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Syria's first lady starts breast cancer treatment

Syria's first lady starts breast cancer treatment
Syrian President Bashar Assad sits with his wife Asma as she begins treatment for early-stage breast cancer at a hospital in Damascus. (Facebook / AFP/Getty Images)

Syria's first lady Asma Assad has begun treatment for breast cancer, the president’s office said Wednesday.

Such public announcements are uncommon in the Arab world, where cancer is considered a taboo.

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The president’s office posted on its Facebook page a photo of President Bashar Assad sitting next to his wife in a hospital room with an intravenous line in her left arm. The accompanying statement said the "malignant tumor" was discovered in its early stages and wished the first lady a speedy recovery.

State news agency SANA said she was undergoing treatment at a military hospital in the capital, Damascus. It gave no further details.

Later Wednesday, the president’s office posted another photo of the first lady walking, carrying a laptop in one hand and a cup in the other. Her left wrist was bandaged.

"I belong to the [Syrian] people who taught the world steadfastness, strength and how to face difficulties," the caption read in Arabic. "My determination comes from your determination and strength in the past years."

Asma Assad's family is originally from the central province of Homs. She was born and raised in Britain before moving back to Syria after meeting the president.

Since Syria's civil war broke out, Asma Assad, 42, has mostly been seen in public receiving families of fallen soldiers, or hosting people wounded in the conflict, which is now in its eighth year and has killed more than 400,000 people.

Before the uprising began in March 2011, she was the subject of flattering profiles in Vogue and other fashion magazines. In 2009, Britain's top-selling tabloid the Sun introduced its readers to the "sexy Brit" who was "bringing Syria in from the cold."

As Syria's conflict worsened, the first lady became a target of contempt for many opposition supporters who saw her as whitewashing atrocities carried out by the government.

Asma and Bashar Assad have been married for 18 years and have three children.

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