Life is full of roller coaster rides, ups and downs, happiness and sorrows; and all need to be received with acceptance and gratefulness. There are extremely powerful young women who are fighting their cancer battles with hope and optimism. These women live around us in every household, company and circle of friends. Cancer shouldn’t be referred to as “the bad disease” anymore, Cancer is more common than that and should be fought with acceptance and strength, not denial and shame.
We’ve met with Esraa Yasser, one of the strongest and talented young women we’ve met recently and she opened up about how she trained for her cancer battle and how she will keep fighting until she wins it!
- How did you discover that you have Hodgkin’s disease?
At first, I noticed strange veins on my neck that I’d never had before, so I went to a doctor to get myself checked. I went to four doctors actually and all four told me that there was nothing wrong with me and that I was completely fine. But then, at a certain point, my neck started to swell up and it got so big that I couldn’t even swallow water. That was when I insisted that something was definitely wrong with me. It was my body and I knew that something wasn’t right.
I kept insisting until my parents took me to a fifth doctor. I did some scans and examinations, and then I had to leave for my honeymoon because I had just gotten married. The results hadn’t come out by the time I left and my parents kept me in the dark until I got back. They had scheduled appointments with several other doctors and, when I got back, I did additional scans and only then did my doctor break the news to me.
- Finding out something like that must have been terrifying. What was the first thing that came to your mind when you first heard the news?
I’ve been through a lot in my life and I’ve always been known to take things in a sarcastic manner, so this wasn’t any different. The one thing that distressed me in the beginning was the fact that my doctor told me I couldn’t get pregnant for a year and this to me was a big deal because I love babies so much. But then, little by little, the situation got so out of control that everything the doctor told me seemed relatively insignificant. It felt like it had no meaning and it no longer scared me. I started to be the one to reassure people that I was okay and I would make it a point to try and do everything myself.
I love to cook so I didn’t let my disease stop me from cooking. Even though my extremities are usually very numb all the time, I still do my best to do the things I love. This struggle actually made me more passionate about life and about everything I do. It made me appreciate everything so much. All I can do is learn to live with my disease and try to fight it. I really don’t have any other option.
- Do you feel like your whole life shifted to a new direction when you found out? Did it change your aspirations in life?
First of all, I discovered that many people around me suffered from this disease and I had no idea. A lot of people also got closer to me and were very supportive. I got to know a woman on the internet who had a similar case to mine, but was in a different stage. We got very close and she is very supportive, even though we’ve never met and we’ve only been chatting online. She made me realize that, if I hopefully recover from this disease, I want to follow her example and be there for someone else who has it, or any other disease for that matter.
This experience changed me so much and it made me want to delve into something that I might not have envisioned for myself or seen myself doing otherwise. I was always in my safe area, but now I feel like I want to break out of that comfort zone and do something with my life. I want to continue what I’m doing and to inspire people and support them, even if through a simple phone call.
- Did it make you fear life or learn to embrace it?
It definitely made me learn to embrace life. I don’t fear the disease and I’m not scared of what’s going to happen, I am just scared of the physical pain that comes with it. A lot of physiological changes occur in my body, including hormonal changes that usually have a negative effect on my mood. However, despite all that, I’m not going to just lay in bed and cry. This is not how it works. I am going to be in pain either way, so I have to make a choice to either move on and go make myself a high protein salad, or just sit there and cry while eating junk food because it already can’t get any worse, right?
- Describe the ways in which you feel you have changed in terms of your personality and values.
It definitely made me realize how strong I am and the magnitude of the things I am capable of handling. I knew I was strong, but I didn’t know how strong I was until I was put in this situation. In the past, when I would watch a movie about a girl who had to undergo chemotherapy, I used to feel very sorry for her and tell myself that, if I were to ever get cancer, I would never go through chemo because I don’t want to lose my hair. I was that narrow-minded back then.
Then I discovered that there are actually a lot of different methods of treatment out there. Some people go to meditation classes, others go to healing sessions, and then there are those who choose to treat themselves with food. There was a wide array of things out there that I had absolutely no clue about. This definitely changed my personality and my perception of things. I became more knowledgeable and more aware.
- What advice would you give women who are in a similar situation, and those who aren’t?
First of all, I would advise them to be more aware because here in Egypt, we don’t hear about cancer except during Ramadan through TV ads and stuff. Other than that, we are completely in the dark for the remaining duration of the year. The disease is sometimes hard to diagnose because its symptoms are somewhat like those of the typical cold. So, unless you are aware that such a disease even exists, you won’t be able to catch it early and treat it before your condition progresses. Another thing I would advise them with would be to help with more than just giving charity to those who suffer from the disease. Offering their help and support could be very beneficial and could mean a lot more than they think.
As for those who already suffer from the disease, they are already fighters. I don’t think they need advice. Once you start this journey and find yourself in this position, you automatically become a fighter. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone with the disease who felt like something was missing in their life. They would go out normally and get dressed and take care of themselves like any other person. They are fighters!
- Do you feel like your relationship with others has changed?
