They say that ‘life is what happens to you while you are busy making plans’. I had made lots of plans about my education, my career and the bright future that lay ahead of me, in fact everything in life but CANCER. It had never occurred to me, as I turned 14, that I was destined to face the biggest struggle of my life – the struggle between life and death.
At 14, I developed severe body aches, bleeding gums and a bleeding nose. Maybe, I thought to myself, I was overexerting myself, maybe I needed to be more particular about my oral hygiene, maybe I needed to be more careful about my diet. There were lots of excuses that I could give for the symptoms I was facing so at first I ignored them, but by July 1999 my condition deteriorated and I could no longer attend my school’s summer camp in my home town, Mardan.
When my aunt, who is a doctor, learnt about my condition, she recommended some urgent tests. I was not told the results of the tests but she recommended that my family take me to Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and Research Centre in Lahore. My father who was himself ill at the time, sent me to SKMCH&RC with my uncle.
I recall the sunny day in July when I first saw the Hospital …I cant forget how I looked at my uncle in disbelief – wasn’t Shaukat Khanum a cancer hospital? ……’I don’t have cancer, it was just a nosebleed and I was just tired! I got my answer when my uncle kept evading the answer to my question as to why we were at Shaukat Khanum Cancer Hospital. I don’t know if it was reality that struck me or just my deteriorating health, but soon after my medical examination that day, I fainted on the Hospital premises. When I regained consciousness, I found myself on a stretcher taking me for a bone marrow biopsy required to confirm the diagnosis. I can never forget those helpless moments on the stretcher with tears quietly trickling down my cheeks. ‘I was just 14 years old…far too young to die’, I kept thinking. What about my dream of higher education…was it all over? In moments the world had changed around me. Everyone at the Hospital was friendly and supportive but I just couldn’t handle the reality of what was happening to me.
After the completion of my tests, I was taken to Dr. Adeeba Quddus who explained that I had A.L.L. (Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia) which is a kind of blood cancer. My tears seemed to have no end, but luckily for me, neither did Dr. Adeeba’s kindness. Within a few visits, not only had my treatment started but I was also able to gather the strength to face cancer as the biggest challenge of my life. I wanted to live and I wanted to complete my education. My treatment lasted for three and a half years, during which time I was given repeated courses of chemotherapy. Suffering the side effects of chemotherapy was the most difficult part of the treatment. At first I was terribly upset about losing my hair but I later found out that they would grow back in time.
Today, I am a final year student in the University of Engineering and Technology in Peshawar and close to the completion of my dream of being both healthy and cured of cancer, as well as of completing my education. I owe it all to God and to Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital.