Cancer at 22!

My name is Zahra, and I am a warrior! I am sharing my story in the hope that if you or a loved one has been recently diagnosed with cancer, it will take you beyond the pain and help you through the difficult days ahead.

Exactly four months after my wedding, I started having massive headaches. I was in great shape otherwise, so I was not particularly concerned when the Emergency Room doctor told me he needed further scans. The medical consensus was that I had probably too much stress due to being distant from my spouse (visa issues!) and being a newlywed. However, my internist ordered a battery of tests. Even though everything else was ruled out, he was as shocked as I when the CT scan showed evidence of a metastatic disease.

Life turned surreal as the medical tests began to determine what kind of cancer I had. It then was affirmed that I had a brain tumor.

The days passed in slow motion as I waited to find out whether I was a candidate for surgery and then for the date of the surgery to arrive. When the details of the surgery were explained to me, they literally took my breath away and brought tears to my eyes. Although there was no evidence of cancer outside the tumor, the doctors recommended chemotherapy following the surgery. Again, I was absolutely terrified but I felt I had no choice. Three long months of chemo passed; it was pretty terrible, but not nearly as bad as I had imagined.

The diagnosis and treatments wreaked havoc on my world. Perhaps because I was accustomed to being strong, self-reliant, in control and, of course, a little pushy. Suddenly, I was not in control; instead of giving help and support, I was accepting it—from my parents, who literally looked 40 years older in those four months! Without much warning, I was too tired and weak to walk around; instead of running miles, I was in bed too exhausted to even lift a book. The next thing I knew, I had changed from a healthy, newly wed 22-year-old into a cancer patient: a frail, fatigued and, once chemo began, somewhat bald, old woman.

During this period, life revolved around cancer.

No matter what your state of health, the diagnosis of cancer is overwhelming for the patient and for everyone close to her. Anxiety, sadness, and depression are common for most cancer patients, and I was no exception. However, one fine morning, I finally thought to myself, No matter what, I have to win!

Over five years, with chemo, radiation, immunotherapy, and 13 surgeries—from a brain tumour to leukemia—the battle still goes on! I suppose it is natural to take stock of the past when the future is so seriously threatened. Strange as is may sound, I feel like a very lucky woman: I am blessed with parents and friends to care for me, including one special one who has grown from a friend by chance to a sister by choice! I had access to skilled and compassionate medical help from Tanzania to India! Not forgetting my teachers, who try to understand my situation and help me pursue my goals!

Indeed, life is uncertain and fragile for all of us.

In our society, it is easy go through life rushing to get things done. Cancer is a reminder to live each day fully, to seize the opportunity to express love and appreciation to those we care about, to take the time to stop and notice little things that can make life so enjoyable, to help others and remember to be thankful for whatever good fortune we have.

Love you my mama, papa, and bro! Oh, and did you think I forgot you, Afsheen? Thank you for all that you do! I am sorry for the days that I am low and tend to vent on you! I only do this because you are my source of strength.

For all of you reading this: We are gateways to our emotions: grief, anger, regret, sorrow, and even pain! Nothing is strong enough to break you—except yourself! So love, live, and laugh

*Names changed for privacy

Z. K.

About the Author | Zahra Kaneez

Z.K. is a 27-year-old warrior who's been fighting cancer for the past five years. A teacher and counselor by profession, she lives each day as it comes, providing rays of hope to the underprivileged and less fortunate ones in the villages of Tanzania.

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