Robert Khoury is originally from Lebanon, and he came to Doha in 2005. He works in the field of advertising and exhibitions. He remembers the day distinctly that he was diagnosed with kidney cancer, on April 29, 2019. Since he is a triathlon athlete who competes regularly, he was surprised at this discovery.
“I was lucky that my cancer was discovered at an early stage, at stage 1. I went to Oman to compete in a triathlon, and I went to the hospital for a check-up. I told them that I had a problem with my stomach. Fortunately, the doctor was able to diagnose that there was something wrong with my kidney. So he started doing an ultrasound and CT scan, and he discovered a 4-centimeter tumor in my left kidney, which is how we found it by accident.
I was so surprised when I heard about cancer because I was healthy and an athlete. So when I went to the Head of Urology at the hospital, and when he told me that they had found a tumor, the first thing that came to my mind was, ‘How come?: I don’t drink alcohol, I eat healthy food, I wake up in the morning, I do sports, and I am always on a diet.’ So how come one day you are in good shape and the next day you are a cancer patient? It was surreal to be healthy and fit one day, and the next day you are a cancer patient. So it was awkward. But I have to live with it. Because I do a triathlon, which is one of the most challenging sports, and you need endorsements, I felt that my physical fitness helped me to overcome the experience of cancer. And I am fighting it.
I am now cancer-free, and I have two years of treatment to follow up. And hopefully, I will pass through this stage. And strangely, I did not experience any adverse symptoms – the next day after I was diagnosed, I went swimming. And I did not feel anything – even the urine test was 98% clear, and I continued my life normally until they removed the tumor. And I did not do any chemotherapy. I had some pain in my back because I had robotic surgery, and my body was bent over during the operation, but I am following up with the doctors about the back pain.
And I knew about the Qatar Cancer Society services – they invited me once to a conference on blood cancer. It was the first time that I ever attended such a conference, and it was beneficial, and I am looking forward to similar discussions at QCS. When you know about something, you are better off because you know what to expect and what you are doing.
By nature, I am a fighter – the big fear that I have, the big question mark, is that I have a little kid. What will happen to him? It is my only fear. But after my surgery, I am feeling normal, and it is not the main issue now, just a minor issue, and I am continuing my life as usual. Tomorrow I am doing a long ride, 100 kilometers. So really, I don’t feel that I am a patient. I live day by day, and I always tell my wife, ‘you don’t need to worry.’ My wife was very supportive. She didn’t say, ‘how? Why?’ instead, she said that we are going to fight it together. And I told her, even though I am a patient, I am a survivor, and I am fine. You never know when your time will come – maybe I am crossing the road, and a car will hit me, you never know. So it is not a big issue; it is something my wife and I need to focus on and fight.
My son did not know about cancer because he is two years old. My wife is a firm believer, and when I told her about cancer, she said, ‘we are believers, and we are going to pray, and this is the only thing that we can do, and we are going to fight it together. And she no longer asks me how I am doing, as long as she sees that I am doing my cycling, my swimming–so nothing happened, nothing changed, and that is why she is comfortable with the situation. Whenever I go to the doctor, my wife asks me whether it is positive or negative, and I tell her it is positive, and she smiles, and everything is fine.
I have a friend in Qatar, and she is a triathlete as well. And she was diagnosed with cancer last year. She went to Hamad Medical Corporation and did the treatment, and the first thing that I asked her was where she would recommend that I be treated? She said to go to Hamad hospital, So this is what happened. And to tell you the truth, this is the first time I went to any government hospital, and I went in and out without any problems. It was perfect—five-star service.
When some of my friends found out about my cancer, they said they were sorry, and I asked them: ‘Why are you sorry? It’s cancer; it’s a disease. Either you kill it, or it kills you. It’s normal like anything in the world.’ People who were showing pity to me avoided them because they don’t understand what is going on with me, and I feel 100% good. But from the family side, they were very supportive, to be honest. My sister is a scientist in the U.S., and she said fight it, and we will see in the end who will win. My brother, an engineer, said: ‘don’t worry, we are with you, whatever you need, and that is my family.
