Fighting Cancer: Three Weapons to Win the Battle..
My name is Muneera Essa, a 19-year-old Jordanian girl living in Qatar and a cancer survivor. Before I got diagnosed with cancer, I used to play all kinds of sports, with special preference for running and gymnastics. Among my family and in my school, I was always known as the troublemaker. I had just reached puberty when I was first diagnosed with cancer. Like any other girl at that stage, I went through changes in both my body and my personality. I was no longer that loud troublesome kid, but rather, I turned into this quiet shy teenager. When I went to Jordan that summer when my journey with cancer started, my relatives were all quite surprised with the new person I became. They all told me that I looked all pretty and grown up now.
After a long night of family talk and catching up with friends, I went to sleep. But I could not sleep throughout the night, as a very severe pain in my right leg woke me up and had me crawling to my parents’ room for help. All the doctors I had seen told me that it was probably a cold or a muscle cramp.
Not long after I came back to Qatar though, I found out that the pain came back again. In school, the administrators did not believe me when I told them that I was not feeling well and that I needed to go to the hospital, as they knew what a troublemaker I used to be. Even when my mother took me to the hospital, the doctors never pointed out anything serious, and nothing was ever shown from the MRI scan results. One day, I went to an orthopedic clinic, where they checked on me and transferred me to Hamad General Hospital, where I stayed as an in-patient for two weeks, in which they took a biopsy twice. After the second biopsy results confirmed the diagnosis, a doctor, whose very red face I cannot forget, approached me, kissed my forehead, and asked to talk to my mother privately outside.
When my mother came back, her eyes were all puffy and her face was all red. When I asked what was wrong, she told me that she was happy that I was finally discharged. I did not buy it, but I had no reasons to believe my mother would lie to me, so I went with it. She did not tell me that I had cancer; rather, she told me that I had a sebaceous cyst. My parents did not want to accept what was coming, so they took me to Jordan to meet the doctor who treated the late King Hussein of Jordan. They had hoped that it was all some kind of a nightmare that we would wake up from, but my diagnosis was no nightmare. It was real, ugly, but real. The doctor in Jordan confirmed the diagnosis and told my parents that the treatment plan was the same there and in Qatar. Having lived all my life in Qatar, my parents knew I would not want to stay away from my home and my friends unnecessarily, and so, we returned to Qatar. All the while maintaining the act my mother performed when she first knew about my tumor. I understand today that all what my mother did was to try to protect me from the dreadful truth. But like all truths, this one had to come out eventually.
I had an appointment scheduled at Al Amal Hospital in Qatar. Coming for the appointment and reading the title, “The National Center for Cancer Care and Research” on Al Amal hospital’s building freaked me out, as I have always associated “cancer” with death. I immediately looked up to my mother in shock, asking her why we parked in front of a cancer care center, but my mother told me with a calmness that, to this day, still dazzles me, that this was a big hospital with many specialties and was not limited to oncology. My mom, as usual, came to meet the doctor individually before I went in to ask him not to disclose any information on my diagnosis to me. However, the doctor deemed it necessary that I knew and got informed about my diagnosis and prognosis. At the time, I had no clue what the word “tumor” even meant. We stayed for more than seven hours that day in the hospital, and all I could see around me was the darkness of what my future would bring me.
My case was quite rare. Actually, I was the first minor in the Middle East to get the type of pelvic cancer that I had. I was also the youngest patient in Al Amal hospital, as children up to 13 years old are treated at Hamad General Hospital, and I had just turned 14 at the time. The course of treatment was 18 sessions of chemotherapy, over two years and a half. I went through an excruciating 24-hour pelvic exenteration surgery to remove diseased tissue from the lower body cavity. I stayed in the intensive care unit for two weeks after surgery. When they removed the last needle off me, in preparation to discharge me, I did not know what I was supposed to be feeling or saying. I stared at my mother, who was gazing at me. We both smiled widely, with tears filling our eyes and not even a single word coming out of our mouths. What I felt that moment was surely something beyond words. Leaving the hospital and going back home for the first time in what seemed like forever, I was the happiest person in the world. I was contemplating the landscape out of the window with so much joy. Although it was nothing but a barren desert, it was a whole beautiful world in my eyes.
Despite all the excruciating pain that I felt during the entire course of my treatment, I was always determined to fight. I wanted to fight cancer and win against it. Because of that, I did not give in. I wanted to live, for those who believed I could and even more so for those who believed I could not. I wanted to show everyone that I was stronger than cancer, and that cancer was not just another synonym for death. My family was very supportive of me. They stood by me all the way. My mother and one of my sisters even wanted to shave their hairs to make me feel better, but I did not allow them to, of course. However, many people did not think I would make it out alive, either; they believed it was a lost battle. Many people whom I loved gave up on me and never even asked how I was doing, as they knew the answer would be one that was unfortunate or tragic to hear. This made me all the more stubborn and determined to fight and win. The day I left the hospital cancer-free, I declared to my mother that I was intent on being a new person, living a new life. I remember I was expected to retain my ability to walk after one year, but it only took me six months to walk again. My hair grew back. I developed a new, healthier lifestyle. I met new people and became more social. My cancer journey was painful yet insightful. I have come a long way and I have learned many valuable lessons. I am thankful for everything that has happened to me. I am a resilient person because of it. I am now in my first year of college, turning 20 soon. I am hopeful of what the future is holding. Whatever is coming my way, I believe that I have the strength and stamina to face it and beat it because my cancer made me stronger.
All things considered, if I could name three traits that helped me in my journey, these are my determination, patience, and strength. And if I could give any cancer patient one piece of advice, it would be to never let those three attributes go, to never give them up because the battle against cancer, without a doubt, is not an easy one. It is hard. That being said, the brave warriors need to give themselves a reason to live for and need to hold on to the things that help them endure. I also want to remind all cancer patients in the world that they are the strongest people I know who exist, and that they are the champions. I know that cancer is just another enemy that we can fight if we leave fear aside and face it with strength and hope. I have beaten cancer, and so can you, and you, and you! Let us not let this evil monster take us from ourselves and from our loved ones. Let us all fight cancer, and let us all win the battle with “determination, patience, and strength.”