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Walking For A Cure From San Diego To Syria

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A Syrian doctor takes her San Diego experience walking for a cure for breast cancer back home, prompting a move to destigmatize the disease.

— Balloons, banners and thousands of pink-clad walkers are familiar sights at the annual three-day breast cancer walk in San Diego.

Most of us have seen, heard or even participated in the Susan G. Komen Race For The Cure. But, doctor May Almahayni had never seen anything like it, until she visited San Diego and walked in the Komen Race.

“It was a great walk. I remember it was also very emotional for me,” recalled Almahayni.

Inspired by her participation in the 2007 walk, Almayhani flew back to her native Syria with an ambitious mission—to organize the first-ever breast cancer walk in her country.

“That beautiful walk in San Diego touched me very much—every person and every part of this walk motivated me to walk in my country,” explained Almahayni.

Just six months later, on April 12th, 2008, Almahayni did was she set out to do.

She walked with “thousands of men and women” in the first "March for Survival” breast cancer walk in Damascus.

Almahayni said Syria’s Secretary of Health came to the event. His support was vital to break through a longstanding cultural taboo.

“It was not only taboo to talk about breast cancer—it was not polite to talk about cancer of any kind," Almahayni said.

Deeply ingrained traditions of modesty had to be tackled as well.

That could be one reason why Syrian health officials report breast cancer as the number one cancer killer among women under the age of 50.

In a national report Syrian doctors said 70 percent of their female patients were diagnosed with breast cancer in its most advanced stage.

But that’s beginning to change, thanks in part to awareness and education that started at the March For Survival walk in Damascus.

According the Breast Cancer Syrian Society, breast exams and mammograms have increased since 2008.

"Every year on Mother's Day, every woman in my country can get a mammogram for free," said Almahayni.

Syria's government pays for the mammograms, which brings Almahayni one step closer to her next goal.

"Our ambition is very big - we are aiming for 90% of all Syrian women to get a mammogram," she said.

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