By Tala Aburous
December 2013, a busy day at work, in the bathroom, Eman stood there with her hand on her chest feeling heavy. Checking herself, something felt strange, a lump of some sort. Eman knew then and there that something was not right. That lump was new. She knew because she used to check herself regularly. Forty-five wasn’t young, but it wasn’t old either. A number of members in her family have been diagnosed with leukemia, including both her parents. She’s very neat, very spick and span. She was the type to bury herself into work and taking care of her family. Later that day she called in for a doctor’s appointment.
Under flickering fluorescent lights surrounded with pale, weathered walls that look like they have absorbed every patient’s heartache. Twiddling her thumbs, looking at the time on her watch, she waited. She waited until it was her turn, until they called her name.
Eman: What is it? If it’s positive, then please just tell me and let’s go to the next step and let’s figure out what to do.
Doctor: Wow you’re’ the first patient to handle it this way.
Eman: I don’t have time; I know how quickly cancer moves. I have three girls and I need to figure this out immediately. I can’t waste my life.
Astonished by her reaction the doctor nodded and started discussing Eman’s treatment options. She was diagnosed with breast cancer stage 3, invasive.
The news did not shake her, not until she’d seen her husband. The thought of her family without her dawned on her. She crashed into her husband’s arms like a little girl running to her daddy’s arms; “you are the strongest woman I know and I know this new challenge will only make you stronger. You will do it and we will do it with you,” he said.
She imagined her three girls in three white dresses and could not tolerate the idea that one day she might not be around for her daughters’ weddings.
After the surgery, she had four doses of chemotherapy. It was after the first dose that she started losing her hair. Eman was never one to prioritize vanity; she was always work and family focused, but seeing chunks of her golden-brown locks fall with each brush stroke was a different type of pain. Her skin turned ghostly white. She was unable to eat, constantly feeling nauseous.
She was tired and it showed.
For someone who dedicated her life to work and family, it was evident just how much she despised her sickness and deep down despised herself.
Eman: What about the girls? What about you? The house needs to be cleaned. I have to cook.
She cried. She felt helpless.
Her husband huffed: Eman! Please! We have raised these girls for this exact moment, and we’re all fine. All your life you have taken on everyone but yourself. This is your time to be selfish.
Clanging the bell, Eman had finished her chemotherapy and was deemed as a breast cancer survivor. After three months of chemotherapy, 28 sessions of radiation she wrapped her hands around that rope swinging it back and forth with pride.
Through this, she found a community of survivors who have become valuable friends. She found that to maintain the strong hero image she had worked so hard on portraying, she had to take care of herself first. To be able to take care of your kids you must take care of yourself. She knows that now.
At 55, and by July 2024 Eman will have completed her 10 years of hormonic medicine. And will be 100% cancer free.
Eman said enthusiastically: Baba is going out with friends; do you want to order boba? I want matcha.
Daughter: What time?
Eman: I don’t know, but I want matcha!
Daughter: Mama, I feel like the older you get, the younger your mindset gets.
Her daughter laughed as she pulled out her phone to order.