Maria Hamdani, a teacher and member of the Dawoodi Bohras of New York, was featured in an article about breast cancer survivors written by Lisa L. Colangelo and published in NewsDay on October 21, 2021. Having survived breast cancer with the support of her family and friends, Maria Hamdani is passionate about spreading awareness of the disease and educating others on how mammograms save lives by detecting problems at an early stage. Below is an extract; the full article can be read here (subscription required).
‘Cancer does not discriminate.’ Breast cancer survivors tell their stories
A mother of three from New Hyde Park who runs half marathons. A Levittown woman who was diagnosed with the disease five times. A Huntington Station woman who was given two years to live.
Each has battled breast cancer — the second-most common cancer among women in the United States — and survived. One in eight women will develop breast cancer at some point, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But those diagnosed with the disease have plenty of reasons to be hopeful. Screenings with new technology, such as 3D mammograms, are picking up signs of cancer earlier. New treatments focus on the unique biology of cancer cells and the patient, rather than just the size or stage of the cancer. As a result, breast cancer rates dropped more than 40% between 1980 and 2018, according to the American Cancer Society.
Health experts said education is the key. For the past 36 years, the month of October has been designated to bring awareness to breast cancer, especially the importance of early screenings.
Newsday spoke with four Long Island women about their experiences battling breast cancer.
Maria Hamdani, 47, of New Hyde Park
Hamdani figured at some point in her life she would end up battling breast cancer.
The 47-year-old woman from New Hyde Park had lost a beloved aunt to breast cancer more than 30 years ago. Hamdani’s mom was diagnosed with it several years later and survived.
But it was still a shock when the mother of three, who runs half marathons, found out last December that she had tested positive for breast cancer.
“It was right before Christmas and I got the call. My middle daughter was with me and I held her hand,” said Hamdani, a former teacher who now works as director of classroom assessments at Curriculum Associates, an education publishing company in Brooklyn. “I was just crying on the phone with the doctor. I figured I would be 60, 65, not 47. I had seen my aunt go through it, and I had seen my mom go through it. It was terrifying.”
A close-knit network of family and friends rushed to support her. Hamdani’s parents wanted to travel from Texas to be with her before her surgery in February, but they had only just become eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine and received their first dose. She talked them out of traveling to New York during a painful phone conversation.
“I said, ‘If something happened to you, I could never live with myself,’ ” Hamdani recalled through tears. “A week later, my dad got COVID.”
She remembers thinking at the time: “God’s not going to give me cancer and take my dad — but he did.”
Her father died three weeks later.
It was a crushing blow to Hamdani, just a week before her double mastectomy surgery at NYU-Langone in Manhattan. She made the decision with her doctors to remove both her breasts.
“The doctor said it was the best decision I had ever made,” Hamdani said. “I was so grateful to be alive.”
Recovery was challenging, but she was never alone as friends and family took turns staying with her, taking care of everything from providing food to running errands and even sending inspiring messages.
“All of that really lifted me up,” she said. “But at night, when you’re alone with your thoughts, I’m thinking ‘Oh my God, what’s just happened.’ “
Hamdani’s double mastectomy surgery successfully removed the cancer from her body, and she did not need chemotherapy. But she remains on hormone therapy to block the estrogen that was feeding her cancer. She sees her oncologist every six months.
Before she had surgery, Hamdani spread awareness to people in her Dawoodi Bohra community, a Shia Muslim sect in India. The Bohras have members across the world and in the U.S., including on Long Island.
“As in many Indian communities, [breast cancer] is just not spoken of very much,” she said.
Hamdani participated in a Zoom seminar urging women to get mammograms. As a result, many participants were inspired to get mammograms, and one woman was diagnosed with cancer, she said.
“I’m a teacher,” she said. “If I don’t teach and pass this along, then why did this even happen to me? I feel so motivated to continue to help women understand the importance of early detection, and that a mammogram saved my life.”
What to know
- Breast cancer is the second-most common cancer in American women, topped only by skin cancers.
- There is a 1-in-8 chance a woman in the U.S. will develop breast cancer.
- An estimated 284,200 people will be diagnosed with breast cancer in the U.S in 2021, including 17,540 in New York State.
- The death rate from breast cancer dropped by 41% between 1989 and 2018 due to increased awareness, screenings and new treatments.
SOURCE: American Cancer Society
The full article can be read here (subscription required).