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Breaking taboos: The Princess leading a cancer revolution

It’s estimated that one in every two people will develop cancer in their lifetime. If you’re lucky to be in the 50% that doesn’t, you’re likely to still feel its impact through the diagnosis of a loved one. While cancer care has come on leaps and bounds, HRH Princess Ghida Talal tells The Dialogue she “will not rest,” in the fight against the disease.

As Chairperson of the King Hussein Cancer Foundation and Center in Amman, the Princess has been on the frontlines since 2001. She’s not just a figurehead; she knows what it’s like to see the battle with cancer, up close and personal.

“My husband, Prince Talal, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma,” she says. “Overnight we were plunged into the horrifying reality of cancer.”

Prince Talal was fortunate, he was treated in the US at a top cancer care hospital. But even while enduring her own personal nightmare, the Princess’s eyes were open to the experience of others.

“I couldn’t help but think and even be haunted by images of countless women in the Arab world…going through the same ordeal as I was,” she explains. “But did not have any options for travel to treat their loved ones, and this is when I resolved that this reality was going to change.”

“At the time, the landscape for cancer was extremely bleak in Jordan and throughout the region,” she says. “Everyone still equated cancer with death…it was imperative to establish a centre that would treat patients with advanced care.”

While the establishment of the Cancer Foundation and Center, under the patronage of King Abdullah II was integral, fighting the stigma of cancer was another fray. A battle the Princess states was won through the heroic actions of the late King Hussein of Jordan.

“He was himself fighting his own cancer battle privately, but he decided to take that battle to the public,” she explains. “He famously removed the traditional head scarf from his head to show his bare head; to show that there was no shame in getting cancer.”

Images have power. So, the idea of a King showing his own weakness, spoke volumes and minds began to change.

The King Hussein Cancer Foundation and Center is now globally recognised. It’s treated over 75,000 patients from all over the Arab world, has partnered up with globally leading institutions and its Bone Marrow Transplantation programme has success rates to rival the best.

It’s also helped “flip the statistics for women” being diagnosed in the late stages of breast cancer, from 70 to 30%, something she’s most proud of. But for Princess Ghida Talal, this is simply not enough. “We will not rest until not one woman has to succumb to cancer because of a late diagnosis.”

There’s even an initiative to ensure refugees have access to top-notch care. “Jordan has been host to over a million refugees and displaced people. They literally fall within the cracks,” she says. Goodwill funds, amounting to over $100 million, set up by KHCF, have already treated 35-hundred people.

This exasperates the Princess. “[I]t is imperative that the international community step up its efforts and increases its support to countries like Jordan and other host nations, because we are not able to shoulder that burden alone,” she says.

Wading into international politics isn’t new territory for the Princess. A former journalist, she’s used to holding people in power accountable. While studying in the US she noticed “a clear bias in the Western media towards our part of the world,” and felt compelled to do something.

Since then, she’s contributed to changing the narrative, including through two stints representing Jordan at the United Nations and serving on the Board of Regents of Georgetown University – her alma mater. The Princess also used her experience to establish the International Press Office of the Royal Hashemite Court.

As the driving force behind the Cancer Foundation and Centre, the Princess hasn’t just focused on traditional care. “Mental health is of paramount importance,” she states. “There are too many taboos surrounding it still.” As a result, a healing garden, as well as a playroom/yoga space have been opened for patients and their families.

Although internationally honoured for her humanitarian work, Princess Ghida Talal says there is one honour that matters most of all. “The greatest recognition I have ever received has been from the countless cancer patients who have become my large family,” she says.

And that rings true. Here is a woman who could enjoy the spoils of life. Instead, she lives to help others, giving them the strength and hope to not only survive but to thrive.



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