Hardship shapes us. It pushes mankind beyond boundaries and makes the impossible possible. We met with two strong and inspiring lady warriors, who chose life and made peace with what was in their deck of cards. May we all learn from each other.
All Eyes On Radwa
On a Saturday afternoon, the twenty-eight-year-old TV and radio presenter Radwa Hassan entered our suite at Kempinski Royal Maxim accompanied by her younger sister Raneem. We got to know Radwa a few years back when she interviewed our Managing Editor on her radio show and they became Facebook friends. It has always been fascinating to us how Radwa masters this fast paced digital life with such ease and defiance. “I am so glad I finally meet you,” she tells the team upon her arrival. With obvious charisma and charm, Radwa started posing for our camera like a pro.
Radwa lost her eyesight as a result of a medical error when she was a baby. “I don’t feel it’s actually a problem, firstly because I was very little when it happened, secondly because I am perfectly living my life doing anything I want. I downloaded NVDA -non visual desktop acces- program on my laptop and Apple’s Voice Over program on my phone. These programs allow blind people to listen to emails and messages”, she explains. One of the challenges of Special Needs people in Egypt is lack of privacy in general, “It is a major issue, for example there aren’t talking ATM machines so you must let someone run your financial related issues. The new Special Needs Law will solve these problems, but we are still waiting for official announcements hopefully in the next months”, she says.
Media is a field with a tangible impact on how a society evolves. Being part of this field, Radwa certainly made revolutionary changes in how this industry works with her unique abilities. “It all started with a spontaneous wish of mine in an episode of actor Khaled El Nabawy’s program Ebtdy. I felt that this is what I wanted to do –to become a radio presenter– and here I am now one of Radio 90.90’s team,” Radwa tells.
Four years later, this game changer shot to fame on DMC hosting El Safira Aziza alongside other TV stars. Egyptian media certainly needs more inclusion; a step in the right direction. “TV was so challenging for me. Being on air isn’t a walk in the park. If it wasn’t for the crew’s continuous support, I wouldn’t have gotten over my fears,” Radwa says. “In the beginning, I was very worried from the whole idea of being on TV. Some people have charisma on TV, but not on the radio and vice versa. I am very happy that I tried and succeeded in this. I truly believe that nothing can stop you from doing something you can actually do. People should evaluate and judge your work not anything else”, Radwa says.
The differently-abled community in Egypt has many amazing talents and success stories. Radwa believes that how you decide to deal with your disability is the core of living life to the fullest. “Dealing with your disability is your own choice; it can be a superpower to push you to phenomenal results. I am a normal woman, who believes in her abilities to pursue all of her dreams,” she elaborates
We were very curious to know what Radwa thinks women want. “Respect and confidence. Society must stop stigmatizing or labeling women, and must start seeing their abilities,” Radwa says.
Radwa is also an adventurer, “Skydiving was such a huge challenge that I wanted to beat. Last summer, I went skydiving from the top of the Giza Pyramids. It was a very unforgettable experience that I will most certainly add to my interests,” Radwa says.
With Radwa’s great success in El Safira Aziza, the charismatic TV Presenter always makes sure she’s the world’s voice to her audience, presenting all what’s new and real to them. Radwa also believes in children’s abilities; she thinks the media must give them more attention. “I wish that one day I can host my own show for kids, to give them an opportunity to document their talents and pursue their dreams,” Radwa says.
“Don’t let your difference stop you from pursuing your dreams. It should always drive you to experience new things, and discover your super abilities,” she wraps up.
The Wounded Healer
When you first meet Mariam Ayman she seems like this rather shy college student, whereas once she opens up you realize the strength behind the her angelic face. Together with her mother she walked into our shooting location effortlessly sporting her prosthetic leg with grace and routine.
But it hasn’t been like that all the time. Her journey began when she was diagnosed with synovial sarcoma, an aggressive cancer, in her left leg at the age of twenty. Around 3 months into chemotherapy her leg was amputated and the cancer had spread to her lungs. “I went into surgery completely unaware that my leg would be amputated. Me and my family were in shock”, she tells, “it happened exactly 2 days before my 21st birthday”.
