Breast cancer in Morocco, a drama beyond the disease

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Many women are abandoned by their husbands after undergowing a mastectomy

Breast cancer in Morocco, a drama beyond the disease

Leer en español: Cáncer de mama en Marruecos, un drama más allá de la enfermedad

The trance of suffering from a disease such as breast cancer in Morocco does not stay in the daily fight, chemotherapy or continuous check-ups in the hospital. In the North African country it also implies a kind of stigma that, sometimes, supposes that the husbands - often the only economic sustenance of the sick women - decide to abandon them. That is why many of them ask their convalescing wife to allow them to marry another woman.

The Moroccan Family Code, better known as the Mudawana, approved in 2004, allows for polygamy, but only if the first wife consents in writing.

Fatima (fictitious name), who suffers from this disease, ended up signing the request of her husband, who complained that no one took care of him or the cattle that the family had when his wife and daughter had to move to the capital, Rabat, located 100 km from his village, to attend medical appointments in the hospital. Fatima agreed to the request with two conditions: that he continue paying the medical insurance and let their daughter continue her university studies.

Since the arrival of the new woman, Fatima was relegated to the background, and it was when she found the support of Khadija El Qorti, an old woman who 10 years ago created a shelter for cancer patients. The activist recalls that when she accompanied her husband - dead of cancer - to the hospital in Rabat, she saw many women without resources who came from remote areas of Morocco and who had to sleep in the gardens or on the floor of the health center, unable to pay accommodation for the night. Now, thanks to several patrons, the house of welcome of Khadija can accommodate up to 20 women.

Khadija states that there are husbands, especially the youngest ones, who care for and support their women with cancer but in most cases when their husbands are diagnosed they say: "you either allow me to marry another woman or we get a divorce", and almost always they accept because they need the health insurance their husbands pay for. The new wife is the one in charge of doing the housework, leaving the original marginalized and without a role in the home.

Sex greatly influences this behavior. When a woman with breast cancer loses one or both breasts even they reject themselves, even if the husband accepts them. They feel that they have lost their femininity, they consider themselves mutilated, and they avoid sexual relations with their partner, generating mutual discomfort in the marriage. This happens mainly in low-income households, because for those who have means, there are options such as breast reconstruction or even family psychologists who treat couples by helping them to regain their confidence.

Professor Rajaa Aghzadi, who is also a surgeon, cancerologist and founder of the Moroccan Association for the Fight against Breast Cancer, points out that "although there are still many cases of this type, the trend is downward due to medical advances in regarding prevention and treatment, as well as the greater awareness of Moroccan society with this problem".


Latin American Post | José María González Alonso

Translated from "Cáncer de mama en Marruecos, un drama más allá de la enfermedad"