Flashback. Then Forward.

Written by Lara Safar

Today 4 years ago, I learned something that changed my life forever.
Today 4 years ago, I had discovered a piece of me I never knew existed.
Today 4 years ago, I said shit and actually felt it.
Today 4 years ago, I understood how unknown the future is.
Today 4 years ago, I had to break the heart of the people I love most.
Today 4 years ago, I cried my balls out.

But all that was 4 years ago. It was when I thought that that piece of me was toxic.
When actually – that little piece (little but powerful piece) made me taste survival. It also presented me to everything I love today.

So today I’m thankful.
Today I’m hopeful.
Today is a new day. And I hope many more of those will keep comin’.
And today – I call every woman out there to listen to her body if it ever cries, to always have hope, and most importantly, to keep that killer smile.
Because damn what a killer that smile is.

Lara-FlashbackthenForward

The Un-accidental Accident

Written by Jennifer Kanaan

When I first decided to write this, I thought I would know exactly what I wanted to say, but it turned out, I didn’t. It has taken me a couple of trials to get it out on virtual paper but I kept trying because it is important for me that my message reaches the people who may need it most.

The story I would like to share with you started about two years ago when I had a terrible karting accident in the Netherlands.

Although the accident itself was minor and I was able to walk out of the car, I felt a pain in my ankle. I didn’t want to go to the hospital at first but friends and colleagues insisted to be on the safe side. I entered the ER and did not leave the hospital for the next 10 weeks.

Jennifer before the accident that would change her life.

Jennifer before the accident that would change her life.

The accident had resulted in a ruptured pancreas and a broken ankle. Although I was in indescribable pain, I had no idea (at the time) of the severity of the injuries I had encountered.

As I learned more about the impact of these injuries, I began falling deeper and deeper into an unwillingness to fight for my life.

I was really struggling to accept what was happening to me and kept asking myself: how did I end up here? what did I do to deserve this? This made me very angry – and mostly, at myself! It was so much harder for the doctors and everyone else around me to help me when I felt this way. After all, how could they help me if I was unwilling to help myself?

Accepting and getting over that anger was the first and most important step towards my recovery. The sooner you do that, the sooner you start allowing the treatment (any type of treatment) to work.

After two months of excruciating pain and many repeated medical procedures, I decided to return home (to Lebanon) with the idea that being surrounded by friends and family would help me want to get better. And that slowly worked out.

The next major step in the recovery process was accepting that I had to go through surgery. The type of injury I had was rare and the type of surgery that would help save me was even rarer. The surgery had to be performed by an experienced surgeon and under the most calculated conditions otherwise I could very easily end up with diabetes at the young age of 25.

Being home was helping me heal. I was getting much better than when I had been in the hospital in the Netherlands, to the point where I was told to start preparing for the surgery (mentally and otherwise).

And because I was not mentally-ready for this, I desperately wanted to find a non-surgical solution, which is why I sought out the best gastroenterologist in the country. However, by the time I got to his office, I was screaming of pain. I couldn’t even stand up anymore. After a few exams, we unfortunately discovered that my health status was back at square one. It was as if nothing had changed since I was being treated in the Netherlands. I had to be hospitalized, again.

I did not believe how strongly you could affect your own health until that moment.

For some reason, I did not want to get better and when they told me that I was finally medically ready for surgery, I subconsciously allowed my health to regress in order to simply avoid it.

Nothing happens by accident, not even accidents. They are there for you to learn what you need to from them and move on. They will keep on happening until you do.

I obviously needed to learn another lesson at this stage to be able to move on, and that lesson was that your mind can affect your body in ways you wouldn’t think possible. I generally fear change and believe it or not, I found a certain comfort in being sick and stuck in the hospital. My fear of getting back to a normal life made me realize that I was avoiding getting better because that would mean back to independence and responsibility – and that was scaring me.

The moment I was hospitalized this time, I had to stop eating food in order to allow my pancreas to rest. And this, under my doctor’s orders, was until further notice or until I was ready for surgery. Out of everything I had gone through up until then, that was the hardest thing I had to do. There I was: in pain gain, stuck in the hospital, and to top it off, not even allowed to eat!

At this point, you might be asking yourself: why is this article being posted on a cancer support blog?

