Miles’s parents gained hope and strength from their young child

When you meet Miles, you first notice the bright energy that this five-year-old boy brings into the room. He is a smart boy with a charming smile. Miles sometimes speaks softly, which his father refers to as “volume 2.” Isaac, Miles’ father, always encourages him to raise his voice to a “volume 5” when talking to new people. Being a confident boy, Miles quickly adjusts to new situations. Since Miles was only two years old when he was diagnosed, he has only limited memories of his experience, and his father and mother were able to provide his whole story.

The diagnosis

In November 2016, Miles came from Kenya with his mother to visit his father- Isaac –  who Working in Doha’s airport as a supervisor, who was two years old – Miles developed a fever one week after they arrived. He was prescribed an antibiotic course by a private doctor. To their surprise, ten days passed, and Miles’ fever had not yet subsided. After visiting their health center, the doctors started testing Miles with so many test tubes to the point that Isaac was fearful that Miles’ blood was drying up. The hospital staff assured him that he was receiving fluid replacement but had not told him that they suspected something. At around 10 PM, a doctor informed Isaac that they were highly suspicious that Miles had leukemia, and the doctors explained to him in simple words about this disease

Isaac was taken aback and remembered his first words to the doctors were, “it can’t be.” He thought that it could not be true because none of his family members ever had that illness. The doctor recommended they start Miles the next day on chemotherapy without waiting. Isaac doubted the results’ validity, so he decided to return with Miles to Kenya for retesting. He booked a flight for the following day and left the hospital with his son. The doctor called Isaac at home and asked him to reconsider the decision to fly back and suggested he check the validity of the test in another local hospital. The doctor reasoned that earlier treatment would be better for his prognosis. Miles continued to have a high fever along with being restless throughout that night.

Isaac finally decided to cancel the travel plans and look for a local hospital for retesting. The hospitals were closed as it was Friday morning. Therefore, Isaac took Miles to the Al Sadd Pediatric Emergency Center. Miles’ original diagnosis of Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia was confirmed in the emergency department. Doctors explained the course of treatment for chemotherapy extensively, including the expected hospital stays and possible side effects.

Journey to cure

Miles was admitted to Hamad General Hospital on the 31st of December, 2016. Miles’ mother was still in shock at the time and was crying so much. She would wonder why this was happening to them, and Isaac told her that other people were also going through similar challenges.

Isaac felt obliged not to cry in front of his wife because that would mean they were desperate, and he wanted to give her hope. Isaac describes that time as one of the most demanding stages of the journey for him, as he felt responsible not to let his emotions take over him to support his wife and not let Miles think that anything was wrong. Isaac smiled as he said, “and that is how we spent New Year’s Eve in the hospital.”

The father’s work shifts were 12 hours. When Isaac’s shifts ended at 5 PM, he would go home to change. After that, he would return to the hospital to stay with his son until about 1 AM. He would then return home, take a shower, and go back to work. Miles’ mother would stay with her son all the time during the hospital stay. Because one side effect Miles had was a loss of appetite, Isaac made sure always to prepare food that Miles liked. Things started to change positively for the family in July 2018. They were informed that this was their last chemo dose. After that, they had to come regularly for six months for a follow-up to ensure that Miles’ health was optimum.

A difficult time

A problematic point was when Miles’ closest friend, and his neighbor in the hospital, started to develop a fever. By that time, the parents of both children had also become close friends. Whenever Miles developed a fever, the other child’s parents would assure Miles that Miles would improve, and he would. And naturally, Miles’ parents also supported the other child’s parents and provided them with hope. However, this time the fever lasted longer than usual without decreasing.

One day, Mile’s father came to the hospital to find the child’s bed empty. When he asked, they found out that he had passed away. Isaac was speechless in front of the other child’s father, not knowing how to console him. He also imagined how he would have felt if this had happened to Miles.

Happiest moment

The happiest moment in Mile’s cancer journey occurred after a spinal tap that Miles was undergoing. Isaac and his wife were very emotional since they could not join him in the procedure room. Miles was fatigued before he left his parents for the procedure. They were told that Miles might take up to 30 minutes after the spinal tap to wake up. They were also worried that he might develop complications. To their surprise, when Miles was brought from the procedure room back to his parents, he was more energetic than before going there. Isaac remembers his son calling them loudly while smiling, “Hey Mom, Dad, come here!” This was the happiest moment for Isaac, where he gained strength and hope from his minor child.

Role of Qatar Cancer Society

One doctor suggested that a social worker come and talk to Isaac regarding the bills. An educator from the Qatar Cancer Society visited him and told him not to worry about his finances if Miles’ treatment exceeded his means. The Society ended up subsidizing Miles’ chemotherapy. Members of the Cancer Society visited Miles regularly and brought toys to him. They also made sure to comfort Isaac and his wife regarding their son’s treatments

Advice 

Miles says that the injections were painful, but he believes that he only stayed at the hospital for “just two minutes.” He was able to do what he wanted to do at the hospital, and he especially liked the fact that he could watch as much TV as he tried to.

Speaking to the other kids who were going through what he went through, Miles insists that, “I don’t want them to have a hard day. I don’t want them to have a bad day. I don’t want them to cry.”

He said those words as a significant and hopeful smile appeared on his face: “You will all get better!”

Final messages from Isaac:

Isaac thanks QCS for being there with his family at a time when some of the few friends they had have disappeared, “and these guys (QCS) came and they were friends.”

According to him, help came from the people whom he did not expect to get help from. At the same time, it did not come from those whom we expected it to come from. Friends came once or twice at the maximum and then stopped showing up. The families were going through similar journeys to his family, who provided them with constant support.

Isaac learned the value of family during this journey. He knew that no matter what, your family would always be there for you.

Isaac encourages other parents going through similar situations to what his family experienced to have hope and be strong. He said his family had been there for Miles, him, and his wife, and they all got through it; therefore, he wants other parents to know that they will get through it.

