‘1 in 2 of us born after 1960 will be diagnosed with cancer at some stage in our lifetime,’ say Breast Cancer Research UK.
Sadly, many of us may have a cancer story to share either from our own families, friends or within our neighbourhood, nevertheless this is an alarming statistic.
October is breast cancer awareness month and I feel privileged in marking this by sharing with you Samina Hussain’s journey with the disease. Samina reveals the challenges she’s faced and the lessons she’s learned over the past 13 months of her life.
So read on, be inspired as she tells us her unique story!
What was your initial response to the diagnosis?
Samina: Even before I had the confirmation my world had been shaken, the nurse’s expression following the mammogram said it all for me. ‘Right, Mrs Hussain, you have been diagnosed with a grade 3 breast tumour, we will have a MDT meeting and will contact you next week, just go home and rest,’ the doctor went on to say with no empathy whatsoever.
My life fell apart upon hearing the C-word. I thought I was having a general check up and had gone to the appointment by myself, a big mistake. This was just too much for me to bear. The timing could not have been worse, not that there is a good time to get cancer, I had left my job of 16 years to start a new one. The next few weeks were a rollercoaster of emotions. I became physically drained and angry. Angry with everyone, including God. Although there were no visible changes I felt that everyone’s eyes were staring at me everywhere, as if they all knew I had cancer.
‘Why me when there was no history of cancer in my family?’
The other question that lurked in my mind was that as a muslim woman what would the implications and risks be around reconstruction if I were to have a mastectomy and would it be permissible?’ I had a lot of questions about who I was going to become but felt very alone as it was very hard to truly share what I was thinking and feeling.
Nevertheless, I had convinced myself that I could not go through with cancer.
What happened next?
After my biopsy, the lump grew aggressively and by the time I had the lumpectomy 5 weeks later, it had doubled in size. At no point during the weeks between diagnosis and surgery was I offered choices with my treatment. The whole process was mapped out for me by the experts, and neither my family nor myself were really prepared for what was to follow. At the post surgery meeting I was told that chemotherapy was the next stage, this was the point at which I realised this was just the beginning of my journey, not the end. Somehow I just had to find a way of getting through this.
My husband gave me amazing support throughout but at this stage I knew I had my own fears and challenges ahead of me and that and I had to put a protective ring around myself. He needed to find his own coping mechanisms, as for the first time ever I was unable to reach out and support him.
How did you cope with each cycle of chemotherapy?
It was a challenge to say the least. Six hours of chemo left me with numb, ice cold hands and feet. My dear friend, Sbba knitted me some thick socks to get me through those hours. I had 6 cycles of FEC every 3 weeks which meant I had two bad weeks and one ‘resting’ week. My veins wouldn’t allow the chemo to go through so I had a pic line inserted which resulted in a blood clot.
I quickly realised that I needed structure and something to look forward to get me through this. So I planned afternoon teas, coffee with friends on the resting week. But then exactly 12 days after the first chemo I lost 70% of my hair – in clumps. I had no choice but to shave the rest off.
So here I was with a bald head, mutilated breasts and overweight with the steroids.
I hated looking in the mirror, I was not a pretty sight and this was the point when I actually stopped loving myself. The NHS gave me a wig to wear which I named Doris. I only wore Doris three times on social occasions as I didn’t feel she was really me.
Quite often when the world was relaxing and retiring at night I would be setting off to A&E, only to have more steroids and antibiotics being pumped in to my system. I found myself moving one step forward and two backwards.
The second cycle totally debilitated me, I could not function at all. I wanted it all to stop, I just wanted cancer to go away and leave me alone. But deep down and contrary to what my specialists advised, I knew that I needed something else besides the drugs and medical opinion to align my body and soul, as that is what I had been robbed of through this process.
I needed to trust my body again.
How did you cope with the remaining 4 cycles of chemotherapy?