Well, because besides the steps towards recovery being similar for anyone going through a traumatizing experience, a few of the experiences I went through actually helped me relate to some of the challenges cancer patients face.

The three months I had to spend without eating and taking nutrition from a bag took their toll on me. Needless to say, I was losing weight dramatically and my hair with it. Slowly, I started cutting my hair shorter and shorter until even the water drainage pipes at home got clogged. Just running my hand through my hair, I would wind up with a huge clump of hair within my fingers.

It was getting exhausting to do any kind of activity and I was starting to see my bones. At this point, I had nothing to lose and everything to gain so I decided to do what I never would have thought of doing: shaving my head.

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The photograph Jennifer shared on Facebook after shaving her head.

For the first couple of days, I felt judgment in the eyes of others. Those who didn’t know me (or what I had gone through), thought I had cancer and were staring at me with pity. I would only leave the house to go to the hospital, but even there, people would look at you, making you feel empty of anything except the “disease” you were carrying.

I was feeling it, even though I did not have cancer.

At first, I opted to cover my shaved head until my friends convinced me that I actually looked good like that. To show my revolt against people’s judgement, I took a picture of myself and uploaded it onto Facebook.

The support I received from my friends was really heart-warming. From this point forward, I walked with pride – even along the corridors of the many hospitals I had to visit when I began looking for a surgeon qualified, decent and honest enough to operate on me. I was ready to go through with it.

I ended up getting the surgery done soon-after and I am now in much, much better health – even better than before the accident!

Jennifer boldly embracing her new look.

Jennifer boldly embracing her new look.

A very important part of the story, which I forgot to mention earlier, was what finally motivated me to get better and fight for my life: at the beginning of this experience, I saw the whole accident as a dark period in my life that was not going to get any better. I was convinced that everything in this world was evil and that there was no reason to put any hope in the goodness of mankind.. until I met a doctor who had faith in me and who also put up with my depression and mood changes. He was, and still is, one of the most humane, honest and dedicated persons I have ever met.

That was the moment I regained hope in humanity.

He prepared me for the surgery I was so-dreading, stood by me and walked all the way with me until he was sure I had the best possible surgery outcome.

Now, two years after the accident and one year after surgery, I thank god for making me go through this experience as it has changed me in so many ways and helped me know myself better. I am a much better person because of this and this is the only way you should see any negative experiences in your life.

Celebrating one year since surgery - she did it!

Celebrating one year since the surgery – she did it!

For someone who had no idea what she wanted to write, I think I have said enough and hope these messages stay with you. Let go of anger and fear, accept the pain as it is the only way for you to release it and, most importantly, forgive yourself because this is the only way to heal – both mentally and physically.

Jennifer now works as a Social Media Specialist in Beirut and blogs regularly about Nutrition and Holistic Health on New Trends in Nutrition. Follow her on Facebook too.

Lara’s Story: Two Years Later

We first interviewed Lara two years ago but even with the time that’s passed since, her story continues to inspire until today – as has been proven with the tremendous response her post has garnered in the past week when we re-shared the original post. And it comes at a perfectly-fitting time with breast cancer month in full swing and the need for the right awareness ever-present. Nothing gets the message across better than hearing it from someone who has not only fought but beat cancer because of early detection.

For those of you who have been closely following Lara’s story and are wondering how she’s doing today, we did the following interview to share with you the latest chapter in her ever-inspiring story. Life may be going one way once you’ve just completed treatment, but how much (or little) do things change when one year, two years, or more have passed?

To get more insight on this subject, we posed a few questions to this very inspirational survivor and here’s what she had to say:

1. In our first interview, you introduced yourself as Lara, the “twenty-seven-year-old breast cancer survivor”. How has this introduction evolved since and how do you introduce yourself today?

I was chatting with a friend of mine last week about someone who recently got diagnosed with breast cancer – and for a moment I had completely forgotten that I had undergone the same thing!

I think our mind is programmed in a way to keep us going without looking behind – except when we purposely choose to.

2. Has the experience left any physical scars?

I have a couple but they are barely noticeable thanks to my genius doctor, whom I love!

Other than that, does a tattoo count?

I was once labeled as a girl who had cancer. Now, I am labeled as a survivor – literally.