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Ian: Qatar is one of the best countries in fight cancer

Ian is a 64-year-old retired British army officer who has been living in Qatar for the past seven years. After retiring from the army, he moved to the Middle East in 1979 to work in Sultan of Oman; Years later, he relocated to Qatar and lived alone while his wife and children lived in Australia. He has six children. All his children rely on him financially, and as a father, he has a strong sense of commitment to fulfilling their essential needs. His medical journey began 15 years ago, and this is his story :

In 2005, after returning to Australia from a business trip in Spain, Ian did not feel like his regular self. He decided to see his general practitioner (GP) as he was feeling tired and unwell. His doctor did a further workup that included an abdominal x-ray. A few days later, he got a phone call from the GP’s office asking him to come in for an urgent visit. He went to the clinic the following day, and the doctor showed him the x-ray results showing a suspicious lesion on the right kidney, which he described as a “lump.”  Ian has been relatively healthy for most of his life and describes himself as being “uninformed” about cancer.

Ian was then referred to a nephrologist, who eventually scheduled a surgical procedure to remove the “lump.” He underwent a right nephrectomy, and the suspicious lesion was removed, further examined, and determined to be benign in origin.

Years passed, and for 15 years after the surgery, Ian had no medical issues. But in November of 2019, he started experiencing pain in his right elbow. He decided to see his GP in Qatar, who prescribed aspirin to reduce the pain. Ian was not improving, the aspirin was not working, and his pain was only getting worse.

He decided to see a doctor at a private hospital in Qatar, who prescribed medicine

for pain relief. Unfortunately, the infusion only worsened his pain. A week later, Ian chose to see another doctor in private practice who worked in West Bay. When the new doctor saw him, he was concerned that Ian’s complaints had not been thoroughly investigated. The doctor requested several tests, including an upper extremity x-ray, and asked Ian to return once the results came out.

Two days later, while sitting at a coffee shop with a few of his friends, Ian received an alarming email from his doctor. In the email, the doctor explained that the x-ray revealed a large tumor in the right elbow, which looked severe and required urgent medical attention. Ian felt shocked and helpless.

He recounts the moment he received the life-changing test results: “I was sitting  in the cafe with friends, on a Friday morning, enjoying a latte and a croissant, when I received an email from my physician saying that I had a tumor in my arm that could potentially fracture my bone. At that moment, I honestly didn’t know what to think. I teared up. When you’re suddenly given such news, it is very devastating and tough to grasp at the time.”

Looking back, he was grateful for having some of his closest friends around him at the time. The following day, he went to see his doctor and was referred to Hamad General Hospital for a surgical evaluation. Later that evening, he was admitted to the inpatient surgical ward, and after two days, was operated on to remove the tumor.

Following the surgery, Ian felt weak now that his right arm was practically immobile. The tumor was removed, a metal pin was placed to support the joint, and several biopsies were taken for a microscopical evaluation of the mass to define its origin. When the biopsy results came out, Ian was diagnosed with advanced-stage four renal cancer

From that day onwards, he felt his life would change forever. He wanted to be hopeful but found it very difficult with the devastating news he had received. He was referred to a new oncologist, who supported him living with terminal cancer throughout his journey. After meeting his oncologist, Ian felt more robust and more hopeful about recovering from this grim disease. His oncologist made it clear that the doctors did not completely understand why cancer had metastasized but believed this could be due to remnant tissue in the right kidney that had gone unnoticed from the surgery he had fifteen years ago.

This was not an easy time for him. His family was in Australia, and only his eldest daughter understood what her father was going through. His friends were a significant source of support. They cooked, cleaned, bought groceries, and supported him in any way possible. He felt grateful and forever thankful for their presence in his life. Ian’s oncologist continuously motivated his spirit, pushing him to believe in himself and his ability to beat this disease. Upon finishing his last chemotherapy session, his doctor looked at him and said: “I think you’ll die from something else, and with the drugs we have, we can beat this!”

When asked about the first thoughts that came to his mind when he received the original news about his bone cancer and whether he would have preferred to be told in person, he says: “Well, first of all, I was furious that the earlier physicians missed it. I was initially devastated by email, but I was later very thankful that the doctor was proactive and pushed me to see him at Hamad the next day. Honestly, no matter how you’re told, it’s going to pull you apart.”

Ian explains that a lot of his initial fear stemmed from a lack of knowledge. “I think the problem is that 90% of us out there are uninformed about what cancer is. And we don’t know that it can be beaten! You think of the big ‘C-word,’ and your mind jumps to the worst. We think of the old movies where the guy gets cancer, becomes a vegetable, lives in a hospital, and dies. I’ve learned since then that they’re able to molecularly diagnose cancers and give you treatments that specifically target cancer cells. I’ve kept my hair, and overall, I feel quite well now.”

As a result of his initial uncertainty when receiving his diagnosis, he was reluctant to pursue treatment at first he intent to refuse treatment. However, I talked to my doctor and someone who was going through breast cancer treatment. She told me, ‘you’re probably in the best country in the world for this to happen to you; they have the best protocols and medical staff here.’ Having someone to talk to ahead of you in the treatment and maintains a positive outlook is a huge morale boost. Then, the surgeon supposed to do my arm surgery told me, ‘Look, Ian, you can beat this. That’s when my mind started to change. That’s when I changed my attitude completely–I thought, we can beat this. We started discussing mental attitude, prioritizing my health and well-being, and having short-term goals.”

Although the chemotherapy treatment and its side effects such as fatigue and a metallic taste have been challenging to deal with, he is grateful for his care in Qatar. “Once I got into the public medical system, Hamad Hospital and its doctors were great– flawless, attentive, focused.” He does not blame the doctors who potentially missed his tumour 15 years ago and has always “trusted the medical system.” He points out, “I don’t think I can point a finger or complain about what happened 15 years ago because I don’t know what the state of the technology was back then. Today, we have come light years ahead.”

Ian notes that sharing the diagnosis with his family was challenging. “It is tough because it makes you feel like you are not a real man, that you have a failing. You realize that you are not bulletproof”. Not having his family members around him for support was challenging; however, he says he is fortunate to have an adopted family here in Qatar. “I have 2-3 Qatari families here that I’m very close to, as well as many ex-pat friends. When I first got diagnosed, people would come over and cook me meals. It held me together mentally, knowing that people cared.” His employers and clients have been supportive as well.

He said “I could be going through some side effects from the chemotherapy, which altered my mood or energy, and they would be patient with me. This helped me keep working. I try to live as normally as possible without looking backward.”

