It’s always a choice and she chose to embrace cancer … in high heels

It’s always a choice and she chose to embrace cancer … in high heels
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On paper, Amany has it all: gorgeous wavy brown hair, a tiny frame, cute nose ring, serious gray-blue-green eyes, a simple gold necklace hanging from her neck spelling out her name, and Valentino shoes. Understated yet very intentional with a matching handbag. But when you hear what she’s gone through you question… “How?!” She is that clichéd story you hear from a friend’s friend’s cousin… where the bad gets worse and then even worse.

Knowing parts of this hiccup story almost makes it harder to redeliver it to you. But a common thread with most of these interviews is that none of these moms want sympathy. Puppy dog faces rank #1 in their pet peeve list. They want a forum and a place to share their story to reach others.

Amany and I meet in a hotel lobby and end up at the bar, not for the cocktails but for the lighting. She knew this would be a late-morning living nightmare and wanted to lighten it up with her clear-eyed wisdom that makes her wise beyond her 33 years.

The sound of ice being blended is our background and stale cigarette smoke folds under the scent of Amany’s fresh, factual straight talk. She takes a sip of her mint-infused lemonade and flips her wavy locks.

“A lot can happen in three years.”

She had a pixie cut before her current wavy look and before that she had to count on her husband to use colored hair powder to cover the bald patches. She dives in. “So…I turned 30 and felt like I should probably get my act together. You know, life plans and kids and all that.”

A few months later she found a tumor on her neck that she thought was work overload stress.

Our bodies are so smart and send us messages and signals until we listen up. A year prior to this her dad had the same mass. “I think subconsciously I knew and didn’t want deal with it.” I hear a rebellious streak in her voice.

Her dad had just entered remission so like most of us who don’t want to deal with something when we subconsciously know it could be the worst, Amany “brushed it under the carpet.”

On the 7th of March 2013, her doctor started a conversation with, “You’re a mature girl…” “And it was then that I knew.”

Amany was diagnosed with stage 4 Hodgkin’s lymphoma. “I needed to start chemo like, yesterday.” She describes an eerie calmness at that moment: “The earth dropped away and I don’t remember much.”

“I wasn’t thinking of me. I was the least of my concerns. For once in my life it wasn’t about me. It was about my Mom and Dad. I didn’t think they could cope with this again.”

The distress when she says this is palpable.

“My husband has a way of making things feel better and I know people say this all the time, but I would take a bullet for him.” Her face becomes peaceful. “I remember we sat at the dining table where he just made things feel okay and did everything but make it a big deal. He simply said, ‘We’ll plough through it.’”

The only thing on her mind was putting her parents through this again. She heaves a heavy sigh as though she’s been holding her breath this whole time, then pauses and giggles, “And my hair.” She manages a wry smile recalling how her doctor, Dr. Mahir Al-Hilali treated her like a daughter and understood the importance of her trying to keep her life as ‘normal’ as possible. That same doctor told her she’d better get a pixie haircut after the 4th chemo session because the hair would be going.

“Two friends in the office cut their hair very short—so I wasn’t the only one. I don’t know if I would have done that. When I cut my hair it hit me that I had cancer.”

After the 4th chemo session she was “basically living day to day” waiting for the feeling to disappear 12 times.

“There was a running joke in the office that I used ‘the cancer card’ and they encouraged me to use it for as long as I had it. And I promised myself to ‘look at the HAHA’ of each situation.”

“As a joke everyone at work would say, ‘I wish I had cancer too.’” Making light of it is what helped her survive it. When I ask her if she thinks she has an edge over other people she nods even before I finish explaining what I mean. She gets it. She has it. And because of it she calls things as they are.

She lost her hair in chunks, giant clumps, but got in hair powder from the US, and asked her husband to powder her scalp. “Moments live with me forever.”

“So, 12 chemo sessions later… here I am.”

A big believer in signs she flags to me that her last chemotherapy session was on August 28th, 2013 (her husband’s birthday). “But once that was over it’s not that life goes back to normal—that’s when it hits you what you went through. Post chemo I needed a break.”

