Sami: I told my family about my illness after recovery

I’m going to tell you my cancer story. Thank God, I am blessed with a new chance to live and survive after passing through a bitter experience , My story may be a turning point for a patient who lost strength and will. It will be inspiring for those patients consumed by disease and treatment.

My name is Sami. I come from Jordan. I moved to Doha in 2016 to start my own business and improve my children’s and my family’s material and social conditions. I was a kind father, responsible for the happiness and welfare of my family. I was an athlete, never smoked, and paid great attention to my health.

After I arrived in Doha, I began to feel a change in my right eye, although the external eye examinations did not explain why! However, an MRI scan did.

Here was my first shock when it turned out that the reason was the presence of some tumors in my brain. Later, cancer spread to different parts of my body: the liver, the adrenal glands, the lungs, and the spine, and a terrible nightmare began.

I never thought I’d start counting the number of days left for me in the world, and I never imagined myself in bed, waiting to die; I’ve had mixed thoughts about everything: parents, children, work .. etc.

Should I give in to sickness and death just like that? Should I open the door so easily for that monster to eat my body and my ability to live? During those days, I saw only death in front of my eyes. Death did not faint in my mind, so I was exhausted of this feeling until I stopped myself and asked, why do I think about death while I was still alive? Therefore, I resisted; I decided to co-live with it and put away every negative thought or slight idea that meant my life was ending. I would hide this dilemma from my parents and family. I did not want to overburden them or make them feel pain or sorrow for knowing my disease, so I decided to leave them to their lives and studies. Even my wife has burdens and responsibilities against kids and their studies.

I started the journey of radiotherapy, then chemotherapy. Have you ever heard about chemotherapy and its adverse effects? It has severe impacts on the body and psyche. It causes delirium, weakness, inflammation, diarrhea, depression, and several significant side effects.

Cortisone and radiation left their prints on my face and frail body. Questions by colleagues at work began to increase. My capability to work was decreasing. I found that people surrounding me offered their help. However, my decision not to inform anyone has never changed. I did not stop working, refused all assistance despite suffering from fatigue and pain, and endured all with love and conviction about God’s fate.

I continued with the chemotherapy for a while and liked to stay in the hospital despite seeing patients suffering everywhere around me. Nevertheless, I succeeded in making these hard times an opportunity to create a peaceful and thrilling atmosphere. I used to sit in the hospital garden to enjoy the open air and chat with nurses and patients. I was grateful to God that the center was free of sick children because I couldn’t bear to see a sick child.

I followed the treatment patiently and effortlessly, resisting and insisting. Little by little, disease began to decline, and victory was overcome. Medical reports showed positive results after the chemotherapy. In contrast, the stage of immunotherapy has started. Hope, vitality, and strength returned to my tired body, which was exhausted by the treatment.

I have become more upbeat and optimistic and look forward to the prospects of a better life free from cancer and treatment.

All this happens without telling anyone about my family. I endured a great deal of physical and psychological fatigue.

During that period, all excuses for not returning to my country and seeing my family during holidays and vacations are running out. My wife was inquiring why her husband was changing, so I had to tell her about my status and everything that had happened. She had never expected that I and death would be at a close distance.

My wife asked me to come to Doha immediately, but I refused and asked me to leave everything back and go to me. Still, I declined and convinced her of the necessity and importance of our stay in the same situation and continued my treatment, and she continued to take care of the children.

Thank God, I became better and better under the treatment I follow at the National Centre for Cancer Care & Research.

My advice to those afflicted by this disease is to adhere to treatment, not give up hope, and not heed other advice that others believe will cure cancer.

Having achieved an excellent result with immunotherapy, my presence in the center became less, and I recovered successfully. After a short period, I visited my family. I told everyone, especially my mother, but I reassured her that I was being treated in safe hands and that it was much better than being in any other place or country.

At this time, I decided to end this line of my life and start over another bright line and page. I came out of that experience a new human being reborn after my recovery, and my view of life was renewed, so that time became more valuable, as well as in the evaluation of relationships and work, and God only determines that death. Determination, will, desire to live, and trust in God is the way to recovery and not to think about death for as long as we live.

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Alison Stone; A Pap smear test was a reason for my recovery

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 center, and the reason that I took this journey of well-being and preventative medicine is that I was diagnosed with cervical cancer when I was 30. So, I attribute my success today to that incident many years ago. I have survived cancer for 27 years, and I think it is essential to see how things have changed in that period.

Here is a brief synopsis of my journey ;

I was married at 18 (in my generation, that was acceptable and normal), had two 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 I would not be here today.

The cervical cancer that I had was very aggressive, and mine was mainly 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. I do feel very strongly about the need to be proactive with your health.

That experience forced me to look at my life and my control over it. The experience of the surgeries and the treatments that you go through has such a profound effect on you physically, but I think it is more the fear that has the most profound impact, and the fear I had 27 years ago was never addressed. So now, when I find out about societies like the Qatar Cancer Society in Qatar, I am so impressed and excited that women have this opportunity to be supported. Had we had something similar 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 papillomavirus 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 took a good 10 or 15 years after that until cancer could be talked about openly. Now, having chemo and not having hair, we 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 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 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.

I  think that the difference in Qatar (I was here ten 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 country 12 years ago, and we tried to convince them to get breast checks and pap smear tests, but they wouldn’t do it because they didn’t want to know. After all, they have fear, or they feel that sickness is based on divine intervention – and either way, they think 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 are a lot 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.

I told nobody about the look on my husband’s face and his inability to even respond to me. And so I carried that burden, which I am sure 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 mother or anybody until after my surgeries. And then, when I was in the hospital, people started to visit. And I put on a very brave face to begin 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. In a way, keeping silent saved me because I could pretend it wasn’t happening. After all, nobody was talking about it. I fit into that era’s psyche: “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 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 didn’t want them to be afraid that I was going to die. I did not want to put that fear into them. And I, not them, was preventing me 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 have to tell them.’ Two of my children have been vaccinated against the Human Papilloma Virus and regularly go for Pap smears. What I realized was that if I had dared to address it earlier, it is not that they would have gone earlier for Pap smears, but we could have had the conversations 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 talk to them is that it is 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 after my illness. And I think some girlfriends were 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. My choices in development, self-development, and professional development have their basis in understanding and going through my journey. My Ph.D. is in metaphysics, and I am very keen on learning about epigenetics, which is the complete 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 affects your genes too, which is fearful but empowering as well – it is fear 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 essential, which includes everybody else’s fear. 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 went in there feeling strong and brave. So I think the whole spiritual aspect to illness is faith, how strong faith is, what color 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 before my illness and what my life has been like over the years, everything was about learning about care and preventative medicine. I have 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 homemaker 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 get a Ph.D., to be in Qatar to build the women’s wellness center, to be connected, and to finally, after 27 years being able to tell my story someday.

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.’ Suppose we switched our approach to cancer and reframed everything, for example. In that case, 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 return. Instead of telling patients, ‘You only have two months to live,’ why not tell them that the medical system will do the best it can, send them home, and ask them to focus on the quality of their life and their diet?