A long physical and mental healing journey would begin with said birthday, which she poetically explained as a “rebirth” in hindsight, now almost 2 years later. She realizes the second chance she was given, the gift of a new life after battling her cancer twice and losing a limb. She is thankful for this fact and carries her scars with pride.
“On such a journey there are no traditional turning points, when you suddenly make peace with what happens, it’s an accumulation of epiphanies when you realize that your suffering is not in vain it will have a meaning for others at a certain point in time. So I decided that if God put this upon me that it might be the light for someone else in their dark. But then I lost my leg, and I felt let down by God, in whom I put all my faith and trust to pass the cancer. I was rejecting this reality completely and I spoke to God asking why he did this to me. The early days after my amputation I was just a body living but my soul and spirit were somewhere else. When I started receiving and understanding messages and condolences from God I found a way back to myself and my soul returned into my body,” Mariam tells, “my biggest challenge back then was discovering the “new me”. Suddenly, I was put in a situation that shifted my priorities and I matured over night. I wasn’t coping but rather living the situation with every aspects of it, the good and the bad. I didn’t know how it was like to live as an amputee. Of course, I was in denial and I was angry with what has happened. Everything happened at the same time. Suddenly my hair fell off, I lost my leg and found myself disabled. I felt like a shattered doll”.
After the amputation she continued her treatment and the cancer metastatic had spread to her lungs, which demanded another harsh battle of her.
“At a point I was so close to giving up, I was at the end of my enegry after the chemotherapy and it had just become too much for me. This frustration got out all of the bad things in myself and I was confronted with all the negative traits and weaknesses. Then I had this revelation that I needed to come out of this as a better version of myself, for myself. I realized that I am the only one who can get myself out of this cycle and change for the better. God showed me the way to save myself”, she explains, “God was helping me to strengthen our bond after my amputation. When the cancer came back I was somewhat sure that God will get me out of it. It was like chance for both of us to renew our relationship, how I can learn trust his mercy again. I learned to look ahead. It was a very tough time between believing and the opposite of that. It was much tougher phase because the support of the people vanished during that time. It reduced to myself, my parents and a few very close friends. It’s difficult for many people to be around so much pain I understand this now, but it was difficult for me to understand and forgive back then”.
She pushed herself through this low point and realized why she needs to keep fighting this battle. This interview is exactly one year after this point. So much has changed in a turmoil of mental and physical pain. Part of rediscovering her new self was realizing how she wants to be perceived and treated by her surroundings. “When people are over caring it makes you feel disabled, there is a difference between compassion and pity. I don’t accept pity. The look on people’s faces were my first biggest challenge after I lost my leg. I took the decision that I will set rules on how people would treat me. I decided that I would choose what I allow to affect me or not”, she tells.
Mariam likes sports but always had health issues. She decided to pick up sports as part of rediscovering herself. “I knew I had a long road ahead, but I had the will to get back in shape. I started with gymnastics with a personal trainer coaching me. I also joined Crossfit recently,” Mariam says. She is back to her law studies at Cairo University which is not always easy for the different needs she now has but she knows that the worst has passed and she looks into the future in the eye with fight and gratefullness.
“There is a saying that time heals all wounds. It sounds like clichee but it has some truth to it. You have to allow yourself to experience the whole set of emotions from grief, denial, anger, bargaining and then finally acceptance. It is not a button you can push because a certain amount of time has passed. Healing is a process and a long journey. You must give yourself the time to accept your new self, and accept your new shape, differences and, most importantly powers. Love yourself and don’t think you are a victim of disability, you are a survivor. My experience allowed me to grow and be more mature, without it, I would have been a different person. Yes, I lost a lot, but my gains were much bigger and valuable on personal and spiritual level. I learned the meaning and purppose for my life and the message that I have to deliver. I was being prepared for this very day. All that happened to me was preparing me for what I was created for. It makes sense now. I am now a wounded healer”, she says.
Photography: Farah Hosny
Shot at Kempinksi Royal Maxim
Jewelry by Cherif Elsirgany
Radwa’s dress by Sara Onsi Couture
Mariam’s dress by Malak Elezzawy
Hair by Kriss Beauty Salons
Radwa’s Makeup by Dina Rached
Mariam’s Makeup by Heba Kaissy