Two decades of battling breast cancer
The early 1990s at Franklin Township Public Library, New Jersey – two wonderful mothers separately take their children out for a day of fun and learning, with books. Fully engrossed in story time, one toddler looks up from the reading to meet a stranger’s eyes. It was another child his age, with short black hair and the undeniable look of a similar, intelligent mischievousness. That’s when it began.
Our mothers soon became fast friends, and we spent most of early childhood in each other’s company. These were the modest beginnings of my lifelong (best) friendship with AR*. Little did we understand the depth of our brotherhood, or the victories and challenges we would endure together.
I spent much of my childhood travelling. From state to state, country to country, it was difficult to hold onto friends. First, letters by mail; then, the advent of MSN and AOL Instant Messengers. The occasional fights and periods of no contact, hundreds of miles apart. Still, AR and I were adamant to remain friends, and so we did. By the time I had reached adolescence, leaving my home in Saudi Arabia to pursue high school at The Hun School of Princeton, New Jersey, he lived only five minutes from my boarding school.
I remember AR’s mother exclaiming from downstairs while two groggy, teenage boys pushed themselves out of bed. The smell of her delicious aloo parathas remains vividly present in my mind.
She was a beautiful, generous soul back then – and still is. Whether I was in need of home-cooked food, a night out, or just laundry and some reprieve from boarding-school life, AR’s family wholeheartedly provided, never batting an eye at my presence. I was family too. His mother, her entire visage gleaming with pride and joy as her daughter, sons and husband scarfed down the wonderful meal she had prepared, is one of the strongest survivors I know.
AR’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer nearly two decades ago. She quietly fought this battle alongside her friends and family – a battle I had no knowledge of and one her young children could barely grasp. Today, as twenty-something adults, AR, myself and our siblings understand the nature of this devastating illness.
Breast cancer, which rarely affects men, is “the second leading cause of death among women” and the most widespread cancer afflicting women around the globe, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation and World Health Organisation. Cancer itself refers to a variety of diseases, all involving damaged cellular DNA leading to uninhibited growth of abnormal cells.
In breast cancer, cancer cells out-compete healthy cells in breast tissue, potentially causing growth of malignant tumours. If these cancerous cells break free and travel through the blood or lymph, they may spread (metastasize) to the rest of the body.
So, what causes this disease and is treatment available?
Common misconceptions suggest that microwave and cell phone radiation, even consumption of caffeine, or close contact with patients may cause breast cancer – all of this is false. Many genetic and environmental risk factors exist, either preventable or unavoidable, from drinking alcohol to a family history of the disease. Some tumours are benign, but malignant tumours are aggressive: they may metastasize and develop secondary tumours elsewhere in the body.
While surgical removal of tumours is the most common treatment, it’s critical to research and make an educated decision about treatment. Hormone, radiation and chemo therapies are all viable methods by which to destroy cancer cells or slow their growth. Through discussion regarding treatment with one’s oncology team and close ones, a breast cancer survivor may learn which treatment is best.
In the case of AR’s mother, the cancer had metastasized elsewhere. But even with the havoc it’s wreaked, she is courageously fighting.
One trait remains unchanged – no disease, no matter how harmful, can extinguish that twinkling light in her eyes. A light announcing a life still well-lived: with a loving husband, children, relatives and friends. AR’s mom and her family are fighters and survivors. In their time of strife, I can only send positivity and love, praying for successful recovery. All the while, I yearn for simpler times, when AR’s mother had more spring in her step and tomorrow’s breakfast was the only thing on these two brothers’ minds.