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Muhammad Mawloud: with family’s support, I overcame the challenges

Mr. Mohamed  Mawloud was living normally until he began to experience some strange symptoms one day. After undergoing all the necessary tests and a colonoscopy, 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, Mr. 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 doubts about 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. He went on to take a 1-year leave from his job to complete his chemotherapy course. Unfortunately, the body aches, fatigue, and loss of appetite he experienced as byproducts of the therapy forced him to leave his job.

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

Mohamed received radiotherapy and chemotherapy through the Qatar Cancer Society, which he got in touch with through Hamad Medical Corporation. He was delighted with the psychological support he received from the medical team, which positively influenced his well-being as he went through this challenging journey. While recalling what he learned, Mr. Mohamed pinpointed that patience was the most critical lesson he acquired from going through treatment. He advises everyone going through the same journey to comply, continue the treatment, and face it without fear of the temporary side effects that eventually go away. Finally, Mr. Mohamed reiterated that what helped him the most was praying and reading a daily verse of the Qur’an, which he described as “God’s cure to people.”

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Mohammed Shabaan: with patience and faith, I’m living with cancer

Mohammed Shabaan is a 55-year-old man who has always been on a healthy diet and followed a fitness regimen, describing it as a way of living. He has a small farm at home where he grows various kinds of fruits and vegetables. He has always been interested in the wide range of benefits these organic corps provide. For example, the Moringa tree is one of the crops he is harvesting on his farm; it reduces blood sugar and has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.

March 2017 was the time Mohammed described as the time he “dropped down.” this initially started as mild constipation, which he attributed to ingestion of pomegranate; however, the constipation was persistent and remained for ten days, and he decided to seek medical attention. He was given laxatives, but his condition did not improve. Then, he started having a sudden onset of vomiting, which was severe as he felt tired and energy drained. The accumulation of all these symptoms led to him not walking, so he called the ambulance.

Mohammed had multiple tests done; He had both CT and PT scans done, which concluded the potential of having Stage 3 Colon Cancer. He had never imagined this diagnosis as he thought these symptoms would be due to a fleeting cause, which can be resolved quickly and last a few days. As he requested, the news was brought to him in a friendly manner in the absence of his parents. Once Mohammed was informed about his diagnosis, the only thing constantly on his mind was the surgery and the complications that followed the procedure. He was ready to confront the struggles which are brought to him by his fate, which, in this case, had brought him cancer. “Cancer? I don’t care about it,” he said as I asked him about what he felt when the physician told him about his condition, prognosis, and management. Mohammed proved that each person could beat disease by learning how to cope with it.

He was constantly thinking about the complications he could avoid; one of these dreaded complications was temporarily placing a colostomy bag until a reconnection between the colon and the rectum healed. He was anxious and worried about the perspective of his friends and family regarding the idea of having an external bag for feces. He thought that this might ruin his image and reputation in front of them.

This discussion continued for a long time until the physician decided that an urgent surgical intervention should occur as the patient had a bowel obstruction, leading to fatal sequelae. The physician tried to insert a tube to remove all the poisons from Mohammed’s abdomen, but they could not. However, another surgeon arrived in Qatar that day and was called to the Operation Room (OR). This surgeon was determined not to leave the OR until he inserted the tube. Mohammed described him as one who has confidence and trust in god’s will. He could insert the box without any complications or danger to Mohammed. “These were all complications that only God knows of,” said Mohammed, believing that he was in a sophisticated situation leading to a path of his well-being and survival.

The removal of the poisons from his body took one and a half hours. He felt better and more relieved afterward. He had surgical excision of 80% of his colon and adjacent lymph nodes. This journey was described as crossing an ocean with strong tides against him, but he passed safely; however, as this ended, another battle was coming up against him: Chemotherapy. The side effects of the chemotherapy were very severe; he experienced diarrhea and weight loss – He had lost 20 kgs. Nevertheless, he was relieved that he reached a state of almost winning the battle against cancer; the side effects did not matter as he had passed two storms set by cancer, the surgery, and the chemotherapy. He knew that he had reached the winning line with himself leading.

He found his family and friends very supportive and understanding during that period. Although there was a negative stigma of having cancer, he noticed that he and his family changed and became more accepting; they grew to accept that cancer, like any other disease, can be treated and should not be considered as the closure of one’s life.

Eight months after the surgery, Mohammed developed an abdominal hernia; he sought treatment and gained more strength to face this new complication. He sought both physical and mental therapy. He “Never lost hope” and was able to live through this dreadful journey of fighting cancer and its following complications.

 

Cancer was an “uninvited guest,” but you must offer hospitality and welcome like any other guest. Thus, one should find a support group and habits that bring joy and happiness to embrace this disease rather than allow it to drain them. It would help if you did not let this monstrous disease take over your lives and consider it as something that is only passing by but is offering you a grain of strength and enlightenment, making you a stronger warrior. Cancer is the beginning of a new life, not the end.

The “Step of Hope” initiative was launched in collaboration with the Qatar Cancer Society and the National Center for Cancer Care and Research. This initiative aims to support individuals living with cancer and emphasize that cancer can be cured. Patients can practice their daily lives and highlight the importance of psychological and community support for this group to make the disease period and beyond easier and the importance of a healthy lifestyle of exercise and healthy food to prevent diseases, especially cancer.

During this initiative, I walked about 555 km on foot in the first phase and then completed the tour to cover 2022 km as a later goal. And we have chosen 2022 for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, where I seek to walk about 25 km per day at a rate of five hours.

I want to emphasize that this initiative is an opportunity to strengthen the role of physical activity in the prevention of diseases, especially cancer, in line with the State Vision 2030 to improve human health, in addition to emphasizing the close relationship between cancer and mental status that may facilitate or prevent treatment.

 In conclusion, I would like to express my thanks and gratitude to the Qatar Cancer Society as it has adopted the ” step of hope” its kind in the world, and all its efforts and support; this initiative is considered the first of its kind in the world, and I want to thank the Qatar cancer society for their hard effort and continuous support for me and success of this event.

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Sheikha Al-Mannai: I realized the true meaning of life after recovery

My name is Sheikha Al-Mannai. I work as a TV and Radio presenter. I have been working as a teacher and a school principal since 1995. I resigned from my position as a school Principal of a governmental school in 2016, and I traveled abroad to explore myself and find a new passion. At first, I thought it was just a contusion, although it was not blue. I have learned in school how to examine my body. While checking my body, I found a tumor at the top of my shoulder that scared me. Initially, I suspected it could be a tumor because a barrier hit me during swimming. I initially neglected it for nearly four months as I thought it was just a contusion. I met a competent doctor who told me it would be better to subject me to ultrasound rays to see the content of this discoloration. He gave some medicines that might help to reduce inflation. Upon coming home, I decided to work in media. Two months after starting my new career, I became worried about the tumor because it had decreased in size after taking medicines. However, it had re-emerged. Therefore, I went to the Health Center that converted my health file to Hamad Medical Corporation the following day. I received a phone call from a health consultant that they had received my file and would identify an appointment for me.