Lara's tattoo

3. More than 5K views and 1.6K likes later: your post on our website has undoubtedly reached a wide audience and touched many. How did people, in general, react to your story (especially those who didn’t know it before) and are there any notable responses that were shared as a result of the post?

I’ve received lots of messages from friends and random people admiring my courage and stating I was an inspiration; all of which delighted me. However, my aim is to raise awareness and encourage women to get examined. I guess I’ll never know for sure whether they’re doing it or not, but I’d like to think they are.

4. How would you describe life post-cancer? Any self-discoveries along the way since our last chat?

In the previous interview two years ago, I had mentioned how I am still very much the same person: still the same friends and still enjoying the same things in life. This still stands. And all those stories you hear or read about how someone had completely metamorphosed are either fictional or perhaps I am just odd. I hope it isn’t the latter!

I must say, though, that today my appetite towards discovering new things has definitely multiplied; simple pleasures can make me euphoric.

Oh – and one thing that has constantly been changing in the past three years is my hairstyle.

LaraTwoYearsLater-Photo02E

5. Speaking of which: has your hair grown back to the way it used to be before chemotherapy? What’s happened to your wig since?

When I had very long hair, I used to threaten hairdressers not to cut more than a centimeter or so. Now I can’t stay away from my adored hairdresser for more than a month.

Only recently have I been growing it back a little but every time I come across a woman with short hair, my heart goes “boom!”: it’s bold, it’s got attitude – it’s different.

Concerning my wig, it’s in the same place it has been since my bald days: deep down in the closet – speaking of which, I’d like to donate it to a cancer patient who will actually wear it!

6. We can’t help but smile each time we look at your “Finish Line” photograph in our previous interview. Do you do anything special to celebrate each year since completing your treatment?

The ultimate celebration will happen once they find a cure. There are so many women out there fighting breast cancer, so we haven’t won the war yet. However, we’re winning many battles thanks to early detection.

I’d like to quote my dear brother here:

“Every milestone is a celebration. Every survivor is a celebration of life. It springs hope in people and inspires them to remain positive and be mentally ready to challenge and beat cancer. We always have to celebrate our small wins in everything we do. This leads the path to bigger celebration – which in this case is cure.”

7. One of the biggest fears women who’ve undergone cancer treatment share is a fear of recurrence. Does that fear diminish as the years pass and what are your particular thoughts on this?

I don’t really think about it unless I’m prompted. There’s no point in living in anxiety and fear of something that’s uncertain: it just drains all your energy and for nothing! This applies to everything in life, not just health.

Hopefully it will never come back, but if it does, I now know the drill and I will do my utmost best to kick its ass the same way I did before.. if not stronger!

8. What does the month of October mean to you as a survivor?

I love it when in October I see random people wearing the pink ribbon, shops changing their window display to pink or nail bars promoting their pink range. It’s just so cool!

But at the same time, I hope awareness is being raised through all of this and that it’s not just for show. I also hope that awareness is not just brought up during this particular month but rather continued all year long.

LaraTwoYearsLater-03

9. Is there any advice you’d like to share with other women reading this?

For starters, stop postponing your routine medical check-ups.

Yes, we all dislike wasting those two hours at the doctor’s waiting area but what are two hours compared to hundreds of hours spent in chemotherapy sessions, radiation therapy, surgery, bed rest.. You get the picture.

Even more so: those two hours could extend someone’s lifetime so please go waste them – and with a smile.

And take your mama with ya!

10. We would like to end our interview with a similar question to that with which we closed our first interview: What kind of breast cancer work and/or awareness would you like to see more of in the region?

Currently, most awareness campaigns are targeted towards women above a certain age. They are often lunches for socialites where large donations are expected, where awareness is disseminated in an old-fashioned way, etc. So what I’d love to witness is more striking campaigns and events targeting the younger generation who seem to believe they are not at risk.

Ideally, awareness campaigns that are able to convert into results whereby each and every woman gets a check-up and help us really fight the war against breast cancer.

So whomever wants to join forces, please raise your hand!

LaraTwoYearsLater-04* All photographs in this interview are provided courtesy of Lara.

