Saturday October 20, 2018 By: Radwa El Fardy
My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was 12 years old. She fought fiercely and defeated it. We celebrated her courage and victory. We celebrated her life for ten more years.
My best friend died in a horrific car accident when I was 22. My friend was so close to the family and his loss pained us all. Grief over his death led my father to the intensive care. Ten days later he followed my friend. On that same day, November 27, 2008, the date engraved forever in my mind, my mother’s results confirmed cancer recurrence. The battle this time was uglier as the cancer was more vicious. My mother fought courageously for two years, but at the end she lost the battle. I still remember her last words to me, “You have to fight and win. Finish your studies. Be a role model”.
After my mother’s death, my fear of cancer intensified. I ran between labs and imaging centers for follow ups. I became obsessed with cancer, seeing it at every corner. Six years later, my worst nightmare came true. In April 2016, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I recalled my mother’s last words to me, and started treating cancer exactly as it should be, a temporary painful experience.
I discussed my treatment plan with my mother’s doctors and their medical team. And with the support from my siblings I started my own battle. For eight months, I kept my disease secret from my friends and co-workers. I was in pain, defeated sometimes. My life became a rollercoaster ride; but I couldn’t tell them. Somehow I managed to go to my work every day and live a normal life in spite of the weekly chemotherapy sessions. My work, my career and my students were my survival kit, the main anchors of my support system along with my amazing family and supportive friends.
When my BRCA test result came positive, indicating that my cancer was caused by an inherited genetic mutation, my sister knew she was also at high risk. Sure enough, her BRCA test result proved she carried the gene too. After the initial shock and panic, my sister decided to have bilateral prophylactic mastectomy a.k.a. preventive mastectomy; the “famous Angelina Jolie’s surgery,” to remove all breast tissue that potentially could develop breast cancer.My courageous sister was one of the pioneer women who underwent this medical procedure in Egypt.
I, myself, being already diagnosed with breast cancer, had to undergo some surgeries to remove my tumor, one of which lasted almost 12 hours. The surgeon removed the breast tissue and replaced it with a muscle from my back. The surgeries were followed by intensive radiotherapy. A year later I was back in the operating room for my final surgery. My mother’s last words gave me the strength to fight every battle I came across. Following her advice, I had no choice but to fight, even at moments when I was ready to surrender to the pain and accept that my life, would be a series of painful days and hopeless nights.
What inspired and motivated me to continue my fight was Radwa Ashour’s autobiography, Heavier Than Radwa. Ashour, whom I was named after, is my role model. Reading about her pain, suffering and battles against cancer changed my life.
On one of my hopelessly painful nights I decided to defeat my pain and take advantage of my long stay in bed and sleepless nights to work on my master’s. Once I set this target, I managed to overcome the after surgery complications with historical readings. I defeated the nausea, the pain and the sleepless nights with writings and research. Within a month I finished writing the first draft of my thesis.
In April 2018, two months after my surgery, I received my master’s degree in “Islamic Art and Architecture” from the American University in Cairo. I finally could send my gratitude to my mom and ensure her that “I fought and won.” R.I.P mommy.
Here is for every fighter, daughter of a fighter, sister of a fighter, mother of a fighter, friends and colleagues of fighters, “we all need to fight and win”.
Radwa El Fardy, 28 years old, is an architect and a cancer fighter. She graduated in 2012 and obtained her master’s in Islamic Art and Architecture in 2018. She is a Teaching Assistant at Misr International University, Faculty of Engineering, Department of Architecture.
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