The doctor went through a Clinical examination and said he suspected having a tumor. He asked me about my family’s disease history and children and whether I had breastfed them. After the first visit to the hospital, I was referred to the surgery department, which removed some lymph nodes for analysis. It took two weeks to get the analysis results. The result was positive for grade 1 breast cancer. I have not understood what happened for a while. I cried when I knew the result, not for fear of illness, but because I knew how my mother was frightened. My mother knew something was wrong, so I told her the truth. The doctor was the most prominent supporter. He told me that I needed chemotherapy followed by surgical treatment. He said to me that medicine is divided into stages. The healing process may be complex and critical. Any of them may result in hair and weight loss. What helped me during this crucial period was the remembrance of God Almighty, the observance of the prayers, and the reading of the Holy Qur’an. I swept grievingly, especially during prayers. I took the first chemotherapy dose at the National Center for Cancer Care & Research (Al-Amal Hospital). The smell of the treatment made me nauseous and tired. I asked the nurse how long the treatment might take, and the response was almost three hours.

My father and doctor used to accompany me on every treatment visit and were waiting for me throughout the treatment period in the hospital. They asked me to eat after treatment, and I refused because the medicine made me nauseous.

On the first dose of treatment completion, I went to my parent’s home; they insisted I stay with them during the treatment period because of my symptoms. I was taking treatment every twenty-one days. The biggest concern for me was the pain that happened to my mother. After treatment, she burst into tears because she smelled of treatment mixed with mine. She noticed that my mood was changing after treatment. Having completed the first treatment stage, I asked to complete treatment in a tranquil city like Qatar in terms of customs and habits. To avoid seeing myself in that sick state, I was converted to MD Anderson, where I was far from my mother. My brother accompanied me on my road for treatment. Before traveling, I had told some of my coworkers about my medical condition. I had not said any of them before because I didn’t want anyone to pity me.

My brother looked at my weak body piteously, and I asked him to stop because this pathetic way may result in more weakness and would not help. Living in Houston is considered the best-ever period of my entire life. I have not lived in the accommodation allocated to patients. Instead, I lived far from them to avoid the sympathetic sight of people. I decided on a day to stop using a wig. When my brother saw me, he went off without saying a word. I knew how he felt. Therefore, when he returned, he was shocked that I accepted myself. Physicians have told me it is temporary; you will return to your normality within nine months. I told my brother that I didn’t want him to look at me miserably, significantly, since the treatment differed. I took the medical dose every 21 days; I take it now weekly. A large number of breast cancer patients were there. Most of them were elderly and accompanied by their husband or sister. Their condition was more difficult than mine. For that reason, I realized that there is hope, and I must be brave and overcome the pain caused by chemotherapy with the help of God during treatment.

I rarely felt hurt because I insisted on keeping myself busy with sports, swimming, and cooking for my brother and neighbors. My daily schedule was crowded. I woke up at 10:00 a.m. to clean the house, put the clothes in the washing machine, do house chores ..etc. These little details mean a lot to me. It made me feel so accomplished instead of feeling sorry for myself. I persisted with my brother going out before treatment to have fun because I knew I couldn’t do anything the day after treatment. The treatment period meant a lot to me. It allowed me to realize the true meaning of family.

I became aware of the importance of having my family next to me. My mother, may God have mercy on her, and my father used to call me several times every day. My mother was very worried about me; she felt ill. Her heart became weak, and she became unable to speak. Psychologically, she suffered more than I did. I tried to show her I was okay and sent her pictures of me doing the housework, but she was still worried. Having arrived in the USA, my life changed completely. My faith became stronger; I used to pray Tahjud at night until now.

Moreover, I read Surat Al-Baqarah and morning and evening remembrances daily. I noticed how the speed of daily life makes us all get distracted and lose control of time, convincing us that there is not enough time for what we want to work on and occupying us with work that we think is more important. However, there is nothing more important than that a person takes time dedicated to himself to maintain his health and keep him connected to his Lord to feel God’s blessings in life. All of us need time to meditate on what we went through. It is important because the disease affects everything in a person’s life, no matter how small. Treatment affected my body and deepened my way of thinking. This experience made me shift my view from negative to positive and how I deal with life difficulties.

Now, I consider anything that may meet me in life easy, God willing. When a person relies on God Almighty, he will find an unnatural force that helps him face whatever happens. I have realized that nothing could be compared to cancer. I cannot describe myself as a cancer fighter. However, I combat cancer with the help of God Almighty. My illness was a test from God to see my patience and endurance. Allah says, “Allah burdens not a person beyond his scope” 02:286. God, the Highest, knew I could bear my illness, and I contracted this disease to realize my shortcomings. On becoming ill, I realized the importance of everything and became aware and appreciated what life gave me. I knew the value of health and family. My children and brothers have become closer. My daily routine took me away from my parents. I visited them daily, but I have never been close to them. I have discovered these things because of illness.

 

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Abdulrahman: This journey made me stronger than I think

Abdulrahman is a typical 13-year-old Qatari boy whose life changed dramatically when he was eight. Which tells us his story, saying:

It was a month after my birthday, and I was playing with my cousins and my brother (at my grandfather Yousuf’s house) when my mom brought me to the Pediatric Emergency Centre at Al-Saad for what we both thought was a regular physical checkup and blood work since I was falling sick continually (with a high fever) and more than any other children in my family. (The doctor wanted to send me home with antibiotics, but my mother felt something was wrong and insisted that the doctor get blood labs done as I looked pale, weak, and tired.) I told my cousins I would be back very soon and we could continue playing football when I returned. Little did I know that would be the last time I would see my family for another three years.

My mother and I had arrived at PEC and expected similar results as previous visits. We waited patiently when the nurse and doctor told us we had to be moved to an Isolation room. Being an 8-year-old, I didn’t quite understand what was happening around me, but this was also the case for my mother, and the doctor didn’t explain why we had to move.

As the nurse came in to (check on my vital signs), my mother asked if we were placed in the isolation room to keep others safe since she thought I had an infectious disease. When the nurse replied, “It’s to keep your son safe from others,” this reply shocked my mother and me.

Within an hour, I was in an ambulance on my way to Hamad General Hospital, still not knowing why all this was happening to me. Once I arrived at the hospital, another group of nurses tended to me and started (a) another blood transfusion containing platelets. Despite all this chaos and uncertainty, my mother kept her composure and was my light in the dark. My mother had called her father (my grandfather). She told him of this situation, which caused him to cry since his friend was diagnosed with Cancer and had undergone a similar procedure (the symptoms she was explaining to him that I was having confirmed to him that I had Cancer.

My mother, extremely frustrated as nobody was giving us any answers, had googled all the symptoms and concluded that I had Leukemia (pale, fatigue, high fever, bruises, low platelets, low ANC, etc.). This conclusion was met with hesitancy from the doctors, and both my mother and I spent the entire (night) in Hamad Hospital without knowing why we were there. The next day, when the doctors came in for their morning rounds, my mother confronted them and asked if I had Leukemia–but she was met with more uncertainty from the doctors. (The doctor had excused himself and left the room.

