I could not believe it when I received the diagnosis, after nearly 15 years of being cancer free, that I had Stage 1 invasive breast cancer. I received this news during my regular annual follow-up examination in April 2013.
Here I would like to thank the radiology and pathology team at the Royal Hospital who took care of me. I want to share my fourth journey with cancer with you because it is an opportunity to reiterate that it doesn't matter if one year or 10 years have passed — regular examination and early detection is vitally important.
This diagnosis was just as tough for me, if not more so, than when I was first diagnosed with cancer in 1998. It doesn't become any easier but I am a prime example of someone who has lived the message we strive to impart at the Oman Cancer Association and Alhamdulillah as a result, I am able to share my story with you.
As with all those who receive this diagnosis, it was an emotional roller coaster — I had some tough choices and decisions to make. When I began the treatment, I had my emotional highs and lows. Positivity, faith, patience, a healthy attitude — all these things are easy to talk about but the reality is there are times when I experienced my lows. It was painful and it was emotional.
I am thankful to my family for being there to pick me up and help me get through those difficult times. After a long day of gruelling treatments and change of dressings and healing that simply wasn't progressing as expected, I would cry. My daughter would tell me that it was okay to break down at times but reminded me that I am a fighter and I have managed to fight this disease before and I can do it again.
I always turned to God to give me the strength to get through this journey. I didn't find strength on my own; it grew with every kind word of support, every prayer, every message, every e-mail, every phone call. I gained strength from those I knew who took out the time to reach out and let me know that they were thinking of me and praying for me in every step of my journey.
I learnt that true strength is not when you face life's challenges on your own; it is when you accept the faith and love of others and know that you are lucky to have those to lean on. It is from them that I found the courage to fight back my fears.
Only after surgery would I be informed whether the cancer had spread to the lymph nodes. After two long weeks, my doctors gave me the good news — the cancer was caught early enough and had not spread. This meant that chemotherapy was now a choice, not a necessity. The oncologist informed me that the protocol now is to give all patients three rounds of mild chemo to minimise the risk of recurrence. I think he saw the disappointment on my face and added that there was a new diagnostic test called 'Oncotype DX' which can predict the likelihood of recurrence.
The test results are categorised as high, medium or low risk. If the score was low, the small potential benefit from chemotherapy was not worth the side effects. I opted to go for the test. I think the three weeks waiting for the results were the most challenging for the whole family.
They assured me that, as with other challenges, we would face this one together. But one cannot describe the relief experienced and gratitude felt when the results came back as "low".
I was blessed because I had an excellent medical team, who listened to me and answered my concerns and my family team, who questioned every procedure and tests the doctors wanted to do.
There is no cookie-cutter approach to cancer treatment, and it is important that all options currently available are explored. My daughter would pull out her smartphone every time a new drug or option was proposed by the doctors; we would educate ourselves, absorb the risks, discuss it as a family and have a long list of questions ready for the doctor's next visit!
I am grateful to my husband, my children, and my family for their unwavering compassion and support, their unconditional love is humbling — they made me believe that it wasn't "my" fight, rather "our" fight. I would like to thank the medical team who looked after me, and all those who have been praying for me, who kept lifting me up spiritually throughout this difficult journey.
People have asked me about my plans now that I am back. The drive that witnessed the birth of our advocacy mission 10 years ago, while constant, has been revitalised by this experience. I will continue to spread awareness about cancer and build on the strides made with our mobile mammography unit and Dar Al Hanan in Oman. This is my ongoing journey of hope and I am a testament to the importance of early diagnosis.
I ask you all to join hands with the Oman Cancer Association to give strength to those going through this devastating illness and to donate towards research that will help save lives. I want my grandchildren to grow up,
In sha' Allah, in a world where cancer is no longer a death sentence.