The art of survivorship: A breast cancer survivor’s perspective
People think I’ve gone mad when I tell them that having stage I invasive ductal carcinoma — a type of breast cancer — was really a blessing in disguise. Either that or the chemobrain has completely taken over. But it was through my breast cancer diagnosis in March 2009 that I found my life’s purpose.
As a registered nurse, I’ve made a career out of helping people. I’ve been working beside my physician husband, Abdul, for more than 24 years. But my passion is giving back to others through my volunteer work.
Today, I am eight years into my breast cancer survivorship, and I consider it an art. I walked that difficult journey with faith, dignity and pride — and I never gave up hope. Ever since, I’ve wanted to encourage other cancer patients to do the same.
A desire to give back after breast cancer treatment
I knew early on in my cancer journey that I wanted to give back. So, as soon as I finished chemotherapy in July 2010, I started volunteering at MD Anderson in the myCancerConnection Hospitality Center. Every Tuesday morning, I’ve been at the Mays Clinic supporting patients and caregivers by sharing comfort, hope and resources to make their battle a little easier. Over the past seven years, I’ve logged more than 1,000 volunteer hours.
I also share hope with patients through myCancerConnection, MD Anderson’s one-on-one program for patients and caregivers. Sometimes, I even share my own story to emphasize how important preventive care is and what a huge difference early detection can make.
Staying upbeat during breast cancer treatment
Breast cancer also gave my husband and me a chance to teach our children, Fatima and Isa, how to live hopefully. When I was first diagnosed, we decided that God had given us an opportunity to turn a negative experience into something positive.
That meant keeping our life as normal as possible and making sure there were no changes to the kids’ routine. No matter how tired I was from chemotherapy, I would set my alarm so I could get up before they came home from school and meet them at the door when they got off the bus.
We didn’t let breast cancer stop us from traveling either. With my physician’s permission, we took trips in between my chemotherapy treatments. One was to Paris, which was a surprise for the kids. The highlight of that trip was how perfectly I blended in with the French women, who thought I was making a fashion statement with my bald head.
Unexpected blessings from my breast cancer journey
My breast cancer journey has opened doors for me that I never thought possible.
In 2015, as chair of MD Anderson’s myCancerConnection Cancer Survivorship Conference, I was given the opportunity to meet and introduce fellow cancer survivor and “Good Morning America” anchor Robin Roberts.
My cancer journey was only beginning just as hers was ending, but every morning I would curl up on my sofa and watch her on TV. I saw her getting stronger as time went on, so she was my inspiration to never give up. It was a dream come true to finally meet the person who had given me so much courage.
My journey also inspired our artistic daughter to study medicine. One day, she hopes to use her talents to help other cancer patients, possibly as a plastic surgeon performing reconstructive surgery.
With all of these blessings for myself and my family, I have never asked, “Why me?” at any point in my cancer journey. Given the choice, of course, I would not have wanted breast cancer. But because of it, I have found my true purpose in life.