After a few hours, my mom was asked by the doctor to step out of my room and in the hallway, I was told that they usually don’t give this type of information to a lady without her family present, but as I have already known, yes they are suspecting that my son has Leukemia) After enduring a couple more days full of tests in Hamad Hospital, they had to confirm that I had Leukemia, so I had to undergo an LP to take a sample of my bone marrow to check for cancer cells. My mother and family were very nervous and praying, but my mom never should be a sign that something serious was wrong with me.). (The next day, the doctors had a meeting with my family and informed them that) I was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) and started on chemotherapy immediately to save my life – this was only two days after I had left my home for what had seemed to be a regular checkup that would change my life forever. At this point, I was getting agitated and just wanted to know when I could leave the hospital and play with my cousins again. At that point, my mother explained to me simply about Leukemia and what we would have to do to get rid of this disease. For example, there was a problem with my blood, and the platelets and blood transfusion they gave me were like soldiers going into my body to fight the bad guys). My mother didn’t want to leave me in the dark regarding my condition (and firmly believed that it was essential that I understand what was happening), but at the same time, she didn’t want to scare me with big words–I was a child after all.

Within a week after this chaos, my father, brother, grandma Ameena, mother, and I were flown to the Children’s Hospital in Washington, DC (accompanied by a doctor and nurse on the plane as I was still very sick and hooked up on various medications). Immediately as we walked into the hospital room, we were swarmed by a room full of doctors and social workers (remember this was the evening, and my mother was exhausted from the long flight). This was the start of my 3-year medical journey (in the USA). I was (sad, confused, and wanted to see my family) miserable most of this time, despite my family’s strong support and my mother staying by my side the entire time. I hadn’t seen my school friends, siblings, and cousins for a long time and felt emotionally isolated. I only had my mother and grandmother as my only constants, which was the sole reason I could get through this illness and stay strong.

I don’t remember much of what happened in the hospital (since most of the time, I was on strong pain medication). Still, some of the most painful moments were when they had to place a Broviac Catheter in my body–I remember being in excruciating pain and not talking to my mother. I felt like I was no longer a boy; they had changed me into a robot. That period was the longest time that I had ignored my mom. Then (my Uncle Ahmed) one of my uncles, called me from Qatar and pointed out that Ironman’s arc reactor on his chest looked just like my catheter, and he told me that Ironman’s reactor was the basis of his strength in the same way that my (Broviac)catheter was my strength. My Uncle’s words helped me to change how I looked at hospital procedures; the procedures no longer scared me, but they were still painful, just not as scary as before.

I lost much of my hair in the hospital due to chemotherapy. Chunks of my hair would be falling into my cereal ( and I would wake up with hair all over my pillow, even in my mouth sometimes, and that frustrated me), and then (my Uncle Abdulla) another of my Uncles, Facetimed me and told me about John Cena and The Rock, two of my favorite wrestlers who were bald (and that the strongest people in the world are the people in the military and they all shave their heads). He said being bald made them strong, and this conversation helped me immensely during that time. I even let the Chief of Hematology Oncology in the hospital to shave my head. (And I was happy with that.)

Besides the hard times, I also remember the fun I had in the hospital with the nurses who cared for me and the hospital clowns and ballet dancers who would often visit. I remember (during my bone marrow transplant, I was not allowed many visitors, and my interactions with the nurses weren’t allowed anymore except with my assigned nurse) one time when interaction with the hospital staff was decreasing, so my mother created a game called “Guess Haman’s ANC,” where the hospital staff would guess my Absolute Neutrophil Count every day. The closest guesses would get prizes. This encouraged the team to walk by my room and wave or smile or talk to me, which lifted my spirits (she would print a piece of paper, stick it on my door, and open the curtains so that I could see everyone’s excitement). This community spirit helped me and my family get through this ordeal.

I was able to be friends with some of the children in the hospital, especially this Saudi boy who was admitted at the same time as me. Still, there was an incident when one of my friends had to get her legs amputated, which was a major shock to me, and that event stopped me from talking to any of the children in the hospital. I still don’t understand why I did that, but I felt more comfortable talking to the adults in the hospital after that incident.)

I could not go to school during chemotherapy as it was taking a significant toll on my body, but I did have tutors who would come to the  tutor would come to my home whenever I was there, and no matter how sick I felt, my mother made sure I kept my brain working) hospital to teach me. Even at moments when I wouldn’t be able to speak, I was still learning, thanks to my mom. I wouldn’t say I liked every second of it then, and I would try to hide under my blankets and ask my mother to make the tutor leave, but now I understand the importance of continuing my education. My mom said that continuing my education was designed to make me feel that this part of my life was temporary and that this, too, shall pass. I didn’t believe in that idea then, but I do now.

After most of my chemotherapy cycles were over, we rented a huge house and moved into it instead of the hospital as it wasn’t necessary to stay there. My mother had rented a house with a basement and turned it into my playground – I had video games and a vast space to play football – it was great! But this didn’t last long: more labs were done for me, which revealed that there were still cancer cells in the blood – the chemotherapy wasn’t working as well as we thought it would, and the doctors found out that I had a 5q deletion in my genetic profile, which means that I had to have a bone marrow transplant. Thus, I had to have two more cycles of chemo before the transplant could be done, so we had to move back to the hospital.

The search for an HLA (human leukocyte antigen) match was probably the worst period for my mother as our relatives and friends back in Qatar weren’t aware of this, and even when they were tested, no one turned out to be my match (even the international bank didn’t have a good match for me). One day, the doctors informed us that a mother in Texas had donated her newborn’s cord blood, which surprisingly matched my HLA: I had an unrelated stem cell donor in Texas!

The following steps before the transplant were the worst. I had to endure total body radiation twice a day (since kids rarely undergo this type of radiation, I had to go to an adult hospital via ambulance – I didn’t mind the ambulance ride. It had a TV!)  and then (one more cycle of chemo but it was strong on my body and the doctor’s told my mom that they need to bring my body to near death as possible so that my body doesn’t reject the donor’s cells) more cycles of chemo before I was ready for the transplant. Then came the complications – (Acute and chronic GVHD in the gut and skin) and multiple rejections of the transplanted bone marrow. Your body recognizes that the new bone marrow is foreign and tries to fight it. Hence, I was placed on heavy steroids to combat the rejections. I was given strict guidelines: everything I ate had to be cooked thoroughly, and I had an hour to eat it and to drink a bottle of water within an hour as well –if it had been left alone more than that, it was no longer safe for me to drink. (I was not allowed to eat fresh fruits, vegetables, or anything not cooked at home for a long time. However, due to my GVHD and other complications, I didn’t eat for six months and was living on TPN 24 hours) During this challenging time, my mother ensured I had a psychologist so that my mental health was cared for.