Ian doesn’t “feel sorry” for himself and understands that “this is life.” He tries to “remain focused on what matters the most,” rather than “focusing on the fact that I am sick and tired, and expecting people to pity me.” He is driven by his desire not to let his children down and continue supporting them through school. He has focused on getting through one day at a time by creating achievable goals such as combing his hair after his arm surgery.

“I wanted to be able to brush my teeth with my hand; I wanted to be able to comb my hair. These small goals helped me work with my physiotherapist to try and improve because these little things affect your day-to-day life. I just started to drive again, and I learned how to use my left hand more.

Ian said “ You make little goals, something you can try to accomplish every week or every month. Whether it’s a physical or mental goal, I try to keep myself motivated and move forward.” He has learned to “enjoy things a little more, and take things a little slower because you aren’t going to have today again.”

As for his advice to someone newly diagnosed with cancer, he shares his positive outlook– “Living is worthwhile, and you have to stand up and push forward; you cannot go backward. You have to try; even if you are functioning at 80% of your best, go to work and do all the normal things you are supposed to do. You cannot fall into the trap of sitting on the couch, thinking that you are sorry for yourself. To me, this is the biggest thing you can do. You have to push forward”.

From his experience, cancer is usually a “taboo topic” in society, leading most people to refrain from talking about it. “You hear stories about people who died of it and not about people who beat it.” He firmly believes that receiving accurate and early information is crucial to the journey of recovery. His plans after recovery? Continue working! “I want to get back to living as normal a life as I can. I think when I beat it, I will have to give something back to society here in Qatar.”

 

 

 

 

 

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Noon , colon cancer survivor: live your day and have fun

“Noon” lives in Doha with his wife and two children. His home country is the Philippines, and he came to Qatar to pursue better work opportunities.

Several months before his diagnosis, he was experiencing pain in his chest below the right rib, coming from the area of the liver. But he did not tell his wife about the pain. At first, he thought it was just a gas pain, but it was recurring every day. And one night, he began to feel a severe stabbing pain on his right lower rib with a high fever, so we called emergency, and he was rushed to Al Wakrah Hospital.

After he was treated, the doctor informed him that he had colon cancer with the liver. He did not know a lot about the illness; he was saddened by the news and discouraged. That night he and his wife cried because of his condition.

“I was shocked when finding out that I had cancer, my wife and I were distraught. She was with me at the time when I received my diagnosis.

When anyone hears the word ‘cancer,’ they think that it is a death sentence. I am very thankful that my wife stayed by me from the beginning to support me at each stage of the journey.

I also have a sister who has breast cancer and is currently undergoing chemo treatments in the Philippines. She is a source of support to me. Every day we communicate through messaging, and sometimes, we do video calls. We encourage one another to fight this battle.

I believe that it is vital to have emotional support from the family. It is good to have friends and comfort you – I have many old friends, and I talk to them through Zoom. Also, the patient needs financial support that I got from the Qatar Cancer Society, and  I want to thank this charity for their financial help.

Last year in July, I was terminated from my job, and this added to my problems. I have worked for my company since 2005, and they kindly retained my sponsorship to continue my cancer treatment in Qatar.

I am so grateful to Qatar and the health system that takes care of all people who live in it; if I was diagnosed with this cancer in my home country, I don’t know what would happen to me… Some people in the Philippines can’t afford to go to the hospital, just waiting for their time.

During my cancer journey, my wife experience anxiety and depression because of the workloads she’s having, like doing the household chores, working from home, and at the same time taking care of me. My wife was very understanding and kept telling me that ‘you have done enough to your family’; I held a good job, created a strong family, provided for them, and gave them a better life.

I am looking forward to the future when I can help again. Personally,

sometimes I felt that I was worthless since I no longer work, and sometimes I want to give something to my wife or children, but I  hope one day I will be healthy again and have an everyday life with my family.

My children are also good at comforting me – they don’t know the exact medical details, but we told them that I have cancer. Since my children are teenagers, they understand my situation.

My advice to parents for talking to your children about cancer is that it depends on the situation and the age of the children – if they are teenagers, they can probably understand.

My advice to those who are first diagnosed with cancer: learn to accept the situation as soon as possible and motivate yourself to get better to overcome the illness.

I believe that God could heal you anytime, no matter how bad your situation is. And each day you wake up, thank God that he still has a plan for your life. Think that one day you are going to be healed: for nothing is impossible with God.

Now I am learning and coping with fighting this battle. Just live one day at a time.

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Nadine AL -Bitar: From adversity comes gifts

“From adversity comes gifts” is a phrase that summarizes the journey of the Lebanese woman, Nadine AL -Bitar. She has had kidney cancer, which was discovered in May 2011. She was 27 years old at that time. Despite the fear and panic she felt when she received the news; she did not give up. Instead, she was sure that if God loved a servant, He would afflict him or her, so she was patient and armed with the strength of her faith in God. Therefore, she made her injury a new beginning and an opportunity to develop her personality.

At first, it was not easy to accept the news. Nadine discovered that she had kidney cancer by chance during a periodic visit to the doctor due to a slight pain in the right side of her back. After an Ultrasound exam (on a cyst in the right kidney), the doctor asked to do a computed tomography scan (CT scan) to the kidneys to confirm the type of cyst. She followed the doctor’s instructions and took the CT scan, and waited for the results that appeared after an hour. Her mother accompanied her. “I felt like it was the longest hour of my life. I was so scared and confused and didn’t expect to have kidney cancer.” She never expected to be diagnosed with kidney cancer because she always maintains a healthy life and follows a healthy diet; she used to exercise. There is no history of any cancer type in her family. Nadine was not ready to receive the news. She secretly overheard the doctor telling her mother, “Your daughter has kidney cancer, and she must undergo an operation to remove the right kidney so that the tumor does not spread and consequently does not affect her life.” First , Nadine was pointedly shocked and felt fear and panic. She started crying as soon as she heard the news, and it seemed that she was going to die for a while. Immediately, she made a call to work to take sick leave and start treatment.

