Bradford born Rina Gunnoo was only twelve years old when her mum died of breast cancer, three decades ago.
“It seems like a long time ago, but I still remember it.” Recollected Rina.
“My mum and dad went to doctors. I remember as it was just before we were flying out to India and the doctors told her that her appointment will arrive when she returns from her holiday.
“My mum thought it was just going to go away and there was no urgency of having the appointment. She had an option to go earlier, but it never happened, and things were brushed off with – oh it’s someone who has done nazar or evil eye on you.”
As a result, of the lack of awareness of medical treatment and cultural taboos, Rina now wants to raise more awareness among other South Asian women.
Midlands based charity Prevent Breast Cancer says that uptake for breast screenings among Asian women is extremely low and more needs to be done to ensure that all Asian women are aware of how a breast screening is conducted and the need for women of this ethnicity to be aware of their overall risk.
Screening is essential to ensure that breast cancer is caught as early as possible and that people are provided with the treatment that is right for them.
Due to cultural barriers, Rina feels that her mum could have lived longer, had the screening happened sooner and the diagnosis and treatment started earlier.
“My mum only went to hospital after we came back from India and it was later discovered that my mum had an aggressive lump” Rina told me.
“My mum was a fairly simple person. She was shy, a woman with traditional values and was easily influenced by a group of South Asian ladies at her workplace.
“The ladies at her work told her, ‘we don’t get rid of our hair because it’s a sign of losing your husband.’ So, my mum never went for chemo. She listened to the ladies and went for radiotherapy instead”
Some of Rina’s family were also of the belief that her mum needed spiritual rather than medical treatment and trips to India were often made to visit temples, shrines, and mosques for a taweez (amulet) to protect her from evil and take away the illness.
Sadly, within a couple of years of diagnosis Rina’s mum, Jasvanti was consumed by the disease and died.
This was a difficult time for Rina, as she was a young child and being the eldest of three, had to grow up quickly to support her younger brother and sister.
“I don’t think I really got a chance to grieve for my mum when she died, as I didn’t know much about funerals and the elderly ladies took charge of everything. Therefore, when I found my lump a few years ago I think I found it hard and maybe that’s when I really grieved”
Rina discovered her lump in her breast at just the tender age of 24 and learning from her mum’s experience, Rina didn’t waste any time in going to have the lump checked.
On the initial check-up the doctor told Rina the lump was benign and that she didn’t need to have an operation, as it would leave scars if she did. However, a conversation with her grandma soon convinced the mother of two to have the operation particularly because of family history with breast cancer.
“I didn’t want to have the operation as I didn’t want a mark or scars on my private area” Rina said. I am glad that my grandma convinced me to have it removed, because my doctor later informed me that they found active cells after removing the lump. This led to a second operation to ensure all the remaining cells were removed too.
“I was in tears and thought I was dying, because of what happened to my mum. Luckily, the operation went well and following some counselling almost twenty years on and I am still here healthy.”
Rina believes if it hadn’t happened to her mum, she wouldn’t have been educated.
“So, it was my mum who saved my life.” She said
The Bradford mother has since been trying to create more awareness around Breast cancer screening. With October being Breast Cancer Awareness month, Rina took the brave step to share her story and recently appeared on ITV’s Lorraine to hare her story.
She wants to tell everyone to stop being embarrassed about getting your private parts checked. “What’s a little embarrassment over death?” She asked.
“As soon as you see a change or something different with your body, you should immediately see a doctor, because you could save your life, as if found early breast cancer can be treated. Leaving it till late could risk your life.”
Shazia Khan, a consultant radiologist based at St Luke’s Hospital, also appeared on the Lorraine show, speaking out about modesty issues. She told viewers on the programme that anybody coming to hospital for a mammogram appointment can be assured that full privacy is offered, and the hospital’s appointments are conducted by women.
She said: “It is really important. I can understand
“We do everything in our power to give you the information, to know what’s going to happen.
“Please ask us questions.
“The sooner and earlier we catch it, the better the outcome.
“It is important to self-examine, screen and see someone.”
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic Breast screening programmes were paused nationally in March, however it resumed services in August and to coincide with Breast Cancer Awareness Month. So, everyone who has received an invitation or feels a change in their body, is being encouraged to get a screening done.
For Rina, the message could not be more clearer:
“We need to knock the superstitions on the head, because it can cause a lot of pain afterwards. You don’t want to be left alone without a mother. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. So, save a life and get yourself checked early.”