Behind-the-Scenes of “The Bald and the Beautiful”

A few weeks ago, we came across Katie’s personal breast cancer blog, cleverly entitled”The Bald and The Beautiful” on the Canadian breast cancer blogging platform Facing Cancer Together. Her light-hearted and descriptive writing style takes us along with her on the journey of recovery. Part of the healing process for many survivors is putting it in writing, and reading her blog you know she’s not holding back. We took a few minutes to interview Katie to find out more about her story:

Katy didn’t have a wig stand during treatment, so she sent us a photo of how she kept her wig in place – on a glass vase. Does the trick doesn’t it?

1. How did you find out that you had breast cancer? 

I found a lump in my right breast. It was the size of a golf ball and I could not only feel it, but also see it when I took off my bra. I told my family doctor about it when I went for my yearly physical and she ordered an ultrasound, which showed no reason for concern. A follow-up appointment was booked three months later when another ultrasound was done. At the follow-up appointment, I also had a mammogram and it was the mammogram that showed reason for concern. I had a biopsy 13 days later and 11 days after that I was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer.

2. What was your first thought upon hearing the diagnosis?

My very first thought was one of disbelief. I didn’t think you could get breast cancer at 26 with no family history of it so to be honest, I wasn’t shocked – I just really didn’t believe it. I guess that was followed by numbness; it took a while to set in that I actually had cancer. Actually, I’m not sure if it ever really set in. It still, to this day, feels like I’m lying when I say “I’ve had cancer.” I also felt embarrassed in the very beginning, even though I had no control over what was growing in my body. I felt embarrassed and didn’t want anyone to know in the first couple of weeks.

3. What was treatment like?

Chemo is just a word until you’re the one who’s about to go through it. The night before my first treatment, I was so overwhelmed with the ‘unknowns’ that I was about to face but the nurses made me feel comfortable as soon as I walked into the cancer centre. Everyone reacts differently so I was aware of what MIGHT happen but no one could tell me for sure how I would react.

“I just kept thinking, if I feel this bad, imagine how the cancer must be feeling.”

I had 6 chemo treatments and I reacted differently to each one of them. There were days when I was throwing up and other days when I wasn’t. There were days when I needed to have three or four naps throughout the day and there were days when I was awake from morning to night. I just kept thinking, if I feel this bad, imagine how the cancer must be feeling. Treatment is awful but they know it works and if chemo was what was going to kill any cancer left inside of my body then sign me up.

4. Is breast cancer genetic in your family? If not, how were doctors able to explain why you were diagnosed with it at such a young age? 

Breast cancer is not genetic in my family. My tumour was removed and then tested for three things (the same three things that all breast cancer tissue is tested for); estrogen, progesterone, and Her-2. My tumour ended up being estrogen positive, meaning it was estrogen that was causing my tumour to grow. I am currently on a drug called Tamoxifen which is a form of hormone replacement therapy that I started after chemo ended and I will need to take it for the next five years.

The ‘why’ of my diagnosis wasn’t really focused on, my team of doctors seemed to focus on getting rid of the cancer and focus on the necessary treatment. I’ve spoken to other cancer patients who have said the same thing, it doesn’t seem to matter why you have cancer, it just matters that we get rid of it.

5. What helped you recover during and after treatment?

There are three things that helped me with treatment.

The first thing that I recommend to everyone going through treatment is water. Drink as much water as possible, especially during treatment. You are having poison put through your veins and the best way to cleanse your body is by drinking as much water as possible.

“The first thing that I recommend to everyone going through treatment is water. Drink as much water as possible, especially during treatment.”

The second is sleep. It is amazing how tired you can get from chemo. You need to sleep as much as possible. When you get tired, your body is telling you to sleep and it is your job to listen to it.

The last thing, but certainly the most important, was my family and friends. When you have cancer, everyone around you feels so helpless so when they can do something to help (do your laundry, cook some meals, paint your nails, etc.) it not only helps you out but it lets them help in an otherwise helpless situation.

So to summarize, drink lots of water, stay rested, and surround yourself with family and friends.

6. Were you able to meet other survivors your age and how important is the role of support during treatment?

When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, I thought I was alone (you just don’t hear about women in their twenties having breast cancer). But, after 3 months, I started writing a blog for facingcancer.ca and found out about two other women only a couple of years older than me who had been diagnosed with breast cancer too. I have since met a handful of women who have had breast cancer in their twenties and thirties. You never hear about it but unfortunately, breast cancer has become a reality for many young women.

