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(OPINION) Life lessons from a cancer patient- By Rukaiya Dooreemeah

Two months ago, my friend Naseem, a mother of two children in her late forties was diagnosed with breast cancer. At first, she was shocked and it seemed to her that the world has come to a standstill. Her routine life was disrupted and the future appeared very bleak to her. The idea of being separated abruptly from her family was looming large in her mind because of this life threatening disease.

As time went by, Naseem mustered her courage and thanks to her unwavering faith in God and the support of her dear ones, she makes up her mind to fight cancer as best as she can. She is presently undergoing medical treatment and she constantly shares her experience as a cancer patient with me.

On two occasions, I accompanied Naseem for her chemotherapy treatment at the New Cancer Centre at Phoenix. On entering the premises of the hospital, I was completely blown away by the special care and attention shown to the patients.  From the security officers in the yard to the cleaners and the medical staff, each one shows undivided attention to the patients to make their journey as easy as possible. Every day, these officers are leaving the comfort of their home to stand on their feet, serve the sick selflessly with a humane touch.  They are everyday heroes who are striving to give cancer patients the gift of life.

On seeing the significant number of patients in the hospital, it dawns on me that each individual is equal in the face of illness. Cancer knows no social background or ethnic group. No one is immune to illness. All the patients have one objective in common. They are all fighting the same battle, that of beating cancer and fighting for survival. They are all displaying untold patience, perseverance and humility by queuing up. In the queue, one can see people from all walks of life: manual workers, managers, high ranking public officials, teachers and others. There are people who have never queued up during their lifetime. Now, they are waiting for their turns like everyone else. The rule is different here. No treatment of favour is being meted out to anyone. Anguish, fear and uncertainty for the future can be read on the faces and in the eyes of the patients.  Some patients break the ice and talk to each other while sharing their experience and offering valuable advice and support.  After all, they are all in the same boat.  

As far as Naseem is concerned, she tells me how foolish and inappropriate it is for people to hoard more and more money and hanker after material pursuits, name and fame. Being a successful business woman herself, the recognition she has earned in society so far is pale in significance when compared to the difficult moments she is currently going through. Cancer is wreaking havoc on her health and suffering has become her daily lot.  She has to cope with back pain, nausea, diarrhea, hair fall and other ailments resulting from chemotherapy.

Naseem adds that what is keeping the going strong is the outpouring of love and concern from friends, relatives across the globe from whom she has not heard for a very long time and even strangers who are kilometres away from her but so close at heart in adversity. To Naseem, in these trying times, a bouquet of flowers, a meal cooked with love, a hot soup, a prayer, a well-intentioned advice, words of encouragement, a telephone call are invaluable and they are worth leur pesant d’or. There are relatives who are not in good shape but despite their medical condition, they have enquired about her address to pay her a visit. These little things brighten up her day and give her the courage to fight for her life for the sake of her loving family. She knows that she is not alone in her struggle. Others leave aside their daily tasks to help out.

On the other hand, there are some people (fortunately they are only a handful) whose body language and attitude betray their true feelings of indifference and selfishness. They pretend to show concern but they care only about themselves and do not have an iota of compassion in their heart. They think that misfortunes and illness happen to others only. After all, why should they worry about others and go out of their comfort zone?

Naseem was an active woman. She used to do her share of shopping regularly.  Presently because of her ailing health, she is unable to do so and she shares these thought provoking thoughts with me:   “You know the most trivial things are indeed the most important ones. What I miss above all is not my ability to make money but the quality time I used to spend with my parents. I also miss the social interactions between me and my regular vegetable and fruit sellers, the cashiers at the hypermarket, my tailor, my local shopkeeper and their genuine smile and concern.  Love is such a powerful force. The friendship ties I have forged with these people over the years are so precious and meaningful.  Besides, using our skills and talents to help others, donating to good causes, helping to alleviate poverty, supporting each other in difficult times and making each day count should be our priority. It pays to be kind and kindness costs nothing.  A smile is free. However, it requires so much negative energy to seek revenge, hurt and humiliate those around us.  Nothing in this world belongs to us.  Life is short. Why waste so much time bearing grudges and brooding over petty things? How unbecoming it is for some individuals in position of authority to verbally abuse, blackmail, harass, mock, trample on the dignity and give a negative appraisal of the work of their subordinates out of hatred and wickedness? They do feel a sadistic pleasure in doing so. Their heart is devoid of kindness, compassion and love.  Do they want to boost up their ego or show their superiority complex?  They must bear in mind that their place of work is not their property. As human beings, we are so vulnerable and weak. Nothing is within our control. When we depart from this world, people will remember us for our good deeds, kindness and generosity and not the other way around. The world loves good, authentic and generous people who go out of their way to support good causes. People value and appreciate the huge sacrifices made by Nobel Prize laureates like Yasser Arafat, Nelson Mandela, Malala Yousafzai (just to name a few) and ordinary citizens who are relentlessly trying to make the world a better place to live in.  Haughty and self-centered individuals who look down on others and make their life miserable and tough must change their mindset”.               

Formerly, Naseem raced against time to run her business but now she makes time to reach out to others, write a thank you note and sends powerful messages to those who care for her. She thinks that it is important for an individual to express his love and gratitude because tomorrow may never come.  

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