Simon, The Boy We All Helped Fight Leukemia, Has Passed Away

It seems like it was just yesterday that Simon’s story became a Lebanese headline story that got people from all over the world to help him reach the $60,000 goal needed for his bone marrow transplant in less than 3 days.

It was a glorious moment. I remember how proud I felt that I had helped. I remember how happy his brother was when I spoke to him afterwards to see how Simon was doing. His brother was given hope. We had given his family hope. Simon, the brave Red Cross volunteer who, in spite of his illness, always worked to save lives, had a fighting chance.

There’s nothing that’s 100% in medicine, we are taught. You can never tell a patient they will be cured. You give them percentages based on studies done by people much bigger than you to inform them of their chances. A surgery is never 100% risk free. A cancer is never 100% curable. Some people fall through the cracks of the numbers, of the drugs, of the scalpels and of what we know about the human body.

On Friday, January 30th, after several weeks of being at the hospital, Simon Badaoui passed away.

I often hear that reasons are multiple and the end result is always the same: death is omnipresent. Today, Simon is being celebrated by his family and friends for the brave fighter that he was, for the courageous man that he is.

Simon will never die as long as there are people who remember him. He leaves behind the memory of a young man who rallied an entire country to help him. He is remembered as the young man who didn’t spend his nights partying but who worked tirelessly to save lives that would have otherwise perished. He is remembered as that man who was given 8 months of hope that he would have otherwise not had. He is remembered as a friend, as a son, as a brother.

All of those are memories worth leaving behind.

May he rest in peace. My condolences to his parents, siblings and all the people that held him dear.

 

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My Mom, The Woman Who Beat Cancer

There are a lot of things that one could wish in the days leading up to their birthday. Mine is tomorrow. People tell you the best thing you could ask for is health. I got the best early birthday gift today.

My mom, Jinane, is officially cancer free.

It was a long and winding road that I saw her take. And she has reached the finish line. It was one tough year.

I saw people talk around the disease like an entity whose name shouldn’t be mentioned. And I saw her hurting every time they did.
I saw people look at her with pity and I saw how it killed her every time they did.
I saw her lose her hair and still fight.
I saw her become bed-ridden after chemo.
I saw her become one of those people you see in movies with a scarf around their heads.
I saw her face next to a bucket for more days than I can count.
I saw her look at herself in the mirror and reminisce at the woman she was.
I saw her fight.
I saw her never lose hope.
I saw her keep that spark in her eyes.
I saw her pray. I saw her love. I saw her become more amazing, more beautiful.

Breast cancer awareness month is in October. But cancer is a year-long disease.

There are a lot of things that make me proud about having that woman be my mother. But if there’s one that beats them all, it’s the sheer courage with which she faced her predicament and the bravery with which she came out triumphant.

Mom, I love you. I wish I were home to hug you. Now I’ll just have to wait on some neighbor to read this and go down to tell you how lucky a woman you are to have a son who loves you. That’s not true. I’m lucky to have you.

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This is for Lucy who lost her cancer fight today. May you rest in peace you brave, brilliant woman.

How Lebanese Women Can Save Their Lives

Almost a year ago, my October turned pink as my mother got news that she had breast cancer. After the initial shock of the matter subsides, you’re left with one of two options: you either think rationally and fight or succumb to your emotions and crumble. It was a tough year, that’s for sure. My mom wasted away because of the chemo. She lost her hair, vomited anything she’d eat. But she’s getting better now.

My mom, however, is not your typical breast cancer patient: she doesn’t have a family history that would cause anyone to be more vigilant. The other risk factors associated with breast cancer do not apply in her case. And yet, there she was getting a needle stuck in her central IV line. My mother fell through the statistical cracks of medicine, like so many other people out there.

October may be breast cancer awareness month but I figured I’d shed some light on other cancers that aren’t discussed often and which might be prevented with some careful attention.

Breast Cancer:

I’m especially happy at the response I got after writing about my mother’s diagnosis, with many readers coming up to me to tell me that they got their mother to go get tested as well and they’re relieved she has nothing or, in the case of some unlucky few, had a very early stage of the disease. A lot of research and money has gone into breast cancer. We’re at a stage, medically, where early detection is almost synonymous with cure.

Early detection happens by personal observation first and foremost. If you feel any difference in the shape of your breast or any odd sensation that wasn’t there before, make sure you consult a gynecologist who will do a breast exam. Don’t worry, though, the exam is not painful. It consists of very careful inspection of the breast for any masses as well as how any potential mass might be affecting shape, texture, etc.