Nadine began her treatment journey with her mother in Lebanon, where she underwent a nephrectomy. The surgery was complicated. she felt severe pain and had difficulty walking at first, so she had to rely on her mother in some matters, and she followed the doctors’ instructions not to travel for fear of any blood clots that might threaten her health. Therefore, she spent about two months after the operation at home to ensure her safety and ensure no complications after the operation. She stopped her work and wished she could get out of the house, as she considered that this might help her get rid of the constant thinking about illness and fear of the possibility of the tumor returning. She explained: “if I was in a work environment, with friends, or even if I was able to go out with my family, this reduced thinking about illness, making me feel an atmosphere of fun.” Nadine did not need chemotherapy. It was confirmed that the malignant tumor that was removed and the kidney did not spread to any other part of the body. Nevertheless, she undergoes periodic examinations every six months to ensure the remaining kidney’s health and make sure that no other tumor appears in any other organ of the body.

Nadine lived through a period of depression before and after the surgery, but it did not exceed a month. She was able to overcome this feeling through faith and patience. She knew that this was a test from the Lord, and she had to succeed in it.  Furthermore, her family played an essential role in her parents and brother and the rest of the family’s relatives. They supported her during that difficult period.

Additionally, Nadine’s friends played an active role in the continuous psychological support for her during the period of injury by urging her to become closer to God by reading the Qur’an and praying regularly. Nadine has reinforced her relationship with these cheerful and supportive people. On the other hand, she was keen to stay away from the negative people who made her feel helpless or of little use because she had cancer.  Their health condition is very private, as if their situation is hopeless.

Despite the pain and difficulties she faced through her experience with kidney cancer, she created opportunities to improve herself and develop her personality in every respect. It is worth noting that Nadine had a traffic accident three years before she was diagnosed with cancer, and it was an incentive for her to review her ideas and convert to Islam. She stated that cancer helped her decide to wear the hijab after almost three years and commit herself more to her religion. Nadine has also mentioned, “I changed a lot of myself, my character and personality. I considered that this is a message from the Lord directed to me to change a lot of myself, my character, my way of life, and my way of dealing with myself and others.”

Furthermore, Nadine noticed that her experience with cancer made her more patient and changed her approach to dealing with the ordeals she faced after cancer. Hence, naturally, she finds any calamity much easier than the one that she faced with cancer. As for health awareness, she has become more familiar with the health of her body in general and how to preserve her kidneys, especially through research. When people stress the importance of maintaining their health, it can persuade some to quit smoking because of its association with kidney cancer and other cancers or diseases. Finally, Nadine, an honorary ambassador at the Qatar Cancer Society, was keen to support cancer patients through various activities and projects to smile on their faces through her work with other societies.

Through her experience, Nadine sends a message to all cancer patients not to despair, as life is beautiful in all details, and she added, “You are distinguished from others, so the Lord has afflicted you, and this stage will pass, and the next is more beautiful.” She urged new cancer patients to strengthen their relationship with God and make their faith the first supporter in their journey. They must always trust God and be keen to mix with positive people and make themselves happy and stay away from sadness and tension to fight this disease. She concluded, “With God’s permission and your determination, you will pass this stage, and it will be a new beginning. Remember; that despite the pain, hope remains.”

Edited by : Arwa Ajaj

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Robert Khoury: I discovered cancer by chance

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.’

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Faith : Cancer made me stronger and persistent

In April of 2017, a short visit to the doctor changed Faith life forever.  He had begun to notice a small mass on the left side of his neck, but he didn’t think much of it at the time and initially dismissed it.  He only decided to get it checked out when prompted by my friends and family.

 Faith said “ I  conceded for their sakes, but I wasn’t worried; it was flu season, and besides, everyone in my family is in good health. I remained oblivious as I took sick leave from work, and I avoided them like I had the plague—I made my way to the hospital, which wasn’t so far from the stock-keeping company where I worked. The doctors poked and prodded, hunting for a diagnosis, scouring my body for information. The doctors decided to surgically remove my thyroid gland, and in June 2017, I underwent surgery and a biopsy. They then told me that I had papillary thyroid carcinoma, a type of cancer that affects the thyroid gland.

Upon learning about my condition, I was shocked. cancer had been the last thing on my mind. But my initial fears were put to ease by the doctor’s reassurances that this type of cancer is the most common and amongst the most curable and that my chances were fantastic. Despite my initial reactions, my mind was surprisingly clear and I worked with my doctor to draw up an elaborate plan to overcome my illness. I knew exactly what I had to do and was determined to beat cancer.

The next month, the doctors performed the surgical removal of my thyroid gland which was thoroughly colonized by cancer cells. The surgery was declared a success, but the doctors advised me to do high-dose radioactive iodine therapy, as opposed to the standard dosage. The higher dosage would almost guarantee that cancer wouldn’t come back, at least not for a while. However, it wasn’t offered here in Doha so I would have to travel to another country to receive the treatment. So in September of 2017, I had high-dose radioactive iodine treatment.

I was also given a lifelong prescription of thyroxine supplements and a tiny scar to remind myself of the victory. I was satisfied, ready to close that chapter and move on with my life. I could return to enjoying my time by video-calling my family and shopping with friends. I felt carefree again. Every three months, I had routine follow-up appointments. The doctor also gave me a regular follow-up appointment, and it was during one of these that they found a 6 mm mass that thankfully wasn’t cancerous. I had low-dose radioactive iodine therapy in June 2018 as part of my treatment.

As time went on I was no longer thinking of obscure masses on my neck or anything cancer-related. The routine follow-up appointments every three months and the regular follow-up with my doctor were the only reminders that I had even gone through that experience. Every visit felt like a small victory. Every time the doctor told me that there was no sign of cancer, I let out a small sigh of relief. As the months passed and I continued testing negative for any recurrence of cancer, the follow-up appointments began to feel redundant, and I felt confident that we had warded off cancer. So during a follow-up appointment in November of 2019, I failed to notice the unusually long ultrasound, the doctor’s careful manner, or the nurses’ sympathetic expressions. With an almost guilty expression on his face, the doctor informed me that he had found a new 3 mm mass in my lymph nodes, which was a new recurrence of cancer. Again, the medical staff tried to reassure me that this was a fairly common phenomenon, that 75% of patients with thyroid cancers exhibit metastasis to the lymph nodes. They advised me to complete another round of high-dose radioiodine therapy.

