This is a personal story about the toughest year of my life. A year that taught me and tested me. It all started on a day in December, 2013. I made two discoveries. Each shocked me to my core.
Firstly, I had breast cancer. Also? I was pregnant.
Dealing with the pregnancy and cancer together was almost too much. How was I going to manage? What would happen to my baby? My family? Who would look after my three year old son? I took it one step at a time. I decided to focus on the positives while the world as I knew it was turning upside down.
I was grateful that I had managed to catch it early. Because a sister of mine had already passed away from breast cancer, all of us sisters would get ourselves regularly checked. This practice helped me catch the cancer before it had spread too much.
I immediately commenced taking medical advice. I had to stay alive for my family. I would think of them as I drove myself to the hospital and back, all by myself as my husband was looking after our son at home.
I had been scared for my unborn baby. I carried this second life in my womb, even as the cancer tried to destroy my body. I couldn’t start the chemotherapy as it would damage my child.
I was fortunate yet again – the team at AKU helped me deliver the baby prematurely in his 34th week and kept him stable.
I had to undergo sixteen cycles of chemotherapy. The treatment was daunting. Radiotherapy felt worse because it left burn marks on my skin. Even clothes touching the affected areas caused pain. I had to undergo surgeries as well.
What did I focus on? I chose to be grateful that my newborn was doing well, and that I was not experiencing the worst of the side effects of the treatments. Sure, I had hair fall and mouth ulcers, but on the plus side? I escaped the nausea and chronic weakness that can accompany chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy lowers your body’s immunity and makes it weak against infection. This led me to develop a breast abscess. I had to halt my life-saving treatment until a surgery was done to remove the abscess. I also got a cheek infection for which I needed antibiotics. I still have the scar on my face.
Then the doctors found an issue with my uterus. They gave me two choices: either I opt to have it removed, or lose weight. I chose the latter. So far I’ve lost 60 lb, and still continuing. I learned we women should focus on self-care a lot more. It isn’t selfish – it’s survival! Now I always take an hour for my daily workout, seven days a week. I want to be here for my family.
My husband, brother, sisters, and my mother all stood by me. Even my son. He made a special effort not to make a fuss because we’d told him I wasn’t feeling very well. He let his father look after him and do all those things he was used to me doing. Even though he missed me, he didn’t complain.
I covered my head before I started experiencing hair loss, but there was one time my son saw me without my hair. I’ll never forget the look on his face. I sat him down and explained to him that Mama isn’t feeling well and that’s why we removed it. I tried not to overburden or scare him but also gave him enough information to for him to make sense of what was happening.
Throughout I only heard positive comments. It was a feedback cycle. I stayed positive, and when everyone from my surgeons to my gynaecologist gave me positive comments on my himmat, I drew strength from that.
I felt my faith was instrumental in getting by. I prayed and expressed gratitude to God for everything. I firmly believe He helped me get through. I just left it to God, held His hand, and He held mine.
Alhamdolillah three years this November and guess who is cancer free!
As narrated by Bushra Umair Mirza to Fatima Muhammad (Sub-Editor of SSP Blog)