A picture can be worth a million words. This is a phrase we so often hear to where it has become rather cliche. Its constant usage however, is a testimony to its truth and inevitable reality. A single picture can make us feel overwhelmingly happy, overwhelmingly sad, it can make us live a moment in a war halfway across the word or it can allow us a celebration with a hidden tribe in the jungles of Africa. However, in the case of Cancer survivor and fighter Hoda, a single image showing her shyly baring her mastectomy scars not only oozed inspiration, but mesmerisingly reflected a battle conquered softly. We wanted to know more and delve deeper into the beauty and the story we saw in this image.
“To me personally, a cancer is a symptom of a bigger disease, which is the disease of the stresses we put our bodies through whether emotional or environmental.” – Hoda
Hoda is a 41 year-old mother who lives in El Gouna, Egypt and has two young children – ages 7 and 8. In November 2015, while doing a spontaneous checkup after a friend’s funeral who died of cancer, Hoda discovered her first cancer lumps in one breast. Right away in the following month, she had a lumpectomy and removed the lumps. 6 months later during a followup check up she discovered the cancer in her second breast and this time her response to the news took a different route. “I refused to use radiation and take hormones because I didn’t like their side effects, instead, I chose to do natural therapy,” Hoda tells us.
For the following 3 months, Hoda began taking vitamins, juices, drinking a lot of water and applying an overall plant based diet. “If they could tell you why cancer happened, there would be an actual cure for it. To me personally, a cancer is a symptom of a bigger disease, which is the disease of the stresses we put our bodies through whether emotional or environmental,” Hoda wisely explains. The results of her decision were her obtaining way more energy, and becoming a much more positive person. However, this decision did not last long, as it required a certain commitment she could not necessarily continue making. “At the end of the day it’s about making the right decision, and the best one for my kids.” Therefore, after 3 months of natural therapy, Hoda decided to have a mastectomy and removed both her breasts.
Although her surgery relieved her from the cancer, it was very difficult for her to let go of a part of her body that she had always had and one that significantly had to do with her femininity
For the most part, those around her were very supportive and offered helping hands through it all. However, there were a few people who shied away from Hoda’s openness towards the cancer. “I live in a very small town, so I was open about the cancer and spoke about it normally,” Hoda explains adding that the word “Cancer” instills fear within people leading them into a state of discomfort in response to her openness. When it came to her kids, she refused to use the word “Cancer”. Her kids grew up hearing that their grandpa died of “Cancer”. Thus, to avoid unwanted and fearful reactions, Hoda would explain to them what she had using words like “Tumor” rather than “Cancer”. Furthermore, since no one can really explain the word cancer, she did not want her kids to hear it, unless it had an explanation she could proceed with.
Although her surgery relieved her from the cancer, it was very difficult for her to let go of a part of her body that she had always had and one that significantly had to do with her femininity. Although she got breast implants right after the surgery, she no longer had nerves or any form of sensation in that area. This to her is one of the most difficult aspects and something that after 41 years she must learn to cope with.
“I went from someone so camera shy who never posts any pictures of herself, to someone posing in front of a camera half naked” – Hoda
On a positive note, after the surgery, Hoda decided that something had to change to the better and thus decided to conquer a fear she had, which is where this wonderful image comes in. Given that she is so extremely camera-shy, she decided to call up the talented photographer Aisha Al Shabrawy to take pictures of her, to get over her camera shyness. “When I went in front of the camera to take the pictures, I was covering my face, and laughing hysterically. Eventually Aisha made me feel so comfortable, and I went from someone so camera shy who never posts any pictures of herself, to someone posing in front of a camera half naked,” Hoda tells us, explaining that Aisha beautifully and candidly captured the moment she was looking down at her scars. Although the images were meant to be for Hoda alone, and not for anyone else, she agreed to let Aisha share them with the public in hopes that they could help anyone out there.
As a reflection back on what she went through, the surgery and the cancer may have taken a part of her femininity away, but in compensation for that, the womanhood around her and towards her strengthened in unimaginable terms. “The women around me are amazing. People I haven’t seen in months and ages appeared and offered to take care of the kids and help out. Womanhood to me resembles the community of women and the support they provide, and going through all this showed me the strong womanhood that surrounds me,” Hoda concludes.