World Cancer Leaders’ Summit 2015
Princess Dina Mired's work with the King Hussein Cancer Foundation
HRH Princess Dina Mired - Director General of the King Hussein Cancer Foundation, Amman, Jordan
I’m the Director General from the King Hussein Cancer Foundation but the most important title for me, actually, is that I’m a mother of a cancer survivor.
Tell me about the cancer survivor first of all.
Yes, my son had leukaemia at the tender age of two, actually two days short of his second birthday. Actually at the time we were in England, my husband was about to start his Masters’ degree in Cambridge University, his sister had chicken pox then he had chicken pox then, lo and behold, we had our cancer. And it’s a very interesting story, I’m not sure if you want it on this programme. At the time, of course because we were students, so we would go to the National Health Service in England, not knowing, of course, that my child had leukaemia, not an inkling. You don’t go there, as you know the symptoms are very similar to a flu, and we went there and each time I would see a new doctor at the emergency room and of course he would ask me, I’m the mum, and we would have either Panadol or some antibiotic and so on. But I knew as a mum there was something, I didn’t know what it was, I didn’t even go towards the word of cancer but I knew something was wrong. So one day I called my doctor back home and I still have that paper, I actually wrote down the symptoms of leukaemia without ever knowing or reading about leukaemia. And he told me, ‘Dina, just get a blood test.’ So I was very happy, great, blood test, and you know in the National Health Service you have to be referred to get a blood test, somebody has to say, not like in Jordan you can just go and pay in a lab and get one. So I marched in to the National Health Service thing without an appointment and I said, ‘I just need a blood test and I’m very happy to pay.’ And the lady said, ‘I’m very sorry, you don’t have an appointment.’ Without me knowing I started crying and then one lovely lad, his name is Steven Foley, we’ll never forget him, and he stood up and he saw this tall woman with a child in tow crying with her heart out, not knowing at all that we had cancer and he said, ‘I believe she can take my appointment,’ and he was only eighteen. Of course I don’t blame the lady, I did not come with an appointment but anyway he gave me the appointment and then the moment then the doctor saw of course his platelets were down he said, ‘I think you can go to the hospital now,’ and that’s how our journey started. And because of your wonderful relationship with His Majesty King Hussein, when he heard about the story of Steven Foley he actually invited him and the whole family to Jordan. It’s just such a nice… I’m forever grateful for him and that’s how we started our journey.
Good stuff. And now you’re really getting stuck in about the advocacy and now you’re giving something back, I suppose. Tell us about the Foundation.
Yes, after England, my son, during treatment I knew that he might need some bone marrow transplant and so we went to the States because actually an English doctor told me at that time that it’s good to go to a place where there is volume. So we went to Boston to Dana Farber Cancer Hospital and, sure enough, he relapsed and we had to have the bone marrow transplant. So when I came back, we finished the treatment there, of course it was a gruelling two and a half years’ treatment, we went back home and that’s when Her Royal Highness Princess Ghida Talal, our Chairperson, who is a wife to a cancer survivor, His Royal Highness Prince Talal, she asked me to join the fight. And of course I knew that this is something now, my son, Alhamdulillah, as we say in Arabic, that he survived cancer. I was of the lucky few that could go abroad to get treatment, thousands of mothers just like myself don’t have that chance, they would have mediocre treatment at home, if any. So I have to give back this great luck, using my title. It’s not there for free, you have to give back and utilise it for something.
The work of the Foundation has spread way beyond Jordan. You’re international, you’re famous, you’re making an impact. How do you handle that and how do you use that for the benefit of cancer patients in Jordan?
What’s wonderful really about this Foundation and the cancer centre is that we really grew organically - organically, scientifically and we mobilised the whole community, that really has been our story. And from that, and we were focussed, in the beginning we focussed on treatment because I know many people when we would go to these wonderful conferences when we first started they’d say, ‘Oh you have to work on prevention, you have to work on early detection,’ and we said, ‘No-one is ever going to listen to us when they still believe you die from cancer.’ Because all they see is people walking vertically to the cancer centre, coming out horizontally. So the only key to unravel everything was to deal with treatment so all our focus went on treatment and then we went on early detection, prevention, now we boast one of the top breast cancer, national breast cancer programmes, in Jordan and so on. And fighting tobacco and moving on to other spheres in the comprehensive cancer care continuum.
Of course we are not just a local centre, as you know many in the region, before or even after their health systems have been decimated, we are really a first port of call for them. We have patients from Palestine, Iraq, of course Syria now in droves, of course, Yemen, Sudan, Libya; we even have people coming from Algeria, believe it or not. So we are not just a local centre, we’re really for the whole region and we take that role very seriously in terms of working on awareness, on advocacy. Our cancer centre helps train many cancer centres being in Palestine, in Morocco, we have agreements with them. We’re very open to sharing our knowledge with everybody because the region is still far behind in delivering quality cancer care. And globally, of course, we really always want to share our story. And I see it whenever we come to these conferences and they hear about this little cancer centre in little Jordan but little Jordan in size but big in spirit and ambition. They feel they can compare to us much more, they feel if Jordan can do it with small resources then we can do it and we have many calls from South America, from Africa, recently now I’ve just met two ladies from Kazakhstan, they want to come and meet with us and see how we’re doing things because they feel if we can do it they can do it. So we take that role very seriously and we love to share our work and all for free, we don’t charge anything to our developing fellow countrymen.