I felt sorry for myself. I had followed through with the plan and had done everything right. I had already beat cancer. How could it be back? I tried to trace my habits, searching for clues in my lifestyle. I needed answers, to find logic in my illness. I came up blank. I began to blame myself at this point. Not just for this complication but forgetting cancer in the first place. Was it an unhealthy diet? Was it bad luck? Or perhaps a neighbor’s evil eye? I felt responsible, convinced that if I had done something differently in my life then perhaps I could’ve prevented it. But the truth is that nobody can prevent or predict cancer. It took me a long while and a lot of heartaches before I realized this, but when I finally did, it became easier to modify my action plan and move onto the next phase of treatment.

I returned in February of 2020 for another round of high-dose radioactive iodine treatment. This would help eradicate the cancerous tissue that had migrated to my lymph nodes. As standard protocol, they had asked me to stop taking my thyroxine medication in the weeks leading up to the therapy so I was constantly fatigued and in pain. The pills they gave me for my symptoms only replaced my lethargy and pain with overwhelming nausea. My hormones were all up-and-down; some days I would be shivering while other days I would be sweating so much that I would have to take up to three showers. These were the most difficult times of my cancer journey. My life became bland and it had little to do with the low-salt diet that was prescribed to me. I had expected that the radioactive therapy would have felt agonizing like my insides were burning. But I don’t specifically recall that pain. Thinking back, I wonder where I drew the strength to endure a treatment that felt like being nuclear-bombed. I suspect that perhaps it was because I had no choice. I didn’t have time to dwell on the details of my discomfort as I just needed to be done with it so I could proceed to the next phase of the plan.

After the radioiodine therapy in February, I was in one-month isolation because the radiation that I was emitting would be harmful to anybody in my vicinity. Those few weeks where I was completely on my own reinforced my sense of alienation; my physical isolation reflected the mental isolation of my cancer diagnosis.  But there was light at the end of the tunnel. Soon after this period, my doctor gave me good news. I had cleared the last hurdle: I was once again cancer-free.

From then on, I was wary during my follow-up appointments. I was careful not to be overconfident about the status of my cancer this time, cognizant that my papillary cancer had already spread to my lymph nodes before and that it could happen again. Like clockwork, a couple of months later they found more cancer sprinkled in my lymph nodes. With every encounter, my cancer grew stronger and more persistent but I was unfazed; I was evolving alongside my cancer and felt prepared for it this time. No longer naïve, I was ready to attack the next course of treatment.

The treatment was the same radioactive iodine ablation therapy that was used against my cancer the last time. However, I was advised to seek a higher dosage, as opposed to the standard dosage that was previously administered. The higher dosage would almost guarantee that cancer wouldn’t come back, at least not for a while. A new battlefield, same old enemy. Where I had been supported financially and emotionally by the Qatar Cancer Society (QCS) in Doha, I would have to look for new solace wherever I decided to seek treatment. I decided to continue my treatments back home in Sri Lanka so that I could be surrounded by my family and friends; it seemed like a fair enough trade-off.

Before I left, QCS gave me a booklet called Story of Hope, which detailed the experiences of many cancer survivors. While reading through the stories, I was filled with the strangest feeling. Although the individuals in the stories were so different from me—their backgrounds, their types of cancers, and their individual experiences — I still found myself able to relate to bits and pieces of their journeys. Up until this point, I remained strong because I felt that I had no other choice. I simply had to go on. But reading through the stories in the booklet filled me with extraordinary hope, inspiration and helped me realize that there is no cookie-cutter cancer experience, the only rich variety that is unique to every patient. Finally, I was able to make sense of my experience and take control of my narrative. It was hard to constantly hear that I had the “good” or “easy” type of cancer because while I respect that many others have had more difficult journeys, it undermined the fact that my experience was far from good or easy. Cancer is still cancer. It was nowhere as straightforward as the doctors would tell me, as the websites would reassure me. I constantly had to modify my action plan; I had to be determined yet flexible, hopeful but not naïve. Reading the QCS booklet helped me realize that cancer is not the monolithic disease that the label suggests. Rather, it is a continuum experienced differently by every cancer patient. Suddenly, I felt liberated from any expectation of how this process was supposed to go and drew strength from the fact that cancer could be beaten even in all its different forms. I began to see the unpredictability of cancer as predictable and felt comforted that no matter how cancer presented itself, I would be able to overcome it. Now that I have finished my treatment, I hope that my story can similarly inspire other cancer patients who felt as lost as I did. I hope they can find clarity and see themselves in my story. But I would hope even more for them to be able to create their own story, on their terms.

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Mohamed Abdullah: Psychological support is a necessity to fight cancer

Mohamed Abdullah was living his life normally until he one day began to experience some strange symptoms. After undergoing all the necessary tests, and getting a colonoscopy done, he was found to have rectal cancer. He was told then that the next step would be to undergo surgery to remove the tumor. Having no previous knowledge or predetermined notions about rectal cancer.

 Mohamed approached this news with the ideology that it was like any other condition that could happen to any person. His faith and trust in Allah dissipated any doubts of what the future may hold for him. Even though the procedure was painful, he drew strength from the incredible support of his family, especially his sister’s.

.  Mohamed went on to take a 1-year leave from his job, so he could complete his chemotherapy course. Unfortunately, the body aches, fatigue, and loss of appetite that he experienced as byproducts of the therapy forced him to leave his job.

Despite everything, Mohamed is relieved to have completed most of his treatment course. He is looking forward to his very last session, after which he will be able to look for a new job.

Mohamed received both radiotherapy and chemotherapy through Qatar Cancer Society, which he got in touch with through Hamad Medical Corporation. He was very satisfied with the psychological support he received from the medical team, which positively influenced his well-being as he went through this difficult journey. While recalling what he learned.

Mohamed pinpointed that the most important lesson he acquired from going through treatment was patience. He advises everyone going through the same journey to comply and continue with the treatment, and to face it without fear of the temporary side effects that eventually go away. Finally, Mr. Mohamed reiterated that the thing that helped him the most was praying, and reading a daily verse of the Qur’an which he described as “God’s cure to people”.