After most of the medical severe therapy was over, and the doctors allowed me to go to school, I was enrolled in a public school in the USA. I had mixed feelings about going back to school. I had missed playing and having friends my age, but at the same time, this was a different environment, and I didn’t exactly look like a normal kid. The steroids I was on had caused a lot of weight gain, so I faced some bullying at the public school. Other students wouldn’t allow me to play football, my favorite sport, with them, and even the teachers didn’t seem to understand my situation. The Physical Education teacher was frustrated that I couldn’t run during the PE sessions due to my weight. This didn’t bother me as much as it did my mother. I just told her that it was okay, and I played football in my head – little did I know then that this was a coping mechanism I had developed during my bedridden time in the hospital. I was taken out of the school soon after since the students or the teachers weren’t accommodating, and the next school, BASIS Independent Mclean (a private school), was more understanding and accompanied by my condition and requirements. Instead of making me feel left out, they made me stand out amongst the others, and I had the opportunity to share my story, which was welcomed by all students and teachers alike. I made many friends there and felt like I was returning to my life.

Besides support from the school, the community spirit in the hospital played a massive role in my recovery. Organizations such as “Make a Wish” allowed me to meet John Cena, and support groups for mothers such as PANDA would come up with non-medical solutions for issues such as nausea or sleeping difficulties. I remember receiving a ‘magic ceramic in the shape of a ball stone’ from them to help with nausea. Now I realize that the stone was probably not magical at all, but it helped me to believe in such a thing at that time. Additionally, there was a couple who volunteered to take pictures of all the kids in the hospital, giving us all a photo shoot – it was this support that broke the stigma and feeling of hopelessness that surrounded the kids and their families. Removing stigma about Cancer is something that I feel could be improved in Qatar, which is what the Qatar Cancer Society is trying to achieve.

When we all returned to Qatar after the transplant, I had to every 6 months Abdulrahman had to return to DC to continue his treatment and checkups. Alhamdallah, on the 12th of June 2020, we celebrated five years since his bone marrow transplant – 5 years cancer-free!  My mother made sure I joined QCS so that I could share my story with others who might be in the same position as me. We expected to see Qatari children and their families to be in the support groups. However, the association had only ex-pats, which shows that this is still a taboo topic in this society. Hence, in an attempt to empower others, my mother arranged for me to make a video about my experience with Cancer to show that if I can get through this, so can they.

This journey has made me realize that I am stronger than I look or think and appreciate the people around me, as life is unpredictable. I thank the doctors, nurses, social workers, and everyone who supported me in Qatar and the USA. I would also like to mention “Be the Match,” a bank to which anyone can donate their blood and help find an HLA match like me. If the mother in Texas hadn’t donated her newborn’s (cord) blood to the bank, I wouldn’t have had a good transplant, and if more people in Qatar were aware of this bank, then I could have gotten a faster match and recovery. (since the HLA typing is based on ethnicity)

Last, Abdel Rahman’s mother sent her message to the community: “Cancer is given to us by God: children like my son have done nothing to acquire this. Hence, it shouldn’t be taboo or haram to talk about it; more people should open up to this so that we as a society can get comfortable and support each other.

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Suma, Having cancer changed my outlook on life.

My name is Suma; I’m a Nurse Specialist. I always cared for patients with Lung cancer who are primarily diagnosed in advanced stages and hence need palliative care, thinking that I can ease their pains and sorrows – I can be their shield against cancer, against a villain who I have never expected to face myself, but I was wrong; July 2016 was the time for me to be bold and fight against it, and at that time, I found my patients to be my strong, protective shield throughout my journey. I had persistent fatigue, so I decided to see a physician; then, I had blood tests and a mammogram, which showed that I might lump in my breast, so a biopsy was obtained. This biopsy conveyed a diagnosis that I had never imagined. It translated my fatigue into something beyond my imagination. I was told that I have Stage 1 Breast Cancer.

Denial and rejection were all that I was feeling initially; I was not able to grasp the fact that I had cancer. I went home that day with a heavy heart, with serious steps, carrying a worrying diagnosis, which should have been the end of my story. I went home where I was sure I would feel secure; I went home to see my children and to listen to their joyful stories; I went home to be embraced by my family as my heart was filled with worry, and they’re the only ones who can enlighten it. Then came the question: should I inform my family yet? Will they be able to grasp it? I believed in them and knew they would support me with every step I took.

I informed my husband; he broke into tears. He cared for me a lot and was upset about my well-being. As time passed, he accepted it, and so did I. We both were ready to fight it together. He was always strong and by my side when I needed him. He comforted me and was there for me throughout the treatment. I had a one-year treatment phase, which included surgical treatment followed by chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and targeted therapy. I was tired and physically drained but I knew I was strong enough to handle it. I did things I enjoyed during my treatment cycle; for example, I’m a workaholic; thus, working although I’m sick took away all the sickness which I was experiencing as I felt happy doing my assigned duties. I showed this physically-draining disease that I’d appreciate life more as much as it drains me. I decided not to take sick leave; I went to work and helped my patients as I now know what they go through when they are sick. Cancer has enlightened my perspective regarding the disease and made me a better carer for my patients. Was I losing hair? Being fatigued? Having mood swings? This all vanished when I realized I was strong enough to win this battle. I gained strength through my family’s support, my patient’s well-being, and acceptance of my illness. In addition, my spiritual habits and strong relationship with god made me stronger and wiser, as I started to look at this condition as any other condition that will pass, making me mentally and physically stronger.

Cancer throws a person into a deep end, thinking that they entered a tunnel with no opening on the other side, but this is not the case; one should believe that they have the tools to create a space for themselves, leading to their well-being and acceptance. For that to happen, one must establish a positive attitude, supportive group, hope, and faith. Do things that make you happy, support others, and give yourself time to heal. Let it be; you can fight it.

 

 

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Sami Fattouh: I am proud of myself and thanks to QCS for the support.

My name is Sami Fattouh. I am eight years old, Syrian, live in Canada, and go to Fairview public school. I have fond memories of Qatar, the country I have lived in and one of the most beloved countries in my heart.

I speak Arabic and English. My parents enrolled me in a different school to learn Arabic after they felt that I started to forget it little by little because of living in Canada. I love to play in public parks and ride bikes. My dream is to become an adventurer, a paleontologist, and an astronaut in the future.

When I was three years old, I started to feel pain in my leg, but my parents did not want to worry me, so they told me that I had to go to the doctor to know the reason. when I was six, my parents told me, “We did not want you to be anxious when you were young; you had cancer since you were three.” At seven, my parents informed me more about Cancer and how it varies. I learned more when I started school. The treatment lasted for 36 months at the hospital. I completed the treatment, checkups, and medication at home. I still remember when my friends visited me and bought me presents. My favorite gift was Air Wheels Cars.

