We had a chance to meet Lara Safar at the Bras for a Cause ME fashion show in Dubai where she openly shared her inspirational story of overcoming the disease to all our guests, starting with the following simple yet very powerful introduction:
Two years ago, this is probably how I would have introduced myself: “Hi everyone, my name is Lara. I’m Lebanese. I’m 25-years-old and I work in advertising”. Today I say: “Hi everyone, my name is Lara. I’m a twenty-seven year-old breast cancer survivor.”
“Twenty-seven-year-old” and “survivor” in one sentence is not something you hear every day, but Lara has actively proven (and continues to do so) the importance of early detection – no matter how old you are. We took a few minutes to get to know this fascinating young woman a little bit better to spread her important message to all women across the Middle East:
1. How did you find out that you had breast cancer?
I sensed a lump in one of my breasts but kind of ignored it at the beginning as I didn’t think it was anything abnormal. One day I could sense it, the next day I couldn’t. I thought it was in my head and that I was being paranoid until one day at the beach when a friend of mine felt it and encouraged me to get a doctor’s appointment (which I did). After that, I did some tests, including an ecography and a mammography before the doctor announced the news to me.
2. What was your first thought upon hearing the diagnosis and what was treatment like?
I was shocked when I first found out because I was not expecting it. Given that I was only 25 years old at the time and that I didn’t have any family history, it came as a surprise for me.
My first reaction was that this is not possible; I didn’t believe it.
I thought the doctor was wrong until I did more tests and got checked by other doctors who also confirmed that I had attained stage 2 breast cancer.
The treatment varies case by case. Given my age and the stage of my cancer, I had to undergo chemotherapy for almost 1 year and 3 months. It was 1 session every 3 weeks. I also did a surgery whereby the tumor was removed from my breast, followed by daily radiotherapy treatment for almost 5 weeks.
3. Is breast cancer genetic in your family? If not, how were doctors able to explain why you were diagnosed with it at such a young age?
No one from my family had been attained by breast cancer and it’s still a question mark as to how I was diagnosed with it at such a young age. No science so far has been able to determine the reasons behind breast cancer in general. It is said that the probability of breast cancer increases with age and if there’s a family history, but people tend to think that they can only be attained by it for those reasons – which is a total misconception. My case is the proof of that. It’s very important that people correct their conception with regards to this matter.
4. What helped you recover during and after treatment?
Of course, what helped me was the support of my family, in spite of this being very hard on them. They never showed me that they were in pain and always kept a hopeful attitude with a smile on their faces. My friends were also always there for me and I was constantly surrounded by the people I love. Most and foremost, having an optimistic spirit was the key to surviving this episode.
5. Were you able to meet other survivors your age and how important is the support of others who’ve gone through the same thing?
I haven’t met many people who were attained by breast cancer at quite the young age like I have – only 1 as a matter of fact and I met her at the hospital. She had discovered it after I had already started my treatment so my case was more advanced than hers at the time we met. She was still at the beginning of her treatment so I found myself helping her by telling her what to expect and the different stages she’d have to go through.
6. Did you wear a wig during treatment, and if so, why did you chose to do so? If not, what helped you to make such a bold decision?
Before I started chemotherapy I had very long hair, which I loved. As soon as my hair started to fall, I went to a hair salon specialized in making wigs from your own hair. They cut my hair and used it to make the wig, but I never wore it. I felt as if I would be lying to myself as well as to others. It wasn’t right and it didn’t look nice or natural to me. So instead I resorted to wearing scarves which felt much more comfortable. I started matching them with my outfits and would constantly received compliments on them.
Given that I never wore my wig, my friends and family helped themselves to it instead. It was very funny seeing them in a new hairstyle – especially the boys!
7. How has breast cancer changed your outlook on life?
Many people say that after rough experiences, their perception of life changes. To be very honest with you, that has not been the case with me. Like I mentioned at the Bras for a Cause event, I’m still the same person. I still like the same things and still have the same friends. Nothing has changed really except that maybe now I try to do more of the things I like to do (like eating out, traveling, etc…) and avoid doing the things that I don’t like doing (like exercising!). But that’s not because I think that life is too short; far from that! Rather it’s because I now feel that there’s no point in doing things that don’t matter to you.
8. What tips or advice would you like to give for other Middle Eastern breast cancer patients about to undergo the same thing?
That there is no point in being sad or asking questions like “why me?” as this will not make the cancer go away. My advice would be to look at the bright side and look at all the good things that will come out of this experience as they’re countless.
Another important thing to bear in mind is to find the best doctors as they will give you the confidence you need and will provide you with the best treatment possible to increase your chances of surviving.
Lastly, dont spend too much time on the internet looking for answers. Most of the times they’re exaggerated and incorrect. Ask questions to the right people (i.e. doctors).
9. You’ve been very open about your experience, which isn’t very common in the region. What boosted you to do so and how has the public responded to your story? Do you find talking about your experience difficult?
When I survived, I took a pledge to start raising awareness about early detection because I want other women to be able to survive this like I did – and early detection is key for that. More so, I believe there is no shame in being a cancer survivor. On the contrary; after this experience, people have so much more admiration, respect and love towards me. So why to not talk about it, especially when it can help others and make a difference?
The public has been quite responsive to my story. I’ve done a lot of media interviews and have spoken at a couple of events. Following those experiences, I now get stopped by random people who applaud my courage and thank me for opening their eyes by sharing my story. I really hope that my message has resonated with others and that women will do regular check-ups religiously!
10. What did you think of the Bras for a Cause fashion show event [that you were also a guest speaker at]? What kind of campaigns would you like to see more of in the region?
This is a brilliant event because although the core of it is breast cancer awareness, it was surrounded by other fun activities which encouraged people to attend and take part. If the event had been more focussed towards the cause and the medical side of it, then it probably wouldn’t have captured as much attention.
I really hope that more campaigns will take place in the region, and not just in October (breast cancer awareness month) but rather all year long.
Safe & Sound‘s activities, such as their walk-a-thon, annual survivor fashion show, book sale, and, most importantly, the 5,000 free mammography vouchers they give away to women who can’t afford to get checked are also good examples.
Thank you Lara for taking the time to share your story with us. You’re a true inspiration and we applaud your commitment to spreading your message of breast cancer awareness. We wish you the best of luck in all you do!
* UPDATE: Read the follow-up interview with Lara we conducted two years after this post here.