Seeing as October is free mammography month, there’s absolutely no reason for every woman aged 40 and above not to get one. If you have a family history of breast cancer, mammographies should have started by age 30-35. The sad part is that despite mammographies being either free or at a greatly reduced price during October, Lebanon’s medical community has had trouble in getting the message to some sectors of Lebanese women.

Make sure the women you know get tested this month. Make sure you haven’t had any changes. They might sound like small steps but they can go a long way in saving the lives of the women you love.

Cervical cancer:

The thing about cervical cancer is that there’s a quick screening method for it called a pap smear. It’s recommended to do the pap smear annually until you’re 30, with the test starting preferably by the age of 21. It’s a screening exam so it cannot give you a diagnosis.

The other thing about cervical cancer is that there’s a vaccine which could cut your risk of getting it by about 90%. Why so? Because the main causative agent of the cancer is a virus that’s called HPV, which is acquired by sexual intercourse. It’s preferable  to get the vaccine prior to your first sexual relation. However, even if you have had a sexual relation without taking the vaccine, you can still take it and have your risk reduced dramatically.

A lot of Lebanese women don’t take the vaccine or do a pap smear for the following reasons:

  • They believe it’s a taboo to take a vaccine for something that’s related to sex,
  • The vaccine itself is quite expensive, especially since doctors charge quite a hefty sum to administer it,
  • Many women don’t trust vaccines to begin with,
  • Having a gynecologist is, to many, only a matter that should happen after marriage.

The HPV vaccine, however, has proven itself to be very efficient. With its introduction into the medical field, cervical cancer deaths have drastically decreased. So in case you haven’t taken the vaccine or done a pap smear yet, consider this a sign that you should do so.

Ovarian Cancer:

Ovarian cancer is sometimes called the silent killer of women. It’s currently the leading cause of gynecological cancer deaths among women. It’s so inconspicuous that its diagnosis usually happens at a very advanced stage, when the disease has already metastasized. Less than 20% of women survive an advanced stage of some types of ovarian cancer. This cancer metastasizes to the lungs, liver, bowels, among other organs. The operation required to resect and manage the spread is considered a marathon and often only buys a little time for treatment, which is usually very harsh.

Ovarian cancer doesn’t have screening methods or vaccines. It requires you to be vigilant. A yearly visit to your gynecologist who does a pelvic examination should suffice. If there’s any suspicion, your physician will order an ultrasound to guide any possible diagnosis.

Your Life Matters:

My mother, like many other women, took her health way too lightly. She paid the price for it. Don’t let that happen to you or the ones you love because your health and life matter. There are other types of gynecological cancers than the aforementioned that affect women. The common denominator is not to treat any sign that your body might be telling you lightly, not to have a sense of immortality or denial imprinted on you despite all forms of common sense and, most importantly, not to so shy as to no seek out a gynecologist for any possible reason. On the contrary, make sure you find a gynecologist who proves to be the best fit for you, with whom you can be comfortable and with whom you feel free to discuss whatever’s making you worry.

Let’s Talk About How Nabil Habib & Kalam Ennas Blew A Cancer “Cure”

I am furious.

There’s nothing I’d love more than to have my field discussed openly among people. There’s nothing more I’d love than to make people more aware about cancer, about the different treatment modalities. I’d even teach people all the pharmacology I know about cancer drugs if I were able to.

I approached the latest – currently airing – Kalam Ennas episode with caution. I had a faint clue who Nabil Habib was. They were discussing one of the most funded, most controversial, most challenging aspects of medicine lately. I figured I’d tune in.

Yes, I’m furious.

I’m not a chemist nor do I aim to be. But when it comes to protocol – when it comes to every single facet of what makes medicine works, what makes this branch of our lives that has cured so many people all around the world functional, he has blown to bits. And he’s condescending about it.

I have no idea who figured it was a scientifically sound idea to get a chemist who has a proposal for a cancer drug on air to discuss his work, have almost no opposite scientific opinion to what he was saying save for the few questions the show’s host got spoon-fed moments before going on air. But do you want to know what’s the great idea? It’s quoting the bible left and right for some scientific credibility.

First, an accomplished scientist wouldn’t need to go on media to discuss his work in order to convince people about it. Regular viewers are not those who need to be convinced about any scientist’s work – other scientists need to be. Getting a one-sided opinion on a talk-show is not having a scientific discussion. Getting people who have been “cured” by your methods is not science. You know what’s science? It’s having data that supports what you’re presenting without any shred of doubt. And then people will follow.

