Delivering news, consolation and cancer

Warning! This post is not suitable for children.

When I was about 13 year old, he kidnapped a family friend. She was a mother of three; the eldest was a 10 year-old girl. At that time I was too young for my parents to explain to me who kidnapped our Egyptian friend. I liked her a lot because she used to ask me how to make her kids love reading like me. In addition, knowing how much I like macaroni béchamel she used to make one whenever they invited us for dinner. “I made this especially for Malik” she used to say. Before she passed away she had a surgery to remove a breast, to become better I was told.

It turned out the kidnapper has a name but Arab women never say his name out of fear and/or superstition. They refer to him by a pronoun like “that disease” or other names but never by his real name. That is, Cancer. He or it –whatever you think of him or it– is considered the human evil or the monster.

Years later, when I was in my early twenties I cried a lot while attending a twenty something friend’s burial. He was also kidnapped by “that disease.” Two years ago I drove along with a group of people for five hours to bury my friend’s wife and mother of four in her home town. I couldn’t hug her children because I didn’t know what to say and I didn’t want them to see me shed tears. I am the worst person when it comes to comforting or conveying consolation to someone especially to children. What should I say to a 7 year old girl who lost her mother? Is there anything to say to make things easier for her?

Two weeks ago, I met someone at the masjid who I have not seen for quite some time. I know he was in Europe during the summer. While hugging him he politely pushed me away. I jokingly said “do you have sun burns on your back?” I was thinking of the European beaches. He smiled, but his smile was somehow not natural it looked pretended. He told me that he had an operation last week and stopped talking. I kept silent and didn’t ask him what was the operation for. But I think he wanted me to ask. After a moment of silence, he opened up and told me in almost a whispering voice that he has cancer. I wasn’t sure I heard him clearly but at the same time I didn’t want him to repeat what he said. My tongue failed me very badly again. I didn’t utter a word or maybe I did. I don’t remember what I said but I am sure it was something stupid. This just turned 60 year old man has the look and body of a fit man in his 40s and the spirit of 20 something man. He is the most athletic person I have met. When you look at him you will definitely cut off 10 or 15 years from his real age. He is a motorbike rider, a certified soccer referee and won couple of Karate competitions when he was younger.

After he told me about his cancer, we went inside to pray Isha. I forgot about my problems and prayed for him. After the prayer, I looked for him and tried to comfort him. I was more articulate this time, I chose my words carefully. It turned out I was one of very few people he told. He explained in detail what his disease is. I learned about his chemotherapy treatment, hospital schedules, losing hair, red and white cells, and whatnot. While he was talking, I was listening and nodding my head. I wasn’t sure if I should just listen or ask questions. I wasn’t sure what will make him more comfortable. We departed with an intention to call him in few days but I didn’t. I should call him tomorrow and ask him to go out with me.

Seven years ago when I came to this city I used to break my fast during Ramadan in the Masjid, daily. He used to be there as well. He was the first person I made friendship with during my first Ramadan here. Every day after we break our fast we both used to walk in the downtown to digest the food while waiting for Isha prayer. I hope he get the strength, patient, hope and most importantly faith to face this God created monster.

I don’t think people in general are prepared to say the right thing in such situations. Even the people who we are suppose to find comfort talking to or find an answer with, our religion scholars, fail miserably to explain things. Some of them will tell us it will wash off one’s sins. Others will say it is a test from God. I am not sure which one is suppose to comfort the mother of a 5 year old boy with cancer or even worse explain to the kid why he has cancer.

It is a losing game to try to understand or find a reason for why Allah created this monster that chooses his victims regardless of gender, age, or life style.

Many times I find people with a fatal disease comfortable talking about their illness more than their close relatives. They usually are more courageous facing death than the healthy ones. Maybe because when one is closer to death the closer to reality he or she becomes.

Although, there is still no cure for cancer yet but there are successful treatments. This success is shown through cancer survivors. They are a living proof of miracles. It is Allah’s way to show us that miracles do happen every day. A cancer survivor is a miracle created by the well of God for the sake of the patient and for the sake of everyone else. Allah chose those individuals to teach us that one should never lose hope and faith.

8 thoughts on “Delivering news, consolation and cancer

  1. it is not an easy disease. just like how abu salma once described death:خبط عشواء which completely matches the description of cancer.

    i guess the reason we lose our words is not because we dont know much about it or that we fear it.. its because we dont know what it feels to be a cancer patient.

    may god cure us all..

    thanks a lot for such a post.. just one little question: why the “Warning! This post is not suitable for children.”

  2. this post is not suitable for children , mothers and any one living in Jordan,consuming all kind of hormone d and toxic food and wondering :
    when will be my turn with this “disease”???

  3. Aseel –I thought it might be depressing for children to read about death. And I was afraid that my post may not be the best read for a child who knows someone with cancer. Who is Abu Salma by the way?

    Naysan-Yes, I know the topic is depressing. It wasn’t easy for me to write about. Believe me Jordan has less toxic food than developed countries. We just need to eat wisely, exercise and pray for a good health.

  4. i felt that writing this post helped you in expressing those hidden feelings that maybe felt inside us when hearing from ill people surrounded us ….and yes it leaves some fears inside us somehow…. glad that you are that kind of person that people find themselves comfortable talking to and expressing their own feelings too ….
    may allah bless you ….

  5. I’ve never experienced this kind of superstition you mention in Libya. It really is interesting. I believe it was quite taboo to talk about cancer even the UK years ago, but with an education campaign the stigma was removed. I’d quite like to see a similar one in arabic countries, to make people more aware. The superstitious fear comes from a lack of understanding.

  6. Orangee-Yes, writing helps me a lot. Thanks for your kind words.

    Ahmad-Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the subject. I think things are getting better in the Middle East regarding being more educated about the disease than before.

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