“Chemo can cause your mind to play some pretty mean tricks on you.”

The term ‘support’ carries a variety of meanings. I never went to a support group but had incredible support from my family and friends. To be honest, I think I would still be hiding under the covers with the lights turned off if it wasn’t for my support system. Chemo can cause your mind to play some pretty mean tricks on you; the psychological part of treatment is overwhelming and I was not prepared for it at all. I was reminded by one family member that it would all be a memory one day soon. I just kept reminding myself of that after every treatment and now it IS just a memory. Support is essential during treatment!

7. Did you wear a wig and why did you choose to do so?

I purchased a wig before my hair fell out. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I wanted to have it just in case there were days when I wanted to have hair but I never once wore it. I went through chemo in the middle of summer and it was just too hot. And, although I really liked the wig, I was confident enough not to wear one, so why suffer with the heat?

I wore my bald head around like a badge of honour. I wanted people to know that just because I have cancer doesn’t mean I am stuck in bed for the duration of treatment. I can go to the grocery store, take public transit, and go out for dinner just like every one else.

8. Would you like to share any experiences with wearing a wig?

I had a bright pink wig that I got within a few weeks of being diagnosed. I love the colour pink and it also happens to the colour of the breast cancer ribbon. Anyway, I wore the wig three time. The first time was at a benefit dance that my friends threw for me. By the end of the night, I had taken it off because it was so hot and so many of my friends tried it on throughout the night. It was nice to watch other people wear it because it seemed to bring everyone together that night. The second time was at a wedding. At that point in my treatment, I really stood out because I was completely bald so because I was going to stand out anyway, I might as well try to look good. I wore the pink wig throughout the ceremony, dinner and only took it off near the end of the dance. Lastly, I wore the wig to my final chemo appointment. Because I had worn it on two other joyous nights, why not wear it to my last chemo treatment too? I’m glad I did because all of my pictures from my last treatment day are of me with hair (even if it was bright pink).

9. How has breast cancer changed your outlook on life? 

“I am still planning for the future however I think I’ve started living for the present which is something that I didn’t necessarily do prior my diagnosis.”

Well, at the cost of sounding too cliché, I think I have realized that life is so precious and that we are only on the earth for a finite number of years. I try to keep in mind that if today was the day I was supposed to die, that I made yesterday worth living. In other words, I am trying to enjoy the day to day small victories and the simple pleasantries in life. I am also trying not to pass up any opportunity that will make me a better person. I am still planning for the future however I think I’ve started living for the present which is something that I didn’t necessarily do prior my diagnosis. I was so worried about the next week, next month, and next year instead of focusing on right now. Cancer has taught me that there may not be a next week so make this week worth living.

10. Do you have any tips or advice for other breast cancer patients your age about to undergo the same thing?

Well, if I could tell a young woman who was just diagnosed anything it would be;

  • You’re not alone, there are other young women with breast cancer who understand what you are going through.
  • Don’t try to control what you can’t control. Cancer and treatment affect our body image, fertility, our hormones, our hair, etc. and instead of trying to control that, try to control your reaction to it. Surround yourself with good people and they will help you cope with the devastation.
  • Allow yourself to have bad days. I don’t think anyone can get through a cancer diagnosis without some tears, and some anger, and some frustration but what I always said was, I have to go through this whether I want to or not so I might as well try to make it easier on myself by putting a smile on my face. I didn’t have very much control over anything once I was diagnosed with cancer so if my attitude is one of the few things I do have control over then I’m going to try to stay positive for as much of this journey as possible
  • You have to learn to excuse other people sometimes because they aren’t aware of what they are saying. If someone says “Oh, it’s just hair, it will grow back” (which I was told many times), they are trying to make you feel better; what I wanted to say was “Oh, so you’re going to cut your hair off with me then?”. Many people have told me about someone close to them who has died from cancer while I was going through treatment as well. Many times people are trying to relate and instead end up offending you.
  • Finally, although it may feel like cancer has become your life right now, remember that you are more than your diagnosis and you are more than cancer. Although your cancer diagnosis stays with you forever, a lot of this will be a memory one day.
* BONUS QUESTION (FOR THE GUYS) *
During the interview, we found out that Katie has a very supportive boyfriend who’s been by her side throughout her journey of overcoming the disease. Oftentimes, breast cancer awareness focuses on the woman but it’s also important to show how men react when their loved ones are growing through this. We asked Katie the following question to help any man reading this gain some insight into how they can help their partner going through a similar experience:
How did your boyfriend react? How important was his role and what did he do to make you feel better?

