For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
May 16, 2008
Press Gaggle by the First Lady
Al Janadriyah Ranch
Al Janadriyah, Saudi Arabia
6:26 P.M. (Local)
MRS. BUSH: Well, I just wanted to tell you about what I just did. I went to King Fahd Hospital, Medical Center, where I'd been last October when I came to Saudi Arabia to work on the Middle East Partnership on Breast Cancer Awareness. I'd announced that partnership at USAID in 2006, but this time I -- last October I had a chance to visit here. It's a partnership between the Komen Foundation -- Komen for the Cure -- the U.S. government, the Saudi government, M.D. Anderson Cancer Hospital, and the hospitals here in Saudi Arabia.
And they've had huge success. It was really very encouraging to meet women today who heard about breast cancer screenings the last time I was here -- and some of them had lumps. They knew they'd already discovered their own lump, but they'd never had the courage to go in and be screened for it or be treated. But anyway, after they heard me talk about it when we were in here in October, they did go. And there are numbers of people -- women -- who are showing up for screenings that have increased five-fold, they say, especially at the King Abdullah -- the Abdullatif Screening Center where I went. But the doctor today at King Fahd said not just there but at hospitals all over Saudi Arabia women are coming in to be screened. And so that was really very encouraging. I wanted to tell you all about that.
Women in -- Arab women, for some reason, we don't know why, present about 10 years younger with breast cancer. So this is -- these are many times younger women who wouldn't really think to be screened because they are younger, and by the time their breast cancer is discovered, it's in the late stages and they don't have much of a chance for survival.
So the doctor that I was with today, who I was with at the Abdullatif Screening Center last year, last October, said that one of the really good things that's happened, they've discovered -- at Abdullatif Screening -- they've screened now, since October, I think 1,800 women, and they have discovered 16 or 18 cancers. And some of them were early, which was very encouraging for her. She said she had worked in Canada, and she knew they could get to the point here in Saudi Arabia that we are in the U.S. and Canada, and that is most breast cancers now are discovered early so that women in the U.S. and in Canada can be treated for it and have a much increased chance of survival.
So I wanted to tell you all about that, because I think it's a really great partnership. Not only is it a good partnership that's saving lives, which is the most important part of it, but I also think there's a friendship that's developed between women in the United States and women in Saudi Arabia, and I think that's an important part in Saudi. Because of cultural taboos, women didn't discuss breast cancer, just like we didn't in the United States about 25 or 30 years ago, and also because there -- in many cases, because of gender issues, women are afraid that they won't be desirable to their husbands if they do have breast cancer. And come to find out, in many cases, some of the cases that I heard about anecdotally, their husbands and their sons ended up being their biggest advocates. In fact, one woman, when I was here in October, told me that her sons and her husband shaved their head when she lost -- shaved their heads when she lost her hair from cancer.
So I think this is an example of a good partnership working out of the U.S. State Department with Saudi.
Q To what factor do you attribute -- from this partnership program, what factors do you attribute the increase -- do they attribute the increase? Is it simply just being more aware of it, or are there mechanisms in place to actually bring women of certain areas --
MRS. BUSH: Both. I think really -- I think it was the first time it was really discussed publicly. It did get a lot of television and newspaper coverage, and there were a lot of Saudi newspaper women and men there today. So it got a lot of coverage. And then also, the Komen Foundation piece of it is working with people in Saudi Arabia to do all the things that Komen does in the United States -- the pink ribbon, the Races for the Cure -- all the ways that the word gets out to American women to be screened, to remind American women to be screened.
And one of the great things they've done is this Course for the Cure. A number of Saudi women went to the United States, and they were trained by the Komen Foundation to be trainers for other women who end up being breast cancer awareness advocates. And so women from four cities in Saudi Arabia have been -- 80 women from four cities in Saudi Arabia have been in this Course for the Cure. They said there was one part of the course left, the last part that these women had been trained in. So they are working now as community activists.
And also, because of the family culture here in Saudi Arabia, a lot of women have the opportunity to talk to their mothers and their sisters all the time, to make sure when they are screened that their mothers and sisters go with them, although one woman that I met today didn't -- found her own lump, but she didn't go to do anything about it because she was taking care of her mother who was a cardiac patient. And so when her mother got better, she went in, and she is in a later stage, but she's never told her mother, because she doesn't want her mother to worry about her.
