Breast cancer survivors connect to share experiences in Taipei


TAIPEI–Over 700 survivors of breast cancer from 32 countries have gathered in Taipei to share their experiences of combating the disease, Taiwan Breast Cancer Alliance (TBCA) said yesterday.

This is the first time that Taiwan has hosted the Reach to Recovery International Breast Cancer Support Conference, a biannual event launched three decades ago to encourage social interaction between patients, said TBCA, the event’s organizer.

“I have to say, I gained most of my strength from friends in the support group,” said Iman Awad, a Jordanian who was diagnosed with breast cancer seven years ago. The 52-year-old said that she only opened her heart to others with the same experience because only they understood. “What is the use of pouring out my feelings to my family? They can’t do anything anyway. My complaints would make them even sadder,” she said. Not a bit fatigued by the long journey from her homeland, Awad said she was excited to share her stories with other women who had undergone the same hardship. One Taiwanese breast cancer survivor in her 20s said that the forum was important because it helped raise people’s awareness of breast cancer. “The thought of getting breast cancer had never entered my mind because I was so young,” said Tseng Ying-tzu, who was diagnosed with phase 2 breast cancer at 23.

Tseng discovered a 2-centimeter lump on her upper left chest, which proved to be cancerous after preliminary surgery, three years ago. She has since received a mastectomy and undergone chemotherapy and target medication. “My female friends are now more alert to cancer. They even made sure their insurance coverage included the disease,” Tseng said.

Citing Tseng’s case as an example, experts at the event said that women in Asia need to be vigilant about breast cancer because the disease affects the younger population as well.

Breast cancer patients in Taiwan are ten years younger compared to their Western counterparts, said Chang King-jen, chairman of the Taiwan Breast Cancer Foundation. There are approximately 8,000 new cases each year, according to Chang. Most of them involve women between the ages of 45 and 55, but some cases affect even younger women, the breast cancer specialist said, noting that there is yet to be a scientific explanation for the phenomenon.

To promote early detection of the disease, Chang urged women to examine their breasts for lumps on a monthly basis and make full use of mammography screenings, which are free for those between the ages of 45 and 69. The four-day conference, held under the banner Reach Towards a New Horizon, will run from Nov. 9-12 at the Taipei International Convention Center.