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By Atlal Abusanad, MD, MSc, FRCPC, CIP

Eight years ago, I launched an online group called Najia, which translates to “A lady survivor” in Arabic. The aim was to support patients and survivors facing breast cancer, transcending boundaries and uniting individuals on their challenging paths. In a society where certain topics may be challenging to approach in person, Najia became a space where women openly discussed the side effects of treatments, including sensitive issues like sexual dysfunction. It served as a medium for shared experiences, fact-checking advice, and addressing practical aspects of living with cancer—from the purchase of comfortable wigs, to coping with the loss of fellow members. As an oncologist, I became both the keeper and witness to a manifestation of strength, resilience, and mutual empowerment.1

From its launch, I cultivated a professional-patient partnership, recognizing the importance of accuracy and authenticity. I supervised discussions to prevent the spread of misconceptions, ensuring the integrity of the exchanged information. This commitment to a reliable and supportive environment laid the groundwork for a community that would evolve and flourish. In the early days, our group consisted of a handful of individuals, each bravely navigating the complexities of their breast cancer journey. As our group continued to grow, so did the ripple effect of empowerment; those who had once sought comfort and understanding found within themselves the strength that made them extend a helping hand to others on a similar journey. The collective experience of battling breast cancer became a catalyst for personal growth and resilience, leading members to not only overcome their own adversities, but also actively contribute to the well-being of fellow group participants.

Nonetheless, as the group expanded, I recognized the need to decentralize leadership to sustain its growth. I carefully selected delegates, empowering them with the knowledge to lead and nurture the community. The impact of this decision proved exponential, as delegates became assets of support, extending our reach and ensuring that no voice went unheard.

The collective spirit of our community became proof of the transformative power of empowerment. As I empowered others to take the lead, my role evolved from a mere supervisor and educator into a deeply empathetic oncologist who intimately understood the unspoken fears and hopes within the minds of these women. Gaining insights into the thoughts and emotions of these women went beyond just enhancing my medical knowledge—it brought to light the profound influence of emotional support on the overall healing process. I learned that the impact of emotional well-being was not a secondary consideration, but a significant factor intertwined with the physical aspects of dealing with breast cancer. The stories shared by the members shed light on the often-underestimated role of emotional support in fostering resilience and promoting a positive mindset. As an oncologist, this realization prompted a reevaluation of my approach to patient care. It highlighted the importance of not only addressing the physical aspects of the disease, but also actively integrating emotional support into the treatment plan. I also became more resourceful, tirelessly seeking and providing materials that addressed the unique needs of patients and survivors. Altogether, this made me feel empowered as a compassionate physician.

The impact of this empowerment echoed beyond digital borders. The innovative approach of employing social media for community support gained attention on a national level. In recognition of the methods employed in bridging gaps and providing a lifeline for those in need, I was honored with a national prize for innovative contributions to community service. Once again, this experience—which I thought would be entirely designed to help patients—helped me to advance my career unpredictably.  In the journey of maintaining this online community, I not only witnessed mutual empowerment and gained recognition for this initiative, but I also had the opportunity to share my experiences in a TEDx talk.2 During the TEDx presentation, I conveyed a powerful message about embracing ideas that may appear unpredictable, or lack a clearly defined path. I emphasized the inherent strength found in unpredictability and how these unconventional ideas often lead to impactful and transformative outcomes.

The ripple effect of empowerment from the Najia community continues to inspire and create positive change, echoing far beyond the confines of the virtual world. The idea that we discover strength and beauty within ourselves and attain unforeseen power and influence by uplifting others holds true, thus reflecting the power of empowerment

Dr. Abusanad is an associate professor of internal medicine and medical oncology at King Abdulaziz University and Hospital, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Follow her on Twitter @atlal_abusanad. Disclosure.


  1. Abusanad A. Najia Story: A WhatsApp Support Group For Patients With Breast Cancer. Innovations in Digital Health, Diagnostics, and Biomarkers. 2021; 1 (1): 16–18. 
  2. Abusanad A. The Power of the Unexpected [Video]. TED Conferences. 2021. 
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