Rona : Don’t lose hope to win your battle against cancerQCS Team
The first question – Rona – asked 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