Edited by: Sarah Khaled

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Aisha Al-Tamimi ; my family  supported  me to fight cancer

My name is Aisha Al-Tamimi I work as a Chef and an etiquette expert. I used to be a school teacher before I went into culinary arts and have been in it for the past twenty-eight years. I have written a total of six books and been on several tv-shows.

My story began, when I got used to routine mammography on my right breast for over ten years to have cysts, and I thank God that nothing happened. One time I was sent to the physician by the nurse all of a sudden. I had no idea what was going on, and when I met the doctor he informed me that the X-ray technologist found a tumor on the left side of my chest. I was taken aback by this newfound information due to having no family history of breast cancer. The doctor broke the bad news first and told me that I am a cancer patient, which sent me into a shock. I did not know what was going on around me.

When I started realizing what was happening around me, I heard the physician asking me what I wanted to do–how do I want to deal with my disease? Do I choose breast removal surgery or surgery to remove the tumor? Hearing that question infuriated me, so I told him that he is the doctor, and he should be telling me his opinion not to ask for mine. The doctor told me I was fortunate because my tumor was less than a centimeter, and I am in my first stage of cancer. I was referred to the lab by the doctor to obtain a biopsy of my tumor.

The doctor met with some of his colleagues after my lab results came back, and they agreed that radiotherapy was sufficient to treat me. The news regarding my therapy relieved some of my stress and anxiety. I was distressed and worried after the surgery, which was a weird feeling because I am usually a fun-loving person: I am the one who cheers my family members, helps them through rough times, and I am the one who lifts their morality.

I still remember how I felt when I left the doctors. I was shocked and traumatized, couldn’t comprehend what was happening, and broke into tears. I thank God for having my family support especially my sister’s help; she always was there for me, and supported me mentally through that hard part of my life, and made challenging this situation easy for me. She told me that I should fight and face my disease. My life turned around because of what my sister told me.

When I used to go to National Center for Cancer Care & Research (Al Amal Hospital) in Ramadan 2014 for my treatment all the staff would tell me that I am always happy and smiling unlike the rest of the patients and that seeing me brings joy to them, so I started to talk to patients to encourage them and help them.

I have completed the pharmaceutical part of my therapy as of June 2019, and the current plan for my radiation therapy is once a year; it used to be semi-annually for the past five years.

 

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Alison Stone; Cancer made me a much better

My name is Alison Stone, and I have a PhD in Metaphysics, so I am often referred to as Dr. Alison Stone. I came to Qatar to open up a lady’s well-being centre and the reason that I took this journey of well-being and preventative medicine is because I was diagnosed with cervical cancer when I was 30. So I do attribute my success today in my life today to that incident that happened many years ago. I have survived cancer for 27 years and I think it is very important to see how things have changed in that time period.

Here is a brief synopsis of my journey ;

I was married at 18 (in my generation that was acceptable and normal), had 2 children and when I was pregnant with my third child, I went for a routine check-up and they discovered that I had lesions and they were cancerous. Now one of the things that I was blessed with in the UK was that in the 80s and early 90s, Pap smears were becoming very accessible for women: they weren’t mandatory, and they weren’t encouraged, but they were accessible, so after the birth of my first daughter I had them done, so I continued getting Pap smears after the birth of my second daughter. Had I not been tested, I am convinced that I would not be here today.

Cervical cancer that I had is very aggressive, and mine especially because I was pregnant at the time. The cancer had gone to my lymph nodes, so by the time I had delivered my child, I was in stage 4, so I do feel very strongly about the need to be proactive with your health.

Because of that experience, it forced me to look at my life and my control over my own life. The experience of the surgeries and the treatments that you go through have such a profound effect on you physically, but I think it is more the fear, that has the most profound effect, and the fear I had 27 years ago was never addressed. So now when I find out about societies like Qatar Cancer Society in Qatar, I am so impressed and I am really excited that women have this opportunity to be supported. Had we had something similar back in my day, it might not have changed the outcome, but it would have changed the journey.

As a mother back then, you would not know what cervical cancer was. And in my day, doctors did not understand that it was the human papilloma virus that caused cervical cancer. And so we suffered in silence. I remember on the fourth day after the surgery–about 14 hours of surgery–and I started to cry. I remember the nurse came in and said, “stop crying there are people worse off”. And I remember that I never spoke again. I never spoke about my pain and I internalized it. So it was ‘keep a brave face, don’t speak about it, don’t talk about it,’ and when I look back now, I see how it really took a good 10 or 15 years after that until cancer could be talked about openly. Now having chemo and not having hair, we kind of celebrate it, it’s ok, and I think that Social Media is a way for people to talk about their own experiences   and raise awareness about cancer .

I chose to take control of my life, and I took a spiritual path – I was lost and I was fearful, and I think that learning and things like meditation about your health give you back a sense of control. Because when you are diagnosed and the doctor says ‘you have cancer, it is in the stage 4, this is serious’ – you hand everything over to them, and with it goes this feeling of hopelessness, because now you are at the mercy of people telling you that ‘you have to have this surgery, you have to have this chemo, you have to have this radiotherapy” but you don’t feel sick.

So the growth of self-help groups has been positive, since doctors are starting to understand that patients need to have some emotional care. As a patient, I am not just somebody who has had a surgery and whose vital signs you will check – I have gone through something life-changing–a hysterectomy– and I might be facing the fact that I will never have children again, the fact that I might die and leave my children, the fact that my husband might never love me again, and I have scars everywhere – nobody addressed that. It was all ‘hush hush,’ don’t talk about it or ‘You should be grateful you are alive.’ Now I feel that people can talk about the cancer experience, they can address it, and I think that the difference in Qatar (I was here 10 years ago), is that nobody said the word, nobody said that word, and women therefore, especially Middle Eastern women who tend to put their children first, their husbands first, their sons first, would never even acknowledge having cancer, or want to know, that was the issue. I addressed a group of ladies in a middle eastern conutry 12 years ago and we tried to convince them to get breast check and pap smear tests, and they wouldn’t do it because they didn’t want to know, because they have fear or they feel that sickness is based on divine intervention – and either way, they feel they should surrender to it, and they don’t want to know. But the generation of women now, we can do something about it, especially the survivors. You can survive cancer, but that is a message that is never given out – you always hear ‘cancer death’ ‘cancer death’ – what about instead ‘cancer journey,’ ‘survival,’ ‘change,’ ‘power,’ ‘change in life,’ ‘change in perspective,’ ‘transformation’? There a lot of more positive words that can go with cancer, not just doom and death.