Second, the thing about scientific data is that there are ways for it to be amassed. And those rules exist for a reason: because science takes time, because such “cures” have to be so thorough as not to give people false hope, because arguments such as “this disease is ripping our societies” are not valid scientifically. Each step of the development of the drug from the lab to the clinic has to be monitored and submitted to the FDA. Nabil Habib has not done that. These are the steps to be followed for a drug development (link – you need to create an account to read it). Nabil Habib has blown these steps to pieces. But fear not, he has patented it – never mind that he used it on people as a “secret recipe” prior to the patent process.

Drug development

Third, the drug development procedure is a process that costs at least half a billion dollars. I’m sure Dr. Habib doesn’t have such means under his disposal. If his drug had been as wondrous as he’s making it out to be, then he would have definitely sold it to a major pharmacological company by now. He would have been a billionaire already and the drug would have been much further along development. And he’d have had the chance to cure much people than the 600 he claims he’s currently treating, an odd claim since I didn’t know chemists usually have patients who are people that suffer from a disease where any glimpse of hope is enough to get them going.

Such a TV show is not the platform to host a scientific discussion. I have no idea if the molecule in question is as beautiful as it has been portrayed to be simply because there has been no opposite opinion to its merits. I have no idea if the claim that this molecule has no side effects is valid: a molecule that can affect so many different types of cancers, affect different types of tissues cannot not have absolutely no side effects worth mentioning. I have no idea if what this man is claiming, even when it pertains to all the different kinds of cancers, is correct or not. But fear not, I have no right to know whether what he’s saying is a fact or not.

Such a TV show, aiming to capitalize on the interest of people, doesn’t get to screw over physicians who either refused or are not allowed to be hosted on it just because it’s what gets viewers. Dr. Georges Chahine will face hell tomorrow because the segment he gave prior to the Lebanese syndicate of physicians issued its decision on the episode was not amended to reflect that decision. The excuse? “It’s not our property anymore.” Excuse me? Whose property is it?

Such a TV show doesn’t serve to educate people. It doesn’t serve to expose a facet of Lebanese society that’s troubling us all. It doesn’t even better things for any of us. What it does is serve as a marketing ploy, nothing more and nothing less, to this chemist and his molecule while ridiculing every single physician who has taken more than a decade of his life to know how to do his job and get guests to tell everyone that those physicians are nothing but ignorants trying to ride people’s backs.

Lebanese TV doesn’t discuss science. Lebanese TV only deals with trash. There are Lebanese scientists who are working tirelessly on ways to deal with cancer (link). But we get this instead. My mother, a current cancer patient, felt this show ridiculed her struggles with her disease. But let’s just keep on making shortcuts, bypassing regulations and proclaiming persecution in order to emerge as messiahs. We’re Lebanese and we just roll like that. There are absolutely no standards whatsoever that can faze us.

 

The Bravest Person I Know

As she ran her fingers through her hair on that cold December night and was sad to see that the chemicals had started to sink in, she knew it wouldn’t be long before she would have to make a decision she never thought she’d have to make.

To let the hair go on its own? Or to take it all off?

We told her what the right decision should be. But it’s always easier to preach when you’re not the one cringing as you look at yourself in the mirror.

She decided that she wanted to cling to it more. It kept her warm, she said. She felt safer with it, she said.

So the hair kept falling. And she kept trying to hide it.

I remember the day well. I got back home from class to see her wearing a wig. I smiled. I knew she had taken the plunge. I was proud of her. I was strengthened by her courage. I was happy by her resilience.

As she took the razor to what was left of the hair on her head, she also took the decision to strengthen her fighting of those few cells that threatened to take her life away. Today, as I see her smile, I smile as well. And I see her radiating despite something being missing.

We keep her feeling good about it. But I realized we don’t need to. We joke about how my brothers and I are sure to lose our hair now that both our parents are bald. She’d smile and give us the “I’m not impressed” face. For the first time since she started chemotherapy, I can see her really happy. I can see her relieved.

My mother was beautiful before. My mother is gorgeous today. And I want to show you how brave she is. Because hair doesn’t matter.

Mother Cancer Chemotherapy

Pink – A Short Movie by Lebanese High School Students Inspired by This Blog

Little did I know back when I wrote about my mother’s cancer diagnosis in October that it would inspire a couple of Lebanese students from Batroun to turn my post (click here) into a short movie of sorts.

But Rita Assal and Steve Khattar, helped by a few of their friends including my brother, did. Rita Assal and Steve Khattar are senior (terminale) students at St. Joseph School – my old school – in Batroun. They both want to get into movie-making and I wish them the best of luck in their future endeavors.

They will also be hosted on LBC this coming Monday on the show “Helwi el Hayet” (or whatever it’s called nowadays) whose producers were very impressed with their work.

