Saudi sisters lead lifesaving awareness campaign over killer cancer gene

Reem, Rabab and Rana Hajjar, known as the Saudi Previvors, all underwent a double mastectomy after being found to be carriers of an aggressive cancer-causing gene. (Photo/Supplied)
Updated 01 November 2019

Saudi sisters lead lifesaving awareness campaign over killer cancer gene

RIYADH: Three Saudi sisters who took drastic steps to avoid developing breast cancer are leading a lifesaving awareness campaign to help women throughout the Kingdom.

Reem, Rabab and Rana Hajjar, known as the Saudi Previvors, all underwent a double mastectomy after being found to be carriers of an aggressive cancer-causing gene.

Their mother was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 29, and the sisters agreed to early blood tests which detected a high risk of them also falling victim to the killer disease.

Now, partly through an online help platform, the siblings are leading the way on women’s health issues, driving community efforts to promote awareness and teaching Saudis about the importance of self-examination, breastfeeding, physical activity and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. 

Their Saudi Previvors group aims to educate the public on health and wellbeing by focusing on ways to prevent the onset of breast cancer by taking proactive steps to lower risk factors. 

The BRCA gene blood test, which the sisters took, is done to determine if a patient has changes or mutations in their DNA that increase the risk of breast cancer in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes.

With a high incidence rate of breast cancer in the Kingdom, the Hajjar sisters hope to save lives by sharing their experience and knowledge with other women.

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Through an online help platform, the siblings are leading the way on women’s health issues, driving community efforts to promote awareness and teaching Saudis about the importance of self-examination, breastfeeding, physical activity and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

As well as their mother, other women in their family had also been diagnosed with breast cancer at an early age. When their mother’s cancer returned in 2015, doctors strongly advised the sisters to be tested. They were all found to carry the gene and decided to undergo a double mastectomy to remove breast tissue. It was at this time that they set up their group on Facebook.

“We started a page on Instagram and on Facebook. If you take proactive steps to prevent this from happening, you become a previvor. We are an open book, and many physicians refer patients to us for support,” said the youngest of the sisters, 31-year-old Rana. “We hope our story can influence others to take these steps.”

Awareness events, such as those happening in October for breast cancer, are an important way for individuals and families to learn about issues that affect their health. Simple adjustments to lifestyles can be enough to help limit the risk of developing life-threatening diseases and illnesses.

By taking proactive steps to prevent cancer from occurring, the sisters consider themselves to be “previvors” rather than “survivors” of the disease, hence the name for their group.

“We provide full support — physically, emotionally and mentally, by being positive and sharing our story. We believe that if a woman is brave enough to face this, it’s better than living in fear of the unknown,” said Rabab, 35.

Using the anonymity of the internet has helped many Saudi women to overcome the embarrassment, shame or fear that had previously held them back from asking questions.

Through their group, the sisters are able to help women work through their experience, explain about taking the blood test, and how to physically and emotionally manage results and procedures. 

Reem, 36, the eldest of the three, said: “Love yourself unconditionally, find the strength within you, take the step … our motto in the campaign is ‘your femininity is in your strength.’”


Saudi showjumpers ride for places in Tokyo Olympics team

Updated 16 December 2019

Saudi showjumpers ride for places in Tokyo Olympics team

  • International exposure key to Saudi riders’ success: Equestrian federation chief
  • Visitors enjoyed a fun and exciting atmosphere as riders gave their best performances on the field

RIYADH: Saudi showjumpers at this month’s Diriyah Equestrian Festival aren’t just riding to win — they are battling for places at next year’s Tokyo Olympics, the country’s equestrian chief said on Sunday.

“Saudi riders’ participation in international championships is very important,” said Prince Abdullah bin Fahd bin Abdullah, president of the Saudi Equestrian Federation.

“Coming in contact with international riders will provide them with what they need to achieve their ambitions, which we all know are very big. That is why Saudi riders always have remarkable presence on the international level — hard competitors to beat, like the young rider Waleed Al-Ghamdi, who came second in the first stage of the competition.

“We are waiting for the results of this championship to draft the program for the Tokyo Olympics. We have a good chance at winning but, in this sport one can never be sure until the end of the stage. We will always be sure of the self-confidence our riders have, which will be felt as they represent the Kingdom in any competition,” he added.

Prince Abdullah expressed his happiness at the start of the first stage of the International Show Jumping Championship as part of the Diriyah Equestrian Festival

“The success is due to God, the support the sport has from the wise leadership of Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, chairman of the General Sports Authority (GSA)," he said

The festival — which concludes next weekend, Dec. 19-21 — is taking place at Al-Duhami Farm, the equestrian arena built by Saudi Olympic legend Ramzy Al-Duhami and his wife Sara Baban.

In addition to showjumping, the attractions include art and photography exhibitions, cultural activities and a range of cafes and restaurants.

Visitors enjoyed a fun and exciting atmosphere as riders gave their best performances on the field, showcasing their skills and talents.

Diriyah has always been a symbol of authenticity and culture, while entertainment came with its international sports activities characterized by their sophistication, strength and diversity.

Mohammed Al-Mudayfar, owner of the artistic incubator “Resin Art” taking part in the activities, said: “The exhibition aims at highlighting the Kingdom’s identity in line with the festival’s. By participating, I seek to revive the Kingdom’s culture and introduce it to the visitors.

'Resin Art' exhibition is part of the activities lined up during the two-week Diriyah Equestrian Festival. (Photo/Supplied)

“The exhibition includes 60 Saudi artworks. They received huge support so they can showcase them in a suitable manner, in line with this year’s fun and exciting activities,” he added, noting: “Featured handicrafts, paintings and sculptures are all up for sale.  

“We provide the necessary space and materials for any artist that wishes to showcase his work. Supporting young Saudis and talented ones in particular is a national duty that society should sense its importance especially when it is related to our heritage and traditions.”

The activities area had a part dedicated to kids that has educational and entertainment activities such as painting horse heads made of cork.

Another exhibition called “Objectives” managed by 24-year-old Lama Al-Thubaiti offered visitors a variety of jewelry and accessories that could be modified according to their requests. Al-Thubaiti works as a doctor for people with hearing disabilities and has been working to develop her brand for five years now.

“We are very happy with the visitors’ reaction and our presence here is remarkable as we get ready to open our headquarters soon,” she said.  

The activities area also featured a wide range of restaurants, Saudi and international cafes, a photography corner and cultural facilities such as Arabian and historic horse exhibition, engraving, henna and local artists.

Diriyah Equestrian Festival is taking place for the second year in a row to bring the international event to the Kingdom, reflect the traditional values of equestrianism according to European standards. The event will run for two weeks, providing participants with the chance to qualify to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and the World Championship.