Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

The morning began with Mrs. Laura Bush making a quick stop at the American Consulate in Dubai to meet the staff and children of the staff. The motorcade then traveled to the airport to make our way to Riyadh. After receiving the royal treatment (literally) upon landing, our visit began with the first ever screening clinic in the Kingdom.

Two issues make breast cancer especially tough for women of this region of the world: their disease presents more than a decade earlier than for American women and the culture is such that the disease is most often diagnosed at Stage 3 and 4. There is the fear of abandonment by husbands and the fear that their daughters will be seen as undesirable.

We were joined in Riyadh by Dr. Kendra Woods of MD Anderson, who is our medical partner in the Middle Eastern venture and in our Latin American venture. Her enthusiasm is boundless and she always praises Komen.

Ambassador Ford Fraker briefed us all on protocol and confirmed the incredible significance of the partnership. One of the journalists traveling with us used the term "pink diplomacy," indicating that what we were doing was beyond health and encompassed the fundamental empowerment of women.

The launch of the U.S.–Middle East Partnership for Breast Cancer Awareness and Research took place at King Fahad Medical City in a large auditorium filled mostly with men. There were several women there (covered completely and sectioned off by themselves), and we were told that even two years ago it would never have happened that men and women were together.

The ceremony was nicely done and the cameras were rolling. Both Mrs. Bush and Kendra did a lovely job of acknowledging Nancy G. Brinker's role in this historic partnership and of the tireless efforts of Erin Walsh from the Department of State. Erin is a breast cancer survivor diagnosed at a young age, and she has been a driving force behind the U. S.-Middle East Partnership. When others thought it might wane, she did not take no for an answer. She has been a real friend to Komen.

Some of you have met Dr. Samia (either in DC or Budapest), the first woman in Saudi Arabia to openly declare she had breast cancer. She is a physician, single mother of two, and diagnosed her own breast cancer. She spoke at the launch, and again, Komen was praised.

When the signing was complete and Prince Faisal and I had exchanged portfolios, the women rushed the stage to thank us. Although we couldn't see their faces, we could feel the smiles. They were so warm and so grateful.