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.