Marwa Adel – Breast Cancer Survivor: I didn’t allow myself to be sadQCS Team
“I was stronger than cancer”; these were the first words of Mrs. Marwa Adel, who expressed her journey with breast cancer.
A strong 39-year-old lady defeated breast cancer in a battle that lasted for two years. “I was stronger than my disease.”
Marwa came to Qatar in 2006 after she got married at the age of 25. She was blessed with her three kids. In April 2014, they were moving houses, and she was involved in the process. One day, when she was taking a shower after an exhausting day, she performed a breast self-examination. This is when she felt a ball-like mass in her right breast. After discussing it with her husband, he recommended she get it checked at the health center.
In the health center, the physician assured her everything was fine and gave her an imaging appointment at Hamad General Hospital. With her concern, she went to a private hospital for the checkups. On the same day, she did lab tests and mammography, and she was instructed to come back in 2 days for the results. After two days, the physicians told her that the mammography showed “something,” and she needed to do a biopsy for the mass.
Before the biopsy, Marwa was not bothered by the mass at all. “It was not painful, absolutely no symptoms,” Marwa said. However, after the biopsy, she started to feel pain at the biopsy site. “The pain was unbearable … I had to wait with it for one week to follow up with the biopsy results.”
“Three days before the follow-up appointment, the doctor called me to come and talk with him. I knew this meant the results were out.” Marwa went to the doctor with her husband. She did not know what the results might have to say about her mass, but she was not anticipating what the doctor would tell her, nor did she want to hear it. “It is cancer,” the doctor uttered.
Her immediate reaction at that point was to ask about the nature of cancer: “What does this mean? Benign or malignant?” “Malignant,” the doctor said. She did not know how to react after that, and she did not control her rush of emotions. Her husband held her hands tightly to calm her in a way she could not forget. Her husband asked about the next step, to which the doctor replied that another biopsy was needed to determine the extent of the malignancy. It was done on the same day.
Marwa was booked to do the surgery the following week. In the days before the surgery, she slowly accepted the shocking news and came to terms with her diagnosis. “I kept saying alhamdulillah (Thank God) repeatedly, and I accepted God’s fate. I was spending more time with my kids playing with them and kissing them as if I would not be able to see them again after the surgery.”
In the surgery, they removed the mass: 3 cm around its margins and 14 axillary lymph nodes. Reconstructive breast surgery was also done, and she was discharged the following day. The doctors told her that she needed chemotherapy. Since chemotherapy costs are significant in private hospitals, they referred her to the National Center for Cancer Care and Research (NCCCR) to continue her treatment. By that time, she fully accepted her diagnosis; “it’s like any disease, anyone can be susceptible, and it can come and go.”
In NCCCR, Marwa started her chemotherapy. She took six cycles, with two different types together. Before beginning chemotherapy, the doctor informed her that she might or might not lose her hair, and her response was, “it is okay; I do not care about my hair.” Right before her first session, she decided to cut her hair short; to this day, she keeps the hair with her. The first night after her first chemotherapy session, she played with her short hair and noticed it falling off. Then she decided to shave her whole head. She said, “my hair is going to grow back and even better than before. I am not sad about it.”
Marwa finished her last chemotherapy session in December later that year. A workup revealed a new tumor in the same place as the old one. She was referred to a surgeon at Hamad General Hospital. After reviewing her records, the surgeon told her that during his time, the whole breast needed to be removed, followed by an implant insertion. She proceeded with that. After her second surgery, the doctor told her that the other unaffected breast needed to be removed prophylactically due to the aggressive nature of her tumor. She did her third surgery and then scheduled a fourth plastic surgery on her breasts. After that, she started radiotherapy sessions.
For radiotherapy, she had 36 sessions in total. She used to have her session daily, except on weekends. After her 2nd or 3rd radiotherapy session, her implant site started to get inflamed, with lots of pus oozing out from the breast. She went to the ER, where they told her she probably had a hospital-acquired infection, and they quarantined her for ten days. During these ten days, an ambulance would take her from her quarantine to NCCCR to receive her radiotherapy. After ten days of quarantine, she was moved to the medical city, where she continued receiving her therapy for 1.5 months.
Since her implant got infected, the doctor recommended changing it to a silicon-based implant. However, even after changing the implant, the new implant got infected. The 2nd infection episode was more severe, and she stayed in the hospital for one month. The doctor informed her that her body was not accepting the implants, and they needed to be removed. She underwent another surgery to remove the silicon-based implants, but nothing else was placed. That was at the end of 2016, and she has been doing fine since then.
During hardships, having support from close people can be crucial, and, in some occasions, the patient can be the one offering support to people close to them. Luckily, Marwa had huge support from her parents, who supported them too. Before starting her chemotherapy sessions, she worked on getting her parents from her home country to visit Qatar. They knew nothing about Marwa’s diagnosis at that time. Right before starting chemotherapy, she informed her mother. She was shocked since no one in the family had breast cancer before, let alone having it at a relatively young age. Marwa was the one trying to comfort her mother.
In the same way, the mother came with Marwa to her first chemotherapy session to support her. Marwa’s mother was shocked by how strong Marwa was. The mother used to ask her, “where did you get this strength?”
Marwa’s husband was also very supportive of her. He supported her during her disease, and they came closer. “He showed lots of love, and I appreciate it.” Sometimes after her chemotherapy sessions, she used to be fatigued and in pain. She secretly would see her husband crying alone for her, even though he acted tough in front of her. She would crack jokes to make him feel better and show her strength. He told her, “you were the one supporting us, not us supporting you.” She says his new relationship with her makes it difficult for her now to do or say anything that would upset him.
After everything was over, she says that she turned a new page in her life. This experience has made a huge change in her life; she became a different person. She did not use to have a job, but now she works. She used to spend most of her time at home, and now she is more social and takes her kids out more often. She says her faith and trust in God’s decisions are huge; she became closer to God. “I have changed my lifestyle for the best. Nothing in life should make anyone feel devastated. Even if something sad happens, I turn it into something happy. I refuse to allow myself to feel sad.”