survivors in their final stages of the disease.
“Because MBC is a death sentence, patients don’t get the support from the research as people in other (1-3) stages of breast cancer. They get to tell stories of fighting surviving beating cancer. Stage 4 is restricted to palliative care till death.
Everyone always says you look good, which means you’re still fat not a shriveled bald frail cancer patient look.
They don’t understand the emotional toll it takes on my loved ones—my mom, husband siblings, children, and grandchildren.”
She also described how the disease affects her daily life.
“Energy is sometimes nonexistent. Until there’s a cure there’s no going back to normal. No beating this—no surviving except for the breath you take this moment.”
In addition to walking and raising money, Abdel-Jaleel provided some advice on how to support survivors.
“I would like to ask people not to blame people with breast cancer for their disease. Allah decrees whatever test His servant gets. It’s not because we don’t eat right or drink coffee or eat chocolate or, or, or.
Please don’t offer your expertise in treatment and care, thanks. The treatment that we’ve chosen is what our board-certified doctors have prescribed, and we trust them.
We may or may not take black seed, Zamzam water, turmeric, shark cartilage, etc. We probably don’t want to take any extra pills, but thanks anyway.
Thanks for reminding us to pray the tahujjud prayer, etc. I’m sure we never thought of praying to the one who sent the test in the first place.
Please do make dua for us we need it.”
Abdel-Jaleel made a special request to her fellow Muslims.
“Be supportive of my loved ones when I’m gone. They will be sad and miss me. Continue in serving the believers.”