Cancer has many types. Any of them may attack body organs… You have to be punctual and take the medication in a strict amount and promptly. There was a playroom in the basement where I frequently played with my brother. Sometimes, I would stroll down the street with friends in Doha. But sometimes, the doctors recommended stopping visitors from seeing me. Therefore, in cooperation with Qatar Cancer Society (QCS), several volunteers would come to my room to make happy faces across the glass in the hospital and give me gifts so I could smile and even laugh. The doctors were kind and friendly.

My grandparents and aunts were paying visits to me constantly, bringing gifts and favorite foods. I decorated my room during Ramadan with crescents, stars, and lanterns. My family accompanied me every single moment of my journey. We always engaged in different activities, such as watching TV or playing cards. The intravenous treatment was painful; I was sometimes intense and weak at others. my uncle Mustafa and Khaled had their hair cut and said, “Come on, Sami, you have to have your hair cut.” I didn’t know that hair loss was a side effect of chemo. I guessed they encouraged me to cut my hair because it was a competition.

I have been feeling pain sometimes, but not always. Once, my cheeks were ripped out of the inside from the chemo, and it was painful, so I had to go to the hospital. It turns out I had cracks in my digestive system. It took a month to treat these cracks. I was no longer able to eat. I lost weight quickly. There were dry spots on my cheek inside, and I was crying from the pain, but soon I was playing and stopped crying. I liked eating the pasta the hospital served, and my mother started cooking it for me at home. I am used to eating it, and to this day, I call it ‘the hospital pasta.’ I also used to ask my mother to call my grandmother to ask her to make me kibbeh and mahshi.

I was so proud of myself when my parents called me Victor because I had beaten Cancer; Cancer significantly prevented me from hanging out with friends, going to preschool, and riding horses and bikes. It even stopped me from strolling down through the park. However, I used to walk in the hospital garden and play in the games room. I used to ask my aunt to take me to the games room during closing hours, and I used to go back to my room sadly to compensate my aunt, who gave me an iPad, to play games and watch YouTube together. I was accustomed to playing with toy trucks and characters, and I liked to run outside with my brother Iyad, but unfortunately, I could not run fast.

I was bored in the early days of my stay in the hospital, but I stopped being bored with the help of QCS and my family. My friends used to come to visit me and bring toys. I put those toys aside to be a souvenir for these difficult days. My brother and I frequently played with them. I have donated some of the toys to those in need. QCS used to give many gifts, and some of their members warmed my heart, especially when they dressed as clowns and cartoon characters.

QCS has provided me with much support and encouragement by inviting my parents and me to the events they organize. When I finished the treatment period, I could do everything. I will return to my usual life as before. I will sleep, as usual, go shopping, and go to classes.

 

The mother tells her memories of this  journey, saying :

“Stories of hope and people’s life experiences are the most important things that patients and their families seek. What matters most is that they are the hope and motivation to give more hope. Patients and families seek similar experiences and success stories that inspire patience and hope.

When the doctor told us that Sami had leukemia, it was a huge shock. Nevertheless, the involvement of our family and friends around us was a helpful factor in relieving the situation. Besides, credible doctors, thoughtful responses, and direct care from health professionals in Qatar have played a significant role in introducing the disease to us and calming us. We still remember our first stays at the hospital as the most challenging phase of our lives.

سWe had thought it was the end. Cancer is a diverse disease that affects people and ends their lives. We were trying to learn more about this disease and the recovery rate. We’ve been trying to hear any person’s experience that may lift our spirits and give us hope. I was praying for God to save my son and remove this ordeal. We quickly became ambassadors who spread hope among patients.

Sami responded to the treatment and medication processes despite the difficulties and complications. As a result of the lack of immunity, he sometimes developed some infections, and treatment was stopped. He has been infected with hepatitis, fluid retention, and heart inflammation. The cracks in his cheek, which Sami talks about with a smile now, were one of his most challenging experiences. These ulcers continued for 30 days, and he could not eat or drink, so the condition worsened. His digestive system completely deteriorated after chemotherapy until the doctors temporarily stopped treatment. Eventually, he recovered.

After Sami was discharged from the hospital, we decided to play a role in alleviating people’s suffering by paying short visits to other patients, telling them Sami’s success story, and providing them with advice. Through the effectiveness of QCS, I can inspire you with our journey. While describing his story, I am thrilled with Sami, a hero who achieved his voice faster and reached a more significant segment of society.

We were waiting patiently for Sami’s recovery day, and I took photos and videos to document the moments in his journey. Our feelings were a mixture of joy, and we ended this phase of his life with some concern about a possible relapse, God forbid. Still, this obsession haunts me even now, but it will gradually ease with time. However, I relate any minor illness of Sami to the possibility of his disease returning.

In conclusion, I sincerely thank QCS, who are still by our side. They have supported us financially and emotionally. Their programs and targeted activities mean a lot to families and patients.

 

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Faiza Al Kaabi : I am lucky with my family.. now I see life more clearly.

 I felt it twice, and I kept feeling it until I realized I needed to see a doctor about it. At the doctor’s office, I was told it was a muscle cramp; I was given painkillers and sent on my way. However, the pain came back when I ran out of painkillers on vacation with my sister; therefore, I made an appointment at a clinic in Istanbul.

 When Faiza Al Kaabi – The owner of the story – went to her appointment, she described her pain to the doctor, who ordered some tests, and when the test results finally came back, her sister found out before her, and she could see in her face” Bad news. “

Faiza said, “I had lymphoma around the lungs, and the cancer had spread to my underarm and abdomen.

I was shocked–I couldn’t believe it. I had cancer. I used to participate in events to support cancer patients, and now they tell me I am a cancer patient. How did this happen? I had no bad habits that could cause cancer: I was active, constantly moving around. Why did this happen? Was it a test from Allah? Was it an affliction, and if so, for how long? Was it a punishment–what am I being punished for? What is my future going to be like? Will even I have a lot, to begin with? I had too many questions running around, colliding in my head. I was torn; one part of me thought it made sense that I had cancer. The pain was there (I could feel it); the test results were there, confirming the diagnosis. And yet the other part of me couldn’t make sense of it, and that part screamed, “This is me we are talking about! How can I have cancer!” But I did. I had cancer.

My head was a tangled web of thoughts, and the world was moving too fast. I needed to decide if I wanted treatment, and if so, I needed to start treatment immediately. I needed to decide where will I get the treatment. Will I return to Doha, get treated there, or stay in a foreign country? I needed to make too many decisions, and I needed to make them quickly. I couldn’t decide since I was still confused and in disbelief. Eventually, I pulled myself together and decided to get my treatment abroad with the same doctor who diagnosed me.

As my first chemo session approached, more and more people called me to tell me that I was strong and would get through it, and after a while, I started to believe it. I began to accept that I had cancer. By that point, some of the initial shock dissipated, but not all of it.

Everything changed a few days before Eid Al-Adha when I started chemo. The chemo shocked my body: I was constantly tired and vomiting, I was irritable and anxious, and I couldn’t eat without getting nauseous. I reached a point where I wished my mother would not visit me so that she would not bring me food that would make me sick. It felt as if I became a new person that didn’t know what she wanted or how to express it; I felt like I was in the middle of a storm, alone with a stranger that is supposed to be me, and my task was to get to know the stranger. I was in such agony that I prayed for patience to bear all this pain and the trials to come the day before Eid.