I went to see the movie ‘Frozen’ with my grandchildren and from that day the phrase ‘Let it go’ became my mantra along with Vivian Greene’s quote, ‘Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass… it’s about dancing in the rain.’
At this point I was at my rock bottom, a friend suggested that I considered homeopathy and I remember feeling as if I had nothing to lose, I simply needed extra support. So I contacted Sadhna and explained my story. She assured me that homeopathy can work well alongside the conventional treatment supporting me with eliminating the side effects of chemotherapy. Homeopathy pulled me through each cycle of chemo making it easier to cope with and gave me the emotional cushioning that I craved. I began to feel a sense of order returning in my life and this was the liberating moment when I realised that cancer would not define me.
‘I was in control, and that’s when the process of loving myself again really started.’
Could you describe the support you received?
The emotional support I have been blessed with from friends and relatives has been phenomenal. My children and husband have been my pillars of strength and my faith in God grew stronger and the Quaranic citation, ‘Verily with every hardship comes ease,’ gave me hope. Facebook played a huge part in my life and it was my way of coping. I would upload photos, share my story, thoughts and fears. Cancer doesn’t affect just one person it affects the whole community. Those healing posts on Face book during my sleepless hours of the morning eased my pain. Thames Valley Hospice Haven, Macmillan and Penny Brohn support have been pivotal to my recovery along with reflexology, reiki and homeopathy. I could not have done this on my own.
At home we tried to keep business as usual as much as possible and so my online support was even more crucial for me.
How have you changed now?
You never go back to life as it was before cancer but you have to move on.
Previously I was working full time while being a grandmother and a social activist. I had burnt out. So the first realisation was that I had created cancer. I didn’t heed the messages that hypothyroidism and diabetes were previously conveying to me, I needed a bigger lesson.
I now have the answer to ‘Why me? It’s simple really, my immune system had been compromised and I hadn’t nurtured it. Each time I became unwell I reached for antibiotics and other medication so that my busy lifestyle wasn’t interrupted, but it never occurred to me that my body and soul were craving nurturing too. I allowed cancer to take over, I gave it an open invitation.
Cancer has given new meaning for me to patience, detachment and internal peace. I have realised that nothing really matters. I now appreciate the simplicity of life whereas before I didn’t have time to. I now say ‘No’ to anything that doesn’t sit comfortably with me and trust that everyone and everything will be ok.
I have finally learnt to put myself first.
I have also realised that changing jobs was in reality a blessing, my new employer supported me throughout the past 13 months. My diet and lifestyle have changed. I now practice yoga regularly, go to the gym and make more of an effort to look after myself in every way. Homeopathy continues to play an important role in my life, by supporting my digestive issues, weight loss and more, in fact, it provides my daily dose of soul nurturing. Chemotherapy, then radiotherapy and now taking Tamoxifen for the next 10 years means my back up support is even more crucial.
As a family we have become stronger than ever. I’ve changed but my relationships with everyone have changed too, this brings its own challenges, adjusting back to the real world again, without cancer as it means I see life very differently now. It hasn’t been an easy ride, but once again my emotional cushioning has helped me transition.
So what are your plans for the future?
It’s a time of new beginnings and it’s time to give back!
I am now working full time again but with a new mindset. There is so much I want to do – fund raise, get people talking about cancer, particularly in the Asian community where it’s very much a taboo. The charity I am setting up will focus on offering information for cancer patients. My attitude is let’s lock arms and get through this together. August 23rd this year was a special day for me, as the mammogram gave me the all clear. So now to celebrate my cancerversary I have pledged to donate 100 pairs of thick socks to Ashford Chemotherapy Suite, at King Edward Hospital, Windsor by Christmas.
Here is the link if you would like more information or to participate in any way https://www.facebook.com/groups/955718884486782/?fref=ts
And finally, What’s your message to the world?
Love yourself unconditionally, as nothing else really matters.
I hope you enjoyed reading this post, please do post your comments below and share on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, you never know who Samina’s story could help. Thank you!