The video itself is not perfect but that doesn’t matter. What matters is the ambition behind it – the fact that with limited equipment and expertise, students who had never learned movie-making before were able to shoot, edit and have voice overs done. I am also flattered that mom’s story was the catalyst that led to this.

I leave you with Pink:

22.

As my friends sat around me singing happy birthday to you on that cold Saturday night which wasn’t even technically my birthday, I felt happy. The rain glistened off the window in front of me, it was cold outside but I felt the warmth of the party that was celebrating me turning 22.

I wish I knew in that moment that some of those friends were not there to stay. I wish I knew in that moment what year awaited me as I blew off those candles and people applauded.

/Trust.

I was standing alone in a crowded room on a cold February night and I was just realizing I knew absolutely no one there even those people whom I thought I knew all too well. And they’re not speaking to me, pretending like they didn’t know me. The fake smiles, the fake truths, the fake nods, the contest of who’s acting like they could care less… I had gotten tired of them all. The amount of insecurity that people had was way too unacceptable for me to handle anymore. And as everyone smiled and hugged each other, I started wondering: what did I do wrong not to be the one being welcomed like this?

It took some time for me to realize that I had done nothing wrong at all. It took some time for me to realize that keeping your guard up is a necessity. Trusting people easily should never be a possibility because the amount of assholes in this world is way too high. I realized I shouldn’t be surprised to have been let down because your expectations out of others towards you are very rarely met. So you do your best because you hope that this would somehow return good upon you. But you expect nothing.

Even people whom you thought would never ever disappoint you end up doing so. And they throw around lame excuses to justify doing so but you would have reached a point where you couldn’t care less anymore.

The theory is easy. The practical aspect of it is still a work in progress.

The saddest part though is that for a while after that I had to fight the urge to pick up the phone and call.

Foreign Home.

Your home away from home where you are foreigner and yet you fit like a glove to your hand. The lack of complexity with people. The lack of the need to be two-faced in order to get ahead. I remember the great people I met all too well. I remember the good times I shared with them. I remember the places I went through. I remember standing in front of that Royal Palace and feeling infinitely happy. I remember sitting under the Eiffel Tower on a warm Paris night. I remember walking through a cemetery where people I could only dream of approaching were laid to rest. I remember being at the place where the world’s major decisions are taken. I remember Porte des Postes. I remember Cormontaigne. I remember the grey August clouds overcast on the city as I saw it from the ICU of the hospital where I had spent most of my time being treated like a colleague. I remember those walks I took just to be alone amid the greatness of the place whose air I breathed. And I remember her with her blond hair and red lips and that rainy night in the streets of Lille.

So Small.

It’s easy to get lost inside your own problems which always seem so big at the time they’re happening. It’s very easy to make them seem like they are the worst thing that could ever happen to a person. It’s very easy to over dramatize them: why me?

But on a Monday, in a waiting room at a hospital in France, I realized how pitiful it is of me to dwell on the friends that were no longer there, on the grades that weren’t that good, on the things that I could’ve done. I saw people trying to convince that twenty year old boy of the need to cling to life as much as possible as his body rejected the heart transplant he had spent the previous year undergoing. And I realized then, as I tried to get him to feel better, that my problems are just so small.

Diagnosed.

She’s not invincible. She’s not going to be here forever. She’s weak. Her own body is killing her. As you look upon the worried face of the woman who gave birth to you, it can’t but kill you inside to see her hurting and to know her thoughts are about the potentiality of her not being there for you anymore. And you go in with her to her surgery because you know that being there for her will make all the difference. And it almost kills you to see her there, a shell of the person that she is, because of the drugs they injected into her veins. But you know it’s all for the best. And your senses perk up when the surgeon is stunned to find the procedure he had thought would be fairly straightforward was not. And your worry increases when you find out that the cancer was not as localized as they thought it was. Then when she wakes up from the anesthesia and the first faint word upon her lips when she sees your face is “habibi,” and despite the severity of it all, your worries in the world subside for just one minute.

Even thought she might lose her hair. And even though she might lose her weight. You’d still do anything for her to be there for you. And it may be selfish but it’s really not because you know that there’s nothing more she’d want as well.

Life/

Despite your guard being up, some people roll Into your life who end up surprising you. And you feel happy about them being there. things end up getting better for you and you remember the good times you spent and you realize that you regret nothing at all. You find the family which you had taken for granted will always be there for you. You meet new family members who were taken away from you by life and and time space and you find more in common with them than you’ve thought possible. You grow, you become more critical, you stand up for what you believe in. You take things in and hope that your life isn’t going to waste.

At least now you know where the 13 in State of Mind comes from. And right now, I’m felling 22 one last time, one last day. And thank God for that. Hello November 13th. Hello year 23.