Not talking about cancer can be devastating – probably the most powerful memory I have about my experience is that I remember after my initial diagnosis from my doctor going home to my husband and when I told him and the look of fear in his eyes, and then he shut down. I remember that they said I could terminate my pregnancy and that I had every reason to, because my pregnancy would escalate the cancer, and I remember thinking, ‘what do I do? This will be the last chance to have a child because they are going to give me a hysterectomy’. What do I do?  And I again.

The look on my husband’s face and his inability to even respond to me and I told nobody. And so I carried that burden with me, and I am sure that wasn’t healthy. I couldn’t even have the conversation about terminating my child or not, because I didn’t want to reach out to anyone, because I didn’t want to see the fear again in somebody else’s eyes. And in those days, when you said the word cancer, you were met with silence. So I didn’t tell even my own mother or anybody until after my surgeries. And then of course when I was in the hospital, people started to come to visit. And I put on a very brave face so that I could start to deal with the fear, because the fear I saw in other people’s eyes put fear back in me. But at least by then, I had gone through the process. Keeping silent in a way it had saved me because I could pretend that it wasn’t happening because nobody was talking about it. I fitted into the psyche of that era: “don’t speak about it, it doesn’t exist, let’s pretend everything is ok, just move forward”. Then at night-time, in the shower, you cry your eyes out.

I didn’t really tell anyone about my illness and I was in the hospital for about six or seven weeks. When I came out of the hospital, I asked my Mum to take care of me, so of course I opened up to her. I never told my daughters until they were 18 years old. I just didn’t want them to be afraid that I was going to die. I did not want to put that fear into them. And it was me, not them, who was preventing myself from telling them. I always used the excuse that they were not old enough, and I didn’t want them to fear, but at the same time I did want them to be proactive about cancer screening, so it was one of those challenges that I told myself: ‘I really have to tell them.’ And two of my children have been vaccinated against Human Papilloma Virus, and now they all regularly go for Pap smears. What I realized was that if I had had the courage to address it earlier, it is not that they would have gone earlier for Pap smears, but we could have had the conversations that we had when I did eventually tell them. But my daughters have taken the situation on board, and nobody is afraid. I think the blessing in waiting to tell them is that it was 22 years later and they have only known me as a very healthy person, and now they understand the need to be proactive. As for everybody else, they avoided me. I lost contact with quite a few people afterward my illness. And I think some of my girlfriends, they were just fearful, because I was so young and healthy. That was the main thing: I was not a sickly person. I was healthy and had brilliant births.

But what the experience of illness has done for me is pave the course of my life since that time. The choices that I have made in development, in self-development and professional development have their basis in understanding and going through my journey. And my PhD is in metaphysics, and I am very keen on learning about epigenetics, which is basically the full understanding that your cells are a reflection of your environment and not only your DNA, and so that is why they change. The internalization of fear, and not taking care of yourself, has an effect on your genes too, which is fearful but empowering as well – it is fearful because you ask yourself ‘did I do this to myself’ but it is an empowering idea as well because whatever has happened to me, I have the power to change that environment. So therefore, again, having that supportive, nurturing, caring environment versus having that fearful environment is important, and that fearful environment includes everybody else’s fear. And fear is quite toxic, and that can affect you too. That could affect your genes.

When I went for my surgeries, I was courageous. I took a breath and I went in there feeling strong and I felt courageous. So I think the whole spiritual aspect to illness is faith, how strong faith is, what colour it is and what it looks like to you, and how you can turn that into a physical element that walks you through that journey.

My illness made me a much better person and it gave me a purpose in life – when I look at all the things that I had been planning prior to my illness, and what my life has been over the years, everything was about learning about care and preventative medicine. I did a bachelor’s degree in alternative medicine. A housewife with three kids – who would have thought it? I studied Ayurveda in India. Who would have thought that a housewife would have done that, and I met the most incredible people who came my way? And I can look back and see that every single thing that I did without a plan in reality led me to getting a PhD, to being in Qatar to build the women’s wellness centre, to being connected, and to  finally after 27 years being able to finally tell my story.

Even in my 5th year being cancer-free, I was sweating and panicking – what if it has come back? This is interesting because you would not do that with any other disease. All of our terminology characterizes this disease as a beast, and once it has you in its grip, it is going to seize you, but if we could change the dialogue to an attitude of ‘let’s see how healthy you are’ or ‘your blood cells are fantastic today’. If we switched our ways of approaching cancer and reframed everything, for example we might say things like ‘let’s see if we can add you to our three-year list of cancer-free living’, that would be a very different conversation about the disease, rather than saying ‘let’s see if it’s come back’ or ‘let’s see if you are still in remission.’

I think that the medical profession could reframe the way it talks about cancer with patients. For example, changing phrases like ‘I am so sorry, but I think we need to see you…” or ‘we will only call you if there is something wrong’ – in simple terms, what the patient hears is, ‘we will only call you if you have cancer’ and you get a miscall, and you get upset and you are waiting and waiting anxiously. Make the experience of going in for a check-up more positive, so I will want to come back. Instead of telling patients ‘you only have 2 months to live,’ why not tell them that the medical system will do the best it can, send them home and tell them to focus on the quality of their life, their diet.

 

 

 

 

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Rona : Don’t lose hope to win your battle against cancer

The first question Ronaasked was, “am I going to die?” it was July 2, 2019. I was alone in Qatar and had just been diagnosed with Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer.

My family was in the Philippines, which is where I am from, and not only was I all alone in Qatar, I was the breadwinner, Illness was not acceptable. my oncologist prepared a treatment plan for me and because I wanted to live and I wanted to fight, I listened very carefully for what he wanted me to do and I followed everything. This is my story:

Before moving to Qatar, I lived in Bahrain from 2017 to 2019. I felt like there was something wrong earlier in 2019, but when I went to the doctor in Bahrain he told me it was just a hormonal imbalance and it was normal. So I just took it. I didn’t have the chance to come to the hospital so my disease progressed.

