More than just cancer

Published: March 28, 2014

I dreamt of being beautiful again; having long, shiny hair and glowing skin. I dreamt of having a normal life now and how I would plan my future. PHOTO: AFP

I stared at him, not being able to comprehend what he had just said.

Had I heard correctly?

Was he really saying what I had just heard?

Did those words really come out of his mouth?

Tears started welling up in my eyes and my hands started trembling. I felt as if the whole world had just come to a halt. I looked at the person sitting next to me, equally astonished.

What is this?

My doctor had just told me that I had stage three cancer and that I would require surgery urgently to stop the cancer from spreading even further in my body.

I just could not accept it – how could I?

It was part of my body; how could I just cut something off like that?

How would I feel after that?

How would people look at me?

Would I ever get married?

I started thinking about everything all at once; the thoughts came in a rush, flooding my mind. My mother, who was a mess too, tried to calm me down but I could see that she was struggling.

Why did it have to happen to me?

What have I ever done wrong to deserve this?

I am not ready for this. How the hell can anyone ever be?

Cancer… but I pray regularly, give zakat (almsgiving), help the poor too.

So then… why?

How could this have happened to me?

The doctor explained that since it is stage three cancer, they needed to act upon their findings immediately. The surgery was urgent and necessary. I was then told that after the surgery I would have to start chemotherapy and radiation therapy, coupled with multiple blood tests and hospital visits.

After a lot of deliberation, I decided to go for it.

What choice did I have, anyway?

The surgery began and I was a wreck. I stayed up all night praying to God to help me get through this. My mother was by my side the entire time, throughout the treatment.

The chemo and radiation therapy was painful and tiring at the same time. I soon realised that I did not even have enough energy to lift myself off my bed anymore.

I began losing my hair; my beautiful, black hair that made every girl at university envy me. I was always nauseous. I sat there, with my shaky hands and bald head, looking at other people enjoying their lives.

My mother was always either weeping or praying for me. She stood by me throughout and I cannot thank her enough; I will always always love her for that.

When my doctor told me that they have successfully removed the cancer from my body, I was elated. We all prayed and thanked God for the strength He gave us during the traumatic experience. No more chemo, no more radiation and, thank God, no more hospital visits!

I slept like a baby that night – relaxed, contended and happy. God helps you in surprising ways.

I dreamt of being beautiful again; having long, shiny hair and glowing skin. I dreamt of having a normal life now and how I would plan my future. But the next morning when I woke up, I saw my mother weeping away right next to me.

I shook her and asked her why she was crying.

She didn’t reply.

I got out of bed and went to the other room.

My dad was crying too.

I asked him what was wrong. He looked at me but he didn’t say a word.

Now I was really worried. I know that my dad would hide things from me just so that I don’t get upset.

But I was upset, my mom and dad were both crying and I didn’t know why. I needed to understand and he needed to tell me.

I yelled and demanded for him to respond. He looked straight at me – with a blank look in his teary eyes. Looked straight at me… but he wasn’t looking at me because I died that night. I slept straight into the grips of death, peacefully, blissfully, dreaming about my future.

I am not a part of your life anymore, dad. You mustn’t cry.

I am not alive anymore, mom. Don’t weep.

I am at peace… I miss you but I am at peace.


Saima Shivji

She is currently working as the Project Coordinator of School Outreach Tours at Citizens Archive of Pakistan. She loves reading books, hanging out with friends and listening to good music.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Namaloom

    Did u watch Sammy’s batting?Recommend

  • Pseudo Analytical

    I wish you wouldn’t fictionalize the trauma that comes with cancer. I appreciate the effort but honestly, if you’ve EVER lost anyone to cancer, this article just makes you well up and brings back the pain…Recommend

  • Saima

    I have actually lost someone close to me because of it and the pain has never subsided but I believe people don’t realize that cancer is more than just an illness. I have seen patients in pain and it’s the worst thing. I just wanted to show a side of it so that people can see how hard it is for the ones going through it.

    Thank you for your +ve criticism though :)Recommend

  • Uzair Ahmed Siddiqui

    After reading this and many similar blogs before, I guess its high time for section editor to change the name of “Poetic License” into something like “license to spread gloom and melancholia” !Recommend

  • Fellow Writer & Human

    Dear Saima: I am a medical doctor in the USA who works closely with cancer patients. You’ve truly captured the anguish and fear in a few lines. Keep up your excellent & important writing – you are truly talented. (PS: I honestly gasped when I realized that the narrator had actually died at the end. Very moving conclusion.) All the best and God bless. :)Recommend

  • Saima

    Thankyou so much! :)Recommend

  • Dante

    In real life, hearing news of cancer isn’t that traumatizing. A doctor is supposed to prepare the patient emotionally before yelling out “you have cancer”. Sorry but that only works either in movies, or ET blogs. When I see signs of cancer in my patient, I always lay out all the possible diagnosis and provide early expectations for the patient. Rarely ever can you just look at a patient, their laboratory values or radiographic images and immediately diagnose cancer.Recommend

  • Supriya Arcot

    Nice writing but you could have given a positive ending . It would have been better that way if any cancer patient is reading this .Recommend

  • Supriya Arcot

    Yes, unfortunately even I found the ending a bit negative . If not positive ( like cancer getting cured totally ) , the author could have left it open like – ” I am awaiting the next treatment ” …Recommend