Of course there are a lot of people who got closer to me, but there were also others who didn’t know how to handle the situation so, in turn, distanced themselves. And I understand because I used to be one of those people at a point in my life. There were also people who had disappeared and reappeared again when they heard the news, so I could tell that it was only out of pity or curiosity. These people disappear and reappear often, and I believe that neither pity nor curiosity are good for the person, because the person is already stressed out as it is and doesn’t need anyone in their life who isn’t adding any positive value.
For example, I am very passionate about painting, so a close friend of mine bought me a portrait so I could do what I love. Also, there was a time when my extremities were very numb and I couldn’t hold anything, so the woman I met online sent me stress relieving coloring books and told me to color in and fight the numbness and not give in. That for me is more helpful and supportive than all the clichés that are said in situations like these.
At the end of the day, my relationships haven’t changed, on the contrary, my house has become more crowded everyday and this doesn’t bother me at all. The people who are close to me know that I still want to be in control and do everything myself, so these are the people who help me do things on my own yet still do everything for me without me noticing.
- The first year of marriage is known to be one of the roughest years of marriage, so how do you manage your first year, which is already difficult as it is, while you are already going through this tough phase in your life?
I got married three months ago, and I had already had a huge fear of commitment that took so long for me to get over. I always thought that I should get settled in my work first and stay away from any commitment until I was ready. However, he is very friendly and he makes me feel like I am living with my best friend. But still, through this first year, you get to discover so many things about your partner and you try to live with that person’s habits that might be completely different than your own.
It was very difficult for him in the beginning because suddenly he found himself sucked into so much drama; finding out about the disease and things that were kept hidden from him and so on. So, he found himself in a position where he had to be responsible and had to take care of me. Our problems were more than just money and going out everyday. What we’ve been through together brought us so much closer and it feels like we are starting a new phase of our lives – a new beginning. Because of my condition, we managed to reach a level of closeness that takes other couples years to build. He had no option but to see everything as it was and be able to deal with it and still be happy.
All of that proved to me how good he is as a person and his capacity and capability to deal with rough times. I try so hard to show him how much I appreciate him and I try to reciprocate that love and care one way or another, if even through a desert he likes or something.
- In our culture, there is a certain expectation that falls on the woman in the first years of marriage; that she always has to be dressed up and she has to look good for her husband at all times. Do you feel that you were under that kind of pressure, especially at times when you feel so weak that you can’t get out of bed?
At the beginning, this pressure was there, but it was very slight. I had a huge fear of losing my long, thick hair and going bald, however, I don’t know what he did exactly, but my husband managed to make the situation so much easier for me. The first thing I did was cut my hair and donate it to people who needed it because it was going to fall off anyway. I also got a haircut that he saw before and liked. And the situation just got easier from there, not because things were easier, but because he is a really good person and because he has no problem with the way I look. He saw me as beautiful just the way I was.
We managed to turn the situation into something we could joke and laugh about. But really, it was no longer an issue for me because he made me feel like it wasn’t a problem and that made me look at hair loss as something very minor and very trivial compared to the hormonal changes, the physical pain and the stuff that actually matters.
- Do you have something you would like to add?
Well, while I was too focused on myself and on how the disease changed and affected me, I realized it has also affected the people around me. My husband, for example; we just got married three months ago, which is around the same time I started my treatment. He is an only child and was very spoiled growing up, but now, feeling like he has a responsibility and a wife to take care of, he would rather stay home and spend time with me than go out with his friends. I feel like I had an impact on the personality of the people around me more than I myself was affected. They had to deal with the cards they were dealt. They were put in situations where they had no option but to be stronger and no option but to deal with each situation as it came.
My relationship with my sister got so much stronger as well. Before my disease, my sister had her own life and her own friends and she would just spend her time at home watching TV, but now, she comes over and hangs out with me and encourages me to cook. As I said earlier, everyone was given a certain role to play without signing up for it. I’m the same person I was. I got stronger, but I’m still the same person. Everyone else didn’t need to change; they just found themselves in a situation where they had to.
Another point I would like to add is that, when choosing a doctor, it doesn’t have to be a celebrity doctor because they tend to take things lightly. In cases like these, it is best to look for a good doctor and not just go blindly to doctors with big names.
- When you recover insha’ Allah, what are your fears after this phase of your life is over?
My kids. That is the first thing I thought about. We’re definitely going to have to check the history of the disease in the family and take necessary precautions. Another thing that scares me is that I heard that one of the factors that could lead to Hodgkin’s is depression. I love running and I have to find an output to let all the negative energy and emotions out in order to not fall in the Hodgkin’s trap again, so I bought new sneakers and I decided that, after I recover, I’m going to start running everyday.
I also want to appreciate everything more and not take anything for granted. I’m going to focus on every little thing and breathe it in. Every detail in my life will be appreciated and I will definitely work on living a healthier life and raising healthy children.
Photography by Remon El Markiz
Makeup by Yasmine Ebeid
Jewelry by S Designs
Cardigan by Bardees
Dress available at Style-treasure.com
Shot at Media and More Studios