Written by Patricia Darwish.
Good morning, ugly. Yes that’s what I said to myself each morning as I looked in the mirror. Harsh, right? Well, that was my reality.
By my second chemo treatment, my hair started to fall out and there was nothing I could do to stop it. I had bald spots all over and one day after I showered, it just fell out.
There I was, handfuls of hair in my hands, crying uncontrollably. My mom left for a couple of days during that time; I don’t think she was able to see me physically change in front of her eyes. Cancer is the silent devil. You couldn’t see it but my hair falling out was just a physical confirmation to everyone, including myself, that it was all too real.
Through my darkest days during my treatment, I came to realize that it was okay to take in the moment, to accept the sadness, the tears, the pain and the defeat. I knew Allah (SWT) wanted me to go through this for a reason.
I stopped asking, “Why am I being tested?” realizing it wasn’t about the test, it was about figuring out how I was going to reach my full potential as a servant of God, as a human being.
The pain was real; it lasted a while and sometimes it still creeps up on me, but I had to make a conscious decision to not just fight — but to release the pain and suffering so I could move on.
The darkness was so sad, the tears wouldn’t stop at times. My illness pained me and broke me, but I asked Allah (SWT) for His help. I wanted to grow as a human. I wanted to beat the beast and get out of the box that society forced me in so that I could serve and help others — to allow me to be the real me.
Through the most difficult days, Allah (SWT) taught me the true essence of being reflective. Cancer silenced me, and that is when I began the journey of self-reflection. I remember the moment I realized Allah (SWT) needed me to be still, to be quiet and learn to live in the moment.
My mom, at the age 63, moved in with me and my four children. It was her presence that helped me heal, to see the light and to believe in love again. She took care of me as if I was a baby. She made me food every day, fed me when I couldn’t hold the utensils, cleaned for me… and the best part was she would put me to bed. However, this time she wasn’t singing a lullaby to make me sleep; she would recite duaa and Quran to ease my soul. God blessed her with the strength of ten women. She was on a mission and she served it well.
One of the reasons I want to share my story is that we learn to grow and overcome widespread issues when we talk and learn from each others’ experiences. We must teach one another that we are not alone and there are people whose experiences are similar to ours — something I failed to realize during my treatment.
God bless the people who did come and visit me — their acts of kindness meant the world. Having the support of my family and friends helped in my journey to push through the pain. But one thing remained missing — I still needed that support, my family needed that support from someone who already went through the battle. I wanted someone at that moment in my life to understand how I felt.
There was that one person who would come and check on me during my treatment who survived cancer. I found comfort in her because she knew, she knew the look in my eyes and what I was feeling inside. Seeing her survive gave me hope that I could too.
It was hard to hear people who never went through cancer tell me to “be strong” and that “Allah (SWT) only tests the good ones” — wishes that were all well-intended, but not good enough for me at that moment. Although their intentions were pure, it wasn’t what I, as a patient, wanted to hear during my time of pain. I would just shake my head and say “Inshallah Khair.” But in my mind, I was fighting a different battle because I didn’t believe I was strong enough or that Allah (SWT) loved me anymore.
My hopes are that we break our silence when it comes to this disease and any other illness, to learn to support others, not just financially, but spiritually also.
Cancer is an ugly disease and it comes in many forms. The common struggles patients face are pain and suffering of the unknown. But more importantly, patients have to learn to fight internally. I learned that the battle starts in the mind. I had to switch my thoughts. I had to stop looking at my physical body and truly walk with faith and not with sight.
When I looked in the mirror, I didn’t see myself. I was looking at a stranger. I wore hats most of the time, but once in a while I would put on my wig just to feel a sense of normalcy. My sister would do my make-up and put on fake eyelashes because mine had all fallen out, and that helped for the time being. Regardless of those temporary band-aids, I had to internally fight the silent devil.
I remember one morning, as I struggled to put my legs over the bed to walk, I stopped and said, “Thank you to Allah for giving me another chance.”
Chance. It’s a big word that many people take for granted. It was at that moment my mind began to switch its thought process. I said to myself, “Wow. I was given a chance this morning to live by the grace of Allah — to fight for my health — to live in this moment.”
Patricia Darwish has chronicled her life journey in her fight against cancer. She shares this with you in hopes that she can break down the walls of shame from talking about this disease. It is through her journey that she hopes she is able to reach out to some of you who might be going through the same struggles. Please follow her on Muslim Girl, as we learn to cope with and fight against this thing called cancer ever Friday.