My boyfriend is a pretty incredible man. From the day of diagnosis, he has been by my side and never once said he didn’t want to do this anymore or threatened to leave me. He was scared for me in the beginning but once we understood what needed to be done, we became a team. Only six days after my diagnosis, I came home and there was a gift bag on the kitchen table. It was a gift from him to me. I opened it and inside was a journal. He wanted me to write everything I couldn’t tell him in this journal and he promised never to read it. He assured me that he was always there for me, but if there was anything I couldn’t tell him, I could now write it down in this journal. I think if it wasn’t for him, I would have given up a long time ago. He was my strength when I was too weak.

All through treatment he was doing anything he could or that I asked him to to make me feel more comfortable. He came home early from work when I was sick, he took me to every doctor’s appointment and came to every one of my treatments. I didn’t have a choice in having cancer so I had to deal with it but he had a choice and he chose to stick by my side and be my strongest support through the hardest time of my life. He loved me with two breasts and now loves me with one. I actually think we are now closer than we were before I was diagnosed.

Click on the image to visit Katie's blog.

We’d like thank Katie for sharing her experience with us. Be sure to check her blog and daily posts on “The Bald and The Beautiful“.

Lara’s Story

We had a chance to meet Lara Safar at the Bras for a Cause ME  fashion show in Dubai where she openly shared her inspirational story of overcoming the disease to all our guests, starting with the following simple yet very powerful introduction:

Two years ago, this is probably how I would have introduced myself: “Hi everyone, my name is Lara. I’m Lebanese. I’m 25-years-old and I work in advertising”. Today I say: “Hi everyone, my name is Lara. I’m a twenty-seven year-old breast cancer survivor.”

“Twenty-seven-year-old” and “survivor” in one sentence is not something you hear every day, but Lara has actively proven (and continues to do so) the importance of early detection – no matter how old you are. We took a few minutes to get to know this fascinating young woman a little bit better to spread her important message to all women across the Middle East:

1. How did you find out that you had breast cancer? 

I sensed a lump in one of my breasts but kind of ignored it at the beginning as I didn’t think it was anything abnormal. One day I could sense it, the next day I couldn’t. I thought it was in my head and that I was being paranoid until one day at the beach when a friend of mine felt it and encouraged me to get a doctor’s appointment (which I did). After that, I did some tests, including an ecography and a mammography before the doctor announced the news to me.

2. What was your first thought upon hearing the diagnosis and what was treatment like? 

I was shocked when I first found out because I was not expecting it. Given that I was only 25 years old at the time and that I didn’t have any family history, it came as a surprise for me.

My first reaction was that this is not possible; I didn’t believe it.

I thought the doctor was wrong until I did more tests and got checked by other doctors who also confirmed that I had attained stage 2 breast cancer.

The treatment varies case by case. Given my age and the stage of my cancer, I had to undergo chemotherapy for almost 1 year and 3 months. It was 1 session every 3 weeks. I also did a surgery whereby the tumor was removed from my breast, followed by daily radiotherapy treatment for almost 5 weeks.

3. Is breast cancer genetic in your family? If not, how were doctors able to explain why you were diagnosed with it at such a young age?  

No one from my family had been attained by breast cancer and it’s still a question mark as to how I was diagnosed with it at such a young age. No science so far has been able to determine the reasons behind breast cancer in general. It is said that the probability of breast cancer increases with age and if there’s a family history, but people tend to think that they can only be attained by it for those reasons – which is a total misconception. My case is the proof of that. It’s very important that people correct their conception with regards to this matter.

Stages of Recovery: Before, During and After (left-to-right) Photos courtesy of Lara

4. What helped you recover during and after treatment? 

Of course, what helped me was the support of my family, in spite of this being very hard on them. They never showed me that they were in pain and always kept a hopeful attitude with a smile on their faces. My friends were also always there for me and I was constantly surrounded by the people I love. Most and foremost, having an optimistic spirit was the key to surviving this episode.

