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Saudi women take fight against breast cancer to Mount Everest

Motivated by the success in breaking a Guinness World Record by forming a human chain with 4,000 women in 2010, a group of Saudi women teamed up again to raise awareness around breast cancer by reaching the base camp of the world’s tallest peak, Mount Everest.

Along with the Zahra Breast Cancer Association and other organizations, Saudi Princess Reema Bint Bandar Bin Sultan Al-Saud lead the team in a campaign called ‘A Woman’s Journey: Destination Mount Everest.’

The aim of the campaign was to inspire Saudi women to lead a healthier lifestyle by staying physically fit and to educate the public of the causes and effects of breast cancer as well as the importance of early detection.

The link between physical activity and breast cancer has been widely discussed worldwide and has been the topic of over 60 studies published in North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. Most studies showed that physically active women have a lower risk of developing breast cancer than inactive women.

Princess Reema and fellow female climbers Jude al-Aitani, Asma al-Ghalib, Mashael al-hegelan, Mona Shahab, Noura Bouzo, Raha al-Moharrak, Lina Almaeena, Samaher Mously, Hatun Madani, Alya al-Sa’ad, and Hasna’a Mokhtar said the dangers of reaching the base camp of Mount Everest symbolizes the challenges, both big and small, women face along their journey in fighting breast cancer.

The 10 women, who describes themselves as “Pink Warriors” are between 25 and 50 years old and are either relatives of breast cancer sufferers or survivors themselves, reached the top of Mount on the 7th and returned to Saudi Arabia on the 21st of May.

Over 8,000 Saudi Arabian women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year and around 50 to 60 percent of cases are detected at an advanced stage. Breast cancer has climbed from 7.6% 10 years ago to the current 24% of all cancer cases, according to the Saudi Cancer Registry at King Faisal Specialist Hospital & Research Center.

Lina Almaeena, one of the mountain climbers, told Al Arabiya that it took them four to six month to prepare for the journey and the training program included having to climb mountains in Jeddah, Mecca, and other parts of Saudi Arabia. “Everest presents several challenges like deep, hidden clefts, potential and unpredictable landslides, harsh blowing winds, subzero temperatures, in addition to extremely low oxygen levels and the severe headaches that follow”, she added.

While Hasna’a Mokhtar, another climber, told Al Arabiya that until their return yesterday, she felt that part of the experience was almost like an illusion.

The daily climb was hard and would last around 7 to 8 hours. On the first day of the climb it took nearly 12 hours to reach the base camp, Mokhtar explained. “But although the climb was difficult, it was nothing compared to the severe pain a women with breast cancer would feel, “she said.

(Written by Ikram al-Yacoub)