Part 1 – Facing Cancer in the Middle East – Diagnosis

You have cancer. Three little words that no-one wants to hear and everyone dreads. Each person who’s had cancer has their own story of pain, struggle, courage, persistence, resilience.

This is mine.

I was far away from home and much of what I knew as familiar when I was first diagnosed. I had been working in Qatar in the Middle East for a few years. For me, life revolved around work, food, gym, shopping malls, late night walks and, when I could get out of the country (which was no mean feat), travel to escape the heat, visit family and explore either that side of the world or Europe. Life was very different to what I had lived in the west but bubbles, of any sort, must inevitably pop. When mine exploded, I was in the midst of major personal trauma to the point that when an offending lump was detected I couldn’t understand how I had failed to notice it earlier. I didn’t have pain or illness. Just this extra bit of myself.

Life in the Middle East moved at its own, slow, sometimes excruciating pace when it came to getting certain things done, especially for expats. Survival depended upon patience and acquiescence to the popular, often used Arabic word Insha’Allah which translates to “God willing” but could mean anything from “soon” to “not bloody likely.”

When curiosity (and fear) about my “lump” drove me to visit a doctor at the local hospital covered by my international insurance, I was, however, amazed at the speed of events. In the one night, I had a medical consultation, underwent a mammogram and scan and then had a follow-up meeting with a surgeon. I wasn’t prepared for the cancer diagnosis. No-one really ever is. Within 2 weeks, however, I had had 2 surgeries (a biopsy and a quadrantectomy) and had become another statistic. My life would never again be the same.

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Presence in Absence

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