5. Were you able to meet other survivors your age and how important is the support of others who’ve gone through the same thing? 

I haven’t met many people who were attained by breast cancer at quite the young age like I have – only 1 as a matter of fact and I met her at the hospital. She had discovered it after I had already started my treatment so my case was more advanced than hers at the time we met. She was still at the beginning of her treatment so I found myself helping her by telling her what to expect and the different stages she’d have to go through.

6. Did you wear a wig during treatment, and if so, why did you chose to do so? If not, what helped you to make such a bold decision? 

Before I started chemotherapy I had very long hair, which I loved. As soon as my hair started to fall, I went to a hair salon specialized in making wigs from your own hair. They cut my hair and used it to make the wig, but I never wore it. I felt as if I would be lying to myself as well as to others. It wasn’t right and it didn’t look nice or natural to me. So instead I resorted to wearing scarves which felt much more comfortable. I started matching them with my outfits and would constantly received compliments on them.

Given that I never wore my wig, my friends and family helped themselves to it instead. It was very funny seeing them in a new hairstyle – especially the boys!

Lara’s fabulous scarf style during treatment. Photos courtesy of Lara

7. How has breast cancer changed your outlook on life? 

Many people say that after rough experiences, their perception of life changes. To be very honest with you, that has not been the case with me. Like I mentioned at the Bras for a Cause event, I’m still the same person. I still like the same things and still have the same friends. Nothing has changed really except that maybe now I try to do more of the things I like to do (like eating out, traveling, etc…) and avoid doing the things that I don’t like doing (like exercising!). But that’s not because I think that life is too short; far from that! Rather it’s because I now feel that there’s no point in doing things that don’t matter to you.

8. What tips or advice would you like to give for other Middle Eastern breast cancer patients about to undergo the same thing? 

That there is no point in being sad or asking questions like “why me?” as this will not make the cancer go away. My advice would be to look at the bright side and look at all the good things that will come out of this experience as they’re countless.

Another important thing to bear in mind is to find the best doctors as they will give you the confidence you need and will provide you with the best treatment possible to increase your chances of surviving.

Lastly, dont spend too much time on the internet looking for answers. Most of the times they’re exaggerated and incorrect. Ask questions to the right people (i.e. doctors).

9. You’ve been very open about your experience, which isn’t very common in the region. What boosted you to do so and how has the public responded to your story? Do you find talking about your experience difficult? 

When I survived, I took a pledge to start raising awareness about early detection because I want other women to be able to survive this like I did – and early detection is key for that. More so, I believe there is no shame in being  a cancer survivor. On the contrary; after this experience, people have so much more admiration, respect and love towards me. So why to not talk about it, especially when it can help others and make a difference?

Lara sharing her story at the Bras for a Cause fashion show in Dubai (October 2011)

The public has been quite responsive to my story. I’ve done a lot of media interviews and have spoken at a couple of events. Following those experiences, I now get stopped by random people who applaud my courage and thank me for opening their eyes by sharing my story. I really hope that my message has resonated with others and that women will do regular check-ups religiously!

10. What did you think of the Bras for a Cause fashion show event [that you were also a guest speaker at]? What kind of campaigns would you like to see more of in the region? 

This is a brilliant event because although the core of it is breast cancer awareness, it was surrounded by other fun activities which encouraged people to attend and take part. If the event had been more focussed towards the cause and the medical side of it, then it probably wouldn’t have captured as much attention.

I really hope that more campaigns will take place in the region, and not just in October (breast cancer awareness month) but rather all year long.

Safe & Sound‘s activities, such as their walk-a-thon, annual survivor fashion show, book sale, and, most importantly, the 5,000 free mammography vouchers they give away to women who can’t afford to get checked are also good examples.

Lara celebrates reaching the “Finish Line” at the end of her treatment. Photo courtesy of Lara

Thank you Lara for taking the time to share your story with us. You’re a true inspiration and we applaud your commitment to spreading your message of breast cancer awareness. We wish you the best of luck in all you do!

UPDATE: Read the follow-up interview with Lara we conducted two years after this post here.