The first day of Eid came, and Faiza felt even worse. Her family looked as if they had been at a funeral. Everyone had a frown on their face. They couldn’t smile or be happy, and they couldn’t even wish each other a happy Eid. Eid seemed like a burden on her family, reminding them that while the rest of the world was enjoying this “happy” day, something was eating her from the inside out.

A week after my first chemo session was my birthday. The chemo was wreaking havoc inside my body, and I felt every little change the chemo was inducing. I felt the pain of every dying cancer cell and was exhausted. The pain was too much. I reached a point where I started to question why I was doing this. Why am I putting myself through this torture? Why am I bearing all this agony?

My reason became apparent when I saw the unshed tears in my family’s eyes and how hard they tried to make the treatment more accessible and make me happy. On my birthday, my sisters rented a yacht. On the yacht, they showed me how much they loved me; they prepared a birthday dinner with cakes and gifts and even wrote my name with a laser on Bosphorus Bridge. I was over the moon. I forgot about the pain and was too happy to think about it or feel it. In that blissful moment, I thought, “If I die after today, I will be content.” That day gave me an intense dose of happiness that kept me going.

My family treated me with love. They showed me how much they loved me through the little things. The smell of detergent bothered me, so they told me to leave the room whenever they wanted to use it. I saw how worried they were about me. My sister couldn’t sleep well and would wake me up and ask me if I was alright. My mother couldn’t eat because I couldn’t eat. She would cook me food daily, even though it was hard for her to get up and stand due to a leg problem. It soon became apparent that I feared leaving my family behind rather than fearing death.

When it was time for one of my sisters to return to Doha for her kids, I could sense her heart’s dilemma. She left a part of her heart with me, while the other part belonged to her children. We were all having dinner one last time before my sister went back to Doha when I broke the news to them. “I haven’t had enough of you all yet,” I said. “There are so many more experiences that I want to have with you. I want to grow old with you. I will bear it all for you; I will endure the pain, bear the nausea and the fatigue. I will come back for you, sister.” Everyone broke down in tears. I realized I was one of the lucky ones. I had so many people that loved me and cared for me. The people who weren’t physically with me called me every day without getting bored to check up on me.

It took me a while, but I accepted my illness. I was in a situation I couldn’t get out of. What was I going to do about it? My doctor told me that my chances of survival were high. Nonetheless, some people don’t get better and die. He said, “It’s still a disease, treat it like you would anything else, and leave the medicine for me and focus on yourself.” And that I did.

After my third chemo, I learned to live with my cancer. I had a chair in the bathroom for when I got dizzy and bags for when I needed to vomit. I knew that lemon made me nauseous, so I steered clear of it. I had one of my sisters sneak ice cream into my hospital room behind the nurse’s back since I wasn’t allowed to have any. I had my favorite books sent over from Doha to read them whenever I felt like it. I let my body adjust to the new reality of cancer and chemotherapy.

Even with my family’s unwavering support, I had moments of weakness. I was left alone in an isolated room for six chemo sessions, with no sound except for machines beeping here and there. I was starved of human interaction. I missed being with people and socializing with them. The loneliness of the treatment room, combined with the inconsistent illness that the chemo brought on, pushed me to a point where I couldn’t make the most straightforward decisions, so I surrendered my autonomy to those I trusted most, my family. During my moments of weakness, I felt insufferable pain that made me want to quit, but my sister wouldn’t let me. She would ask me to bear it for her if not for myself, which made me angry. I didn’t want to take this torture for anyone. My sister would leave me to my thoughts after my outbursts. I would think about what she said and remember why I started treatment in the first place: I started it for them.

Six chemotherapy sessions in total. It sounded like a lot and like the sixth session was so far away, out of my reach. Regardless, I did it: I finished the first course of chemotherapy, and now, it was time for the doctor to check and see if chemotherapy had any effect on my cancer.

I had no expectations for the test results. I was neither hopeful nor was I pessimistic. I didn’t want to have hope to get disappointed, and I didn’t want to think negatively. Whatever the test results were, I would have accepted them. I was in a place of tranquility. If the doctor told me the treatment didn’t work and there was nothing else he could do, I would be upset, but I accepted death. I didn’t take death as the end. Instead, I took it from a religious perspective. “If you yearn to meet Allah, Allah will also yearn to meet you.” That phrase gave me comfort and courage to face my death. My family, of course, wouldn’t hear any of this, but it was a possibility that we all needed to acknowledge. If the doctor told me I had a little while left, I would go back to Doha and gather all my loved ones to see them one last time before I departed this universe and entered another. If he told me my end was near, I would stay in this country until my time was up.

“Fayzah, I have some news for you,” said the doctor.

“What?” I asked.

“Good news,” the doctor answered. I expected him to say that my body was responding well to treatment or other things doctors say to their patients to motivate them. What he said next left me speechless and baffled.

“The test results are out: they show a healthy body.”

Everyone calls me a hero for beating cancer, but I do not feel like one. I had moments of weakness, for no one is strong regarding illness. Sometimes we can’t sleep due to a toothache. Imagine what it would be like to feel the ache of cancer and chemo. It has been a year since I got cancer. I don’t know if it will ever come back or when. Maybe I got cancer to change how I see things, to tell me that I needed to live my life better. However, I know I am stronger now, thanks to cancer.

My life was a dirty lens before cancer–blurry and unclear–and cancer helped me clean it and see the world. I stopped letting the small things bother me, for life is more significant than whatever little thing is trying to upset you. Cancer taught me to choose myself and those who love me over work because I am easily replaceable at work, whereas I am irreplaceable for my loved ones. I realized that losing my hair is nothing compared to losing my soul and that I should do whatever it takes to preserve it, for a single hair doesn’t determine my happiness, and my soul is what matters.

I am grateful that I belong to a community where strangers will reach out and ask about you, and other strangers will start a charity project in your name just because they heard you were sick. Nonetheless, I hope that one day people will stop treating cancer as if it were a disgrace: we, cancer patients and survivors, did not choose or ask for it.

I can say to those who were just diagnosed, “I prevailed, and so can you.” There isn’t a single disease on earth without a cure. Humans haven’t discovered the cures for “incurable” diseases. Listen to your doctor and only your doctor for medical advice, and focus on yourself.

I’m glad I put up with the treatment a year later because many things are worth the pain and living for. I’m so happy that I got cancer and went through this experience. Given the choice, I would not return to the way things were because I now see things.

I wouldn’t wish that someone would go through what I went through, but if someone has cancer, take it with courage. We can do this together. We are part of a supportive community that wants to be there for everyone. I am sharing my story as my way to be there for you.