She wasn’t sure if wanted to start a family or quit her job. But the biggest relief was that the burden was off her parents. She looked for the silver lining that this was something her dad and she could share; that they’d both had the big C.

2014 started with simply living life and talking family. It was the start of a new chapter. But she couldn’t become pregnant yet. She didn’t have the green light of an all clear PET scan. She chokes back tears and I feel my throat burning as I clench my jaw shut and momentarily freeze. My eyes are locked on hers as she explains. By June 2014, almost a year post remission, she still held out on getting a PET scan. Her dad wanted her to do it but the “what ifs” held her back.

In Sept 2014, her dad was back in hospital. It was a cancer relapse. Amany heaves a huge sigh and leans into the hotel lobby bar. “There were lots of complications. After 21 days in hospital he passed away on Oct 7th, 2014. The only thing he wanted to know was that I was fine. I didn’t do the PET scan before he passed away and I will live with this guilt of knowing that I should have just done it so he’d know I was okay. I finally did the scan. It broke me that my dad was still listed as my point of contact at the cancer center.”

She tried to start a new chapter after grieving for the loss of a parent, a best friend. With the green light to start a family, Amany finally got pregnant in March 2015, but the good news didn’t last.

“Eight weeks later I lost the baby. I was hating on life. I’m generally a pretty positive person but at one point—even strongest mountains crack and fall apart.”

“After the miscarriage I went through a series of ‘why me why.’ Mo kept saying ‘this is for the greatest good,’ but I couldn’t see it that way. We kept trying but we weren’t getting pregnant. After an invasive ovaries test we found that mine were distressed as a result of chemo and after a hormone test we needed a bit of help getting pregnant and embarked on hormone shots. The third time round there were two heartbeats.”

But they didn’t want to get too excited. “And see it snatched away… again.”

They didn’t tell people until she was really showing. And Amany prayed daily 5 times a day.

Olivia and Yousef were born on the 7th of March, 2016. Three years to the day of her cancer diagnosis. The bad newsversary replaced by a good newsversary.

“What cancer taught me is to be in the present moment. What matters is NOW. Don’t take things for granted. Sure these are all clichés but I’m walking proof of them. Pregnancy didn’t work the first or second time. It worked the third time. With hormone shots. And ovaries measured.”

Amany twins are almost a year now. “I am who I am because of all that happened… And I really found postpartum depression – which I also had -to be worse than cancer.” This is terrible to say, but exactly the straight talk wisdom that Amany exudes. She’s still not afraid to make bad-funny jokes to see the Haha of situations.

“Your attitude toward anything is half the battle. Everything is a choice. I could have chosen to sit at home and cry. I chose to embrace cancer in high heels and all dressed up.”

Amany believes that there are two important days in your life: the day you were born and day you find out why you were born—for her that second day was when she saw that she was meant to be a mother. That it could happen. “It’s all I ever want to do… and the most difficult job. But I get on with it.

Life has come full circle for Amany. “You can’t bubble wrap the hard bits of life, you need the strength, courage and positivity to face it dead on and beat it. Everyone complains. It’s human nature.”

Ain’t this the truth. Sometimes we do it to fill in the silence or ward off ‘the bad eye’ or just because we feel pressured to chime into the ‘I hate my hubby’ conversations between bites of bresaola pizza or grilled halloumi at a girls’ dinner.

Well, Amany had three years and three terrible reasons to complain yet she turned her back on negativity and chose the positives. And she turned those negatives into positives: her twins, her health, and her life.

In this article series, Sara Sadik talks with moms about their “hiccup.” Hers? “My daughter had hip dysplasia and was in a brace for seven months. I got through it by crying for weeks and then embracing retail therapy and buying dresses to disguise the harness… A LOT of dresses.” Sara Sadik’s goal with these sit-down share sessions is to shed light on how each mommy’s hiccup echoes and resonates with many others who are struggling to find the magic or can take heart that the magic is often deeply imbedded in the dark and may need some neon glow bands to reveal it. Your hiccup might be post-natal depression, lifestyle change, or even a grouchy pediatrician. Get in touch to share your “Hiccup.”

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