In 2019 I got a job in Doha. even before I got my diagnosis, I already expected that I might have cancer, maybe even stage 4. I had all the signs: a lump, oozing blood, foul smell, and discoloration. Once I got settled in, I went directly to the hospital. I had waited for so long and the first time I stepped into the emergency room and they put the patient bracelet on my wrist I was in tears.

At Hamad they gave me a mammogram and biopsy, then I had a CT scan. They were very thorough and finally I got a diagnosis, the doctors at the hospital explained that Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer (MBC) is invasive, which means that although the cancer started in my breast it had “metastasized” or spread beyond my breast and nearby lymph nodes to other parts of my body, like my bones and liver. the cancer team wanted me to go for six cycles of chemotherapy. After that my treatment plan included surgery and radiation.

On that day it was impossible for me to fully consider my diagnosis and what I was facing. I also wondered about the price of all this treatment. thankfully, Qatar Cancer Society exists. they gave a donation to fund my battle with cancer.

In spite of my doubts, I told myself the fight would start now,  I was very thankful to God that he gave me a chance to fight, to live. he directed people to help me and I am so thankful to them.

My treatment began right away, I had my first chemotherapy session that same month and I had a bad reaction. the medication I was given would make me shake. I had a bad reaction to the second cycle as well. and then every time I had chemo they would send me to the hospital for four or five days because I would be very sick. my white blood cell count would drop, sometimes to critical levels.

During chemo I often felt like I was suffocating, they couldn’t change my medication; however, they could minimize it. By the third, fourth, fifth, sixth cycles of chemo I had no more reactions. After six cycles of chemotherapy and I was done. The chemo was really hard; emotionally it’s just grueling. I don’t know why but I was always crying, imagine: there is no pain but it’s like you want to cry and cry and cry , you’re exhausted. You can’t eat. at the clinic where patients take chemotherapy, there is a big room with curtain dividers, sometimes I would draw, sometimes I would just listen to music, I met another Filipina patient there, who like me didn’t tell her family everything at first.

When I finally did tell my family, it was one of the hardest parts about my cancer journey, Coming out to them with my diagnosis radically altered our relationship. we became closer, before I told them, we would never speak every day. Instead, if there was time I would call them or they would call me, but now they were worried, and every day they were calling me, asking how I felt. I would say, “really fine. Don’t worry,” my grandmother was especially concerned because she is old now. It’s strange. I’m the only person in the family with breast cancer. I underwent the genetic test for the breast cancer gene and it was negative.

Although the chemotherapy was tough, I often felt stronger than before. the doctors would joke with me, they would say ,“you’re just pretending to have cancer!” because I kept myself upbeat and never really looked sick. I had the feeling that I was still blessed because Allah loved me.

I know very well that it’s hard for a stage 4 cancer patient to survive, but I stayed positive; I just acted normal. I would tell myself, “I don’t have any illness. I am the same person I was before this. I need to stay happy,” I did miss my eyebrows though. I really love makeup and fashion; creating art and doing makeovers are great joys for me.

Also I sometimes felt that I wanted to visit some places and do things that I had never tried in my life before,  I wanted to experience crazy things like surfing and mountain climbing and have some extraordinary adventure before my life came to an end.

But more than anything I would remember my four kids. they are still small and don’t understand everything, I started to think, how will they go to school? How will they eat? where will they live? my husband is not a stable provider, and I was raised by my grandmother, because my mother went abroad to work, my parents were just people that I saw on social media, never in person. That meant I knew what it was like not to have someone beside you when you are growing up, and what it’s like to live in different houses. It’s really hard to deal with, and that was the first thing that came to my mind—I didn’t want my kids to be separated from each other and grow up in different places, my children stay with my grandmother and I rent a small house for them and give them what they need. They were what I held onto throughout my treatment, they were what I lived for.

Once my chemo finished in December, I knew the following month I would have the next stage of my treatment—surgery, the day of my surgery was supposed to be January 29, 2020. On January 25th, I was at work when the breast clinic coordinator called me and said that the doctor wanted me to come in the evening for admission. She told me to come that night because the next day would be my surgery. It was a really shocking moment, but I was excited too because I had been waiting for the surgery a long time and I knew this was a significant part of my treatment. They completely removed one breast. I accepted this and more than anything I still felt lucky because I was alive.

After my surgery the medical team was amazed because about two hours post-surgery I strolled down to the coffee shop, I started to move around like I was normal and nothing happened. I joked to the nurses that “oh, so forever really does mean nothing! Even my breast left me!” we all had a good laugh about that. I stayed in the hospital for three days to give my body time to recover.

Throughout everything I tried to stay happy, I would sing. I would video blog, my vlog is about my cancer journey and about all aspects of my treatment: injections, life in the hospital (the food is pretty good!), treatments, and how people helped me, I have become mature enough and learned how to deal with the situation positively so I wanted to show people that even though I had MBC, I could still do so much and that it wasn’t the end of the world. We have to fight and not lose hope.

Cancer is not a one-person journey and I am thankful for the help I received. My auntie and grandmother were there for me, my friends in Qatar would take me out to the sea because I am a nature lover, Also my work supported me , they didn’t let me get tired, they gave me low-stress assignments and sick leave. I am also so thankful to the Qatar Cancer Society for their support.

My faith has helped me a lot too because if not for my faith, I might think that “I can’t survive this ,”but I know Allah loves me and that’s why he gave me this challenge,  So I trusted him. I trusted that this would pass and I had to be strong. If I had to advise anyone going through the same thing, I would say, “remember this is just temporary. One day it will end. Just be positive and stay strong and have faith in God.

On April 12, 2020, I completed my radiotherapy treatment, the histology reported no residual malignancy in my breast tissue or lymph nodes. I am now cancer free.

Now I would tell the doctors a message “just be patient with your patients. Try to give them hope, and My wish for myself for ten years from now would be to be able to help people who are in the situation I was in.

 

Rona Mahera Elsherif’s vlog can be found at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCl2EJYa8L-EP4HsbgcMJ1_A/featured

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