Maha didn’t shed a single tear throughout her Breast Cancer treatment. Besides being a woman with tremendous strength of mind over matter, she was also always surrounded by loved ones and maybe the reality of what she was going through didn’t effect her as much as would be expected. When she finally launched her book “رحلة مواجهة” (“Journey of Confrontations” in English) in early 2011 to a crowd of more than 550 persons, she was so moved by the public’s overwhelming support and for having achieved this goal of getting her story out, that tears this time were inevitable.
Maha, who was diagnosed in 1993 with Breast Cancer, knew from the very instant she felt a hummus-sized lump that this was cancer. After all, cancer was no stranger to her family, having inflicted both her parents and other close relatives.
She boldly walked into her doctor’s office the next day and declared “Good Morning Doctor. I have cancer.” I don’t know how many women would say that, and even more than that, who’d boldly look at the disease straight in the face this way. Her initiative to get to the point from the start also accompanied her treatment. “I want to live. I want to fight it!” she told me – a determined attitude that has been accompanying her since day one of her journey.
One of the things that helped her cope, and which she recommends to all other patients that have the opportunity, is to “take the initiative to speed things up”. Need to take an exam? Done, next. Doctor confirms results? Done, next. Start chemotherapy? Done, next.. and so on. “I was on a mission and was following it up” she said, stressing on the importance of not letting the mind wander either.
Keeping this attitude is not easy though, especially when battling an aggressive type of cancer that has not completely left her body yet. “I’m hanging on to life.. The worst scenario is death, but I keep telling myself: I’m not going to die of cancer. I’ll probably die of something else..”
The worst scenario is death, but I keep telling myself: I’m not going to die of cancer. I’ll probably die of something else..
Education and literature also undoubtedly played a big role during her treatment too, giving her insight into her options when it came to making big decisions regarding the disease. She was reading “till [she] dropped!” books about diet, radiation, chemotherapy and anything to do with Breast Cancer. Even until today, Maha will read anything on the topic. “It’s become almost a hobby for me.. I’m always greedy for literature.”
Alongside her thirst for knowledge, Maha attributes the role of faith, positive thinking, work, the people surrounding her and her determination to live as factors that have helped her deal with the disease. “I feel God is with me.. Cancer is going to give up on me.”
Her advice for everyone, not just breast cancer patients, is not to take things for granted. “I don’t take my health for granted.. We all take too many things for granted. We need to wake up! Instead of buying a $3,000 pair of shoes, buy a pair for $200 and do something meaningful with the rest. Spend even as little as one hour a week in the hospital with patients.. Put a smile on someone’s face. People unfortunately don’t realize this until it’s too late.”
If that doesn’t inspire you to rethink your life, I don’t know what will. Having had a chance to sit with Maha and discuss her experience so intimately still affects me, even two months after I interviewed her. Not only has she published the first and only personal recount of a breast cancer patients’ experience in the Middle East, but she continually finds ways to spread awareness and positive thinking towards other patients. As Laura Bush herself said after the book launch, “Maha is the woman who finally broke the silence and taboo.”
And she certainly did. At her book launch and signing earlier this year Maha describes “I just felt so proud of myself.. I felt that me and all these patients, we have the same language.” She came to realize that breast cancer patients in the region are hungry to find out more about the disease and need more books like this, written with them in mind.
“I made this book for breast cancer patients. I insisted on a writing style that wouldn’t get the patient lost.” Her book, describing a very personal recount of her experience from diagnosis in 1993 until now, is her journey – a journey of confrontation that one can’t help but admire and respect Maha even more for. Her book is distributed free-of-charge to different breast cancer organizations in Jordan with proceeds from sales elsewhere going towards the King Hussein Cancer Foundation.
I’m not considered a survivor. I haven’t survived it yet but will keep fighting..
She clarifies, however, when people and organizations refer to her as a survivor, “I’m not considered a survivor. I haven’t survived it yet but will keep fighting.. Admist everything, I’m still here”
Maha has all our support and best wishes as she continues her confrontation. We hope to have her in Beirut soon to talk more about her book and break the taboo here where it’s also much-needed.
Read more about her book “رحلة مواجهة” (soon to be published in English):