I am in a managerial post, and my work doesn’t directly affect how the team works; and when I was diagnosed, the management supported me a lot; they said, ‘take the time you want, whatever you need.’ I was going on holiday on June 1 (my vacation was planned for April before I was diagnosed), so I was already on vacation during the operation. My doctor told me I needed 1 month to recover, but after three weeks, I was bored at home, and I told the doctor that I needed to go back to work and said okay, go back to work. And there was no conflict at work. There was no fatigue; I just had lower back pain, which was expected because my body was bent during the operation.
When I went to the Urology Department for my operation, the doctor gave me two options about the procedure I wanted, and I chose the robotic one. I told them, ‘listen, I am not a medical person. I don’t have experience with cancer, so I am counting on you.’ And I told them that I don’t want to listen to their options. I came to them because I trusted them: give me the best opportunity, and I will go for it, I will sign for it, which is what happened. Because, to be honest, even if the doctor gives me options, I have no clue what he is talking about. I told him, yes, I am the patient, and I have the right to choose, but I don’t know how to choose, so tell me what is best for me, and I will go for it. There was a nurse, and she talked to me all the time, and she said, you have a powerful personality, that I was not allowing her to offer help because I was very positive, absorbing.
I am a believer, but I don’t use prayer as a cure. I tell my wife that once we are born, we are dying. So sooner or later, we are going to die; how, only God knows. Being an expatriate did not cause any concerns
After this experience, I appreciate life more. Every day I wake up, and I thank God that I am still in health. Now I am concerned that even though I am cured, you never know whether it comes back. So I always have this question, will it come again or no? And every day, I wake up and thank God that I am in good health and that I can raise my kid – to be honest, he is my focus. If I were single, I would have a different perception – you know, if it comes, I don’t care, you have nothing to worry about. My concern is him, such as how he will live if something happens to me. I always thank God that I am in good shape so that I can see him grow up. I appreciate time with my family and life. Before I used to go to train every day, now I think twice before going to train because I need to spend time with my son. So this is a positive thing that I learned. I will not be competing as before, but I will contend. Back, I used to have some competitors, now I only have one competitor, and that is myself, and I am happy with the situation as long as I am crossing the finish line. And spending time with the family, I am finding that it is crucial, even for my training.
If a newly diagnosed patient came to me, I would advise them not to worry about it. They should not worry about something that they cannot control. They should not look back because they need to go forward, back in the wrong way. And looking ahead is fighting cancer and continuing with life. Don’t put cancer as an obstacle to doing the things that you want to do. Just go through it, fight it, and assume that you don’t have it because worrying about it or not, you have it. Worrying about it or not worrying, if you are cured, then you are healed. So why make life miserable, while you can take advantage of it and make it good? And I was reading about this American or British woman who swam the English Channel four times and had stage 4 cancer. I don’t know why people don’t read about these people – she is not cured, but she swam the sea four times. If she can do it, anyone can do it. Cancer is nothing to me. It is just a disease, and I am curing it.
The advice I have for anyone with cancer: look forward, not backward. Looking backward is useless. You need to live daily and continue your everyday life: enjoy life, appreciate life, and that’s it.”
The friends I talked about, who were pitying me, asked me, ‘how are you talking so freely about cancer?’ I told them that if someone did not take care of their cold or fever, they might die as well. Any illness, if you don’t look after it properly, you might die from it. And I think that because I was talking about cancer freely, it helped me a lot… Some people don’t mention cancer; they say, ‘ah, they have this illness.’ I think people are afraid of cancer because they don’t know why cancer starts. It is a strange thing that appears. And even me, I asked, ‘what’s the reason? How come?’ Even the doctor cannot give you the proper answer. It just happens. So I think that is why people are afraid of cancer because it is an unknown disease, and it just appears, and you discover it.
I have a friend who said to me, ‘how come you have cancer?. And I told her, maybe I was diagnosed early because I did this service for other people, so why are you focusing on the negative side and not the positive?
Early detection is essential. I am having a problem with my wife getting her to go for screening. She said she is afraid that if she goes for tests, then they might discover cancer. And I told her that if they find out cancer, then it is good – if you don’t get tested and have cancer, it is horrible. So I am struggling to get her to do the tests. And now I have friends who are going for cancer screening every six months because no one ever imagined that I would have cancer: everyone knows that I am an athlete, I don’t drink, I eat healthy foods, etc. and they thought ‘if this guy got cancer, then anyone can get it.’