Luton woman's praise for UK's first Muslim cancer support group after devastating loss of brother and mother

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The group was created in response to unmet religious and cultural needs of Muslim patients and families

The UK’s first nationwide cancer support organisation for Muslims has begun its work helping patients, families and friends this Ramadan.

One of the people getting support from Safeena Muslim Cancer Support Network is 47-year-old Shazia Afzal from Luton. She lost her mother to bowel cancer three years ago and her brother to brain cancer just five months ago. Shazia is getting help from the group created to meet the religious and cultural needs of Muslim patients and their families.

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She said: “A community network for my mum going through similar experiences would’ve allowed her to express her feelings and understand things a little better as she was very anxious and unknowing of what to expect with her illness.” Shazia’s mother was 65 years old when she died in 2020 and due to embarrassment surrounding her symptoms, she did not talk about her cancer.

Shazia Afzal and her motherShazia Afzal and her mother
Shazia Afzal and her mother

The Safeena Network has started to work with the British Islamic Medical Association (BIMA) and charities like Macmillan Cancer Support to bring Muslims support from pre-diagnosis through to recovery and end of life care. Shazia explained: “My mum’s father also died from bowel cancer and if we were more willing to talk about these things within the Asian community perhaps her cancer would’ve been picked up earlier.”

Her brother died from a brain tumour and the family were not aware of the symptoms until his eye began to swell. He underwent six rounds of chemotherapy after being diagnosed with a Stage 4 tumour.

Shazia is hopeful that relatives will be able to better understand their emotions through Safeena Muslim Cancer Support Network’s help in signposting counselling. She added: “A service like Safeena Muslim Cancer Support Network that is more relatable to Muslims would definitely have a positive impact for all those affected by cancer in our community.

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“Allowing room for a clearer understanding of what to expect for both family members and the person living with cancer and giving more openness and clarity to how to spot the signs and symptoms of this awful disease.”