Q Can you speak about this in a little bit bigger context? In countries like Saudi Arabia, where the situation for women is difficult, do you feel like talking about something like breast cancer, where you're talking pretty frankly about physical issues and issues that aren't discussed publicly very much in cultures like these -- is that a way to kind of broaden respect for women generally?
MRS. BUSH: I do think it is. I think it's a way to talk about issues that we now talk about in the United States, and that we know we didn't discuss, that breast cancer was also something that was not discussed. And in fact, Betty Ford and Nancy Reagan, when they both made their bouts of breast cancer public, were some of the earliest -- Betty Ford was really one of the earliest women to -- very well known American women -- to talk about breast cancer. So I think that part of it is important.
But I also think that when women talk together and when we're able to talk frankly and respectfully about women's diseases, that it also gives us the chance, obviously, to talk about other women's issues.
Q Do you notice any kind of a change since October, just in a more general sense?
MRS. BUSH: No. I mean, obviously what I know is what they've told me, and those are just their numbers of how many more people have shown up to be screened and how many more cases have been diagnosed, and then how many women are part of this Course for the Cure. And a lot of those women did go to the United States and work with Komen in the United States to be trained.
Some of these women I've seen -- Dr. Samia, the --
Q Saudi women went to the United States?
MRS. BUSH: Went to the United States.
Q Did they go without male escorts?
MRS. BUSH: I don't know that. I don't. But Dr. Samia, she probably did. I have no idea.
MS. McBRIDE: She's been back and forth to the United States.
MRS. BUSH: She's been back and forth a lot, and in fact I saw her at the United States Capitol with a breast cancer luncheon that Hadassah Lieberman and who -- Linda Bond -- was it Linda Bond?
Q And this is approved by the government? This is approved by the government --
MRS. BUSH: Oh, yes, absolutely. It's very, very supportive. In fact, King Abdallah thanked me today in the car when we were driving in for getting the word out about breast cancer here.
It's a huge problem in the Arab world. And Saudi men are like men everywhere -- they don't want to see their daughters and their wives and their mothers die of a disease that can be treated.
Q There's been some movement lately, in terms of women's activism, and slight opening for women in Saudi Arabia. Some of them are trying to drive; there's liberalization in other ways. I wonder if you noticed that in your visit.
MRS. BUSH: Well, I haven't had that much of a chance other than being with the women that I was with today. But one of the things I thought was interesting were a lot of the women I met today have jobs. I think we think of Saudi women as not working. But they had jobs. They were nurses or teachers or other jobs. Nearly every one -- I think only one occupation was listed as a housewife.
And there is a big push in Saudi to encourage women to become doctors and nurses. And of course, a lot of the women I was with, a lot of the doctors I was with today, are women. And because of the gender issues, many women want to go to a woman doctor. And so I think the government here is trying to encourage women to become doctors and nurses.
Q Did any of the women -- do they speak to you about their concerns about the status of women here? What are they telling you?
MRS. BUSH: I mean, they -- when you're talking about a disease like breast cancer that every woman can imagine how you would feel if you got the diagnosis, they talk just like any friend of mine would. I mean, they said, I cried when I got the diagnosis, and I cried and cried. And it was a very similar -- we all hurt, we all get sick, and all of us I think share the same sort of emotions and sadness and depression if we are confronted with a disease, and especially a disease like cancer; and then for women, especially breast cancer.
Q Could you talk a little bit more about, though, the linking of a program like this to the broader freedoms that women might want or express an interest in knowing about? Does that at all play into this particular, or is it just limited to breast cancer awareness?
MRS. BUSH: Well, the point of this is breast cancer awareness because that's -- the whole idea is to be able to save lives in a population where people present at a young age and where they, because of cultural issues, don't seek treatment until it's too late and they can't be treated. And so that's the real purpose, obviously. Are there side benefits like friendships between American women and Saudi women? Sure. And do we know that the -- all these Saudi women who've been to the United States with the Middle East Breast Cancer Partnership, working with Komen or other groups, have a chance to go see what it's like in the U.S.? Sure. But the real point of it is to save lives.
Okay. Thanks, you all. Thanks a lot.
END 6:38 P.M. (Local)