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Rana Shahryar : My experience left an indelible mark, and made me more positive

On June 14th, 2013, I felt a tightness followed by a pain in my chest. It wasn’t sore like I had after a futile effort fighting off a bench press sitting on my sternum. It felt like some uncomfortable imp pushing against my heart to leave my chest, and my heart responded by beating back in a morbidly familiar way. I went to the hospital for an EKG, and years of learning vectors in Physics made me an expert in reading, or at least I remember saying as much. They then put an IV cannula on my hand, the first of many that year, and injected contrast for the upcoming CT scan.

Rana Shahryar talked about his experience with cancer, saying: “I was eventually diagnosed with lymphoma. There was a medical who was doing a rotation with the team overseeing me, and she told me that the T cell lymphoma was indeed cancer but that most at my age with the disease survive. My most immediate thought was: “Neat, I’ll live through this and milk this experience for sympathy for my entire life,” and I laughed. She and my parents joined in the discussions after a lot of hesitation and a bit of concern. She would visit every evening, and we would talk about what I was interested in school, what I did for fun, and what I planned on doing after high school… but that’s when it occurred to me that I might not see my friends for quite some time. I asked my father if I could go to school after this, and he said that treatment would most likely take a few months, so we couldn’t hope to have this resolved all that soon.

The doctors required a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis, but I had to be awake during the procedure because they were taking a sample from the chest. Once the biopsy wound healed, I was sent to Qatar’s National Center for Cancer Care and Research (NCCCR), and I waited in the shared room before a private room could be arranged. I was started on steroids to decrease inflammation around the mass. Being a patient this long, I eventually recognized patterns that come with that role. Nurses come in every morning to check my vitals, give me my medications, and perhaps joke with me and ask what I’m reading. My mother would come in with some food, sit, and ask how I was doing before heading out to pick up my siblings from school. My father would come in after work; we would speak for a while, and later he would sleep on the couch beside my bed.

However, my interactions were limited overall, and I would be alone to my own devices for most of the day. Being sick is also quite restrictive as people would see you as a fragile creature and insist that jumping jacks would cause the mass to move down and influence my heart, among other things. I would also be given a different kind of pity that I’m much less sympathetic towards. On my birthday, my grandmother paid a visit, and my parents had yet to explain my diagnosis to her, though she read the hospital sign on the way to my ward. As I was given my cake, she asked, “Why are you doing this? His life sucks.” It was a condescending and hopeless pity that I thankfully didn’t see often. Still, when I did encounter it, I could glimpse into their eyes momentarily and see a frail young man blissfully unaware that he may soon die. Of course, we’re no longer in the 1970s, and treatment has been quite successful for my particular cancer, and I knew death was a much more remote possibility.

If I could go back–take the time to spend more time with my friends. Hearing them talk about finishing their final year of high school on our group chats only made me feel further and further distant; at least if I could explain my situation, I’d be able to join in on the conversation with a freer conscience. Instead, I tried to limit my interaction to meet my parents’ wishes, and at least in this instance, it simply was not worth the cost.

Chemotherapy wipes out your bone marrow’s ability to create new cells, including your white blood cells, leaving you vulnerable to infection. To kickstart my white blood cell count, I was given Neupogen, which has the rare side effect of causing joint pain. I had that rare side effect in its full glory. I often spent my days at home crouched into a ball; with each movement, a hot dagger buried into one of my joints. I also had a cold the entire time at home. This time, it was impossible to keep my illness secret from my neighbors and friends; it’s not easy hiding a bright naked scalp and absent eyebrows. My neighbor would often visit, but I would be curled on the couch the entire time, struggling to sit comfortably. Once the worst of it had passed, I managed to call my high school. Once in the library, the librarian who knew me well hugged me. She knew I had a budding hobby of playing cricket, so she passed me a book about the history of cricket, and I sat like I had hoped to some weeks ago, reading a book while watching the sun rising from the window. I met my friends, and one of them hugged me, but I had to adjust a blue strap on my shoulder before I could hug him. I had to explain that it was not a bra but was used to hang the container around the central line in my neck, which quickly diffused my friends’ discomfort. We caught up quickly, and though it was clear that I wouldn’t graduate with them that day, I felt like I was still part of my class.

My extended time alone taught me how to direct my energies and conversations to the page and write poetry, and I also performed spoken word poetry in talent shows and at public events. I found poetry a much better way to solidify my complex and amorphous ideas about time and mortality and ideas of a more grounded perspective. I think there is a tendency to imagine that rationalism necessarily leads to cynicism; however, I’ve learned that it’s often rational to hope and find delight in the simple facts of life. As dark as my humor is, laughing is incredibly courageous and empowering when faced with harsh realities such as suffering and death.

As many would say, I wouldn’t limit humor to a coping mechanism because I think that view conjures up the image of a mental band-aid. Humor can be an act of healing an otherwise hurting soul. But that’s not all it offers. Much like courage, ambition, and resilience, humor is a way to invite people to the challenge of defeating and dealing with their hidden fears and the absurdity often encountered when living. It also brings people closer, and much like poetry, it gives the individual a broader set of tools to understand their audience and allow them to respond with thoughts of their own. I wouldn’t say I’m grateful for this experience; however, I don’t think any suffering was necessary. I wouldn’t recommend we reintroduce cholera to children so that they have a greater appreciation for living. These skills can be learned, and I would have much rather learned them from a friend or a mentor instead of through months of pain and isolation.

My history with cancer is something I often tell people within minutes of meeting them. As someone who enjoys humor, some mischievous part of my mind relishes the opportunity to flip people’s expectations. It’s a running gag in my class for me to mention that I had cancer, and they groan whenever I say that I had experienced that particular experience. Most days, that’s what I wished it all was, something insignificant. However, I often get hurt when I hear how many interpret it and often understate the magnitude of my experiences. As much as I would like it to be behind me, I know it was difficult and sometimes traumatic. I don’t usually share that aspect of my experience. I don’t share that for a few years after remission; I would return to the Emergency Department worried that the chest pain had returned or felt pain in my leg yet again, wincing for days when physically nothing in my leg had changed. The panic I felt in those moments was real, and my experiences left an indelible imprint on my outlook and behavior. I’ll continue to make jokes about my experiences. However, I’ll be more proactive in clarifying that this issue is still difficult to share with complete transparency and that the audience is not invited to speak on my behalf about the most troubling aspects of my journey.

As I’m doing rounds as a third-year medical student, I notice that my colleagues often wince and get disturbed by the more “difficult” and less fortunate cases we often encounter. Metastatic, genetic, and disabling diseases are the ones most often feared. My colleagues often tell me that since there is no hope of success, they would feel like they are failing their patients. I’m sympathetic to that mindset; as future physicians, we all wish to see our patients leave our clinic smiling and ready to enjoy their lives in total health and comfort. However, I want to help where I feel I’m needed. Of course, I can’t offer parents of a child born with multiple congenital diseases the chance to see their child speak his first words, his first unassisted steps, seeing him grow to his mother’s height and drive his family on a road trip. I can’t even offer the parents much time. But I can show them comfort. I often think of Lujain, the intern I befriended, and I remember how powerful the uncomplicated desire to do good can be.

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