December 13, 2016 12:00 AM | by Amira Azzouz
Warriors in Pink Series: Noha Wagih Opens Up About Her Journey with Breast Cancer
Warriors in Pink is a movement by Ford Motor Company, which focuses on fighting against breast cancer; be it by raising funds or awareness, and they have been doing it for over 20 years now. During their Warriors in Pink session in Egypt, I met four beautiful ladies, each with a completely different take on life, but the one thing they had in common was their inspiring story on how they fought breast cancer.
Meet Noha Wagih, a 41-year-old Egyptian woman. When I asked her to share with me one interesting fact about herself, she mentioned that she’s a free soul. Scroll down to read Noha Wagih’s story. (Story 1 of 4)
Amira: Why did you decide to be part of the Warriors in Pink movement?
Noha: When they called me, I thought of it as a way to try and help raise awareness. It’s a very hard journey for any woman to go through, and if me being part of that movement would give a glimpse of hope of what it would be like at the end of that journey, then I would love to be part of it.
Amira: When and how did you find out you had breast cancer?
Noha: Five and a half years ago. I just had a baby a year before, my youngest child, who had just turned 1 then. I discovered a lump and initially thought it was due to breastfeeding. I decided to go to the doctor and he immediately panicked, and asked me for some tests. 24 hours later I was diagnosed without even taking a biopsy, from the lump and how it looked. It all happened very fast and before I even knew it, the doctor decided to go for an on-table biopsy, and in case they found it’s cancer, they would remove it on the spot. It turned out to be a grade 3 cancer, and I woke up with the shock, they told me they removed everything; my breast and lymph nodes. At that point, my doctor told me not to worry about things, as I could go for a reconstruction surgery, but at the end I decided against it, because I didn’t want to go through another operation.
Amira: How did you feel after the mastectomy?
Noha: I was a little bit shocked, but the real shock came two days later. Of course it was very painful, as it was something you would never think would happen to you, and in one day everything changed. I thought all I'm going to have to go through is the mastectomy, and as hard as that was, that would be it. I remember my sister coming into my room and telling me this firmly, that I'm going to have to take chemotherapy to get a chance at being better and to have a chance to live. They had to give me the maximum of everything, because it was grade 3.
Amira: When did you decide to start fighting?
Noha: That happened after my second chemotherapy session. Within 30 days from the surgery, I started the first chemotherapy session and that shock continued with me until my second session. I was so frightened and had no idea what’s going to happen to me. The second session was a bit harder, because my hair started falling the next day. That’s when I decided to take matters into my own hands and shave it. I had very long and healthy hair, and had just reached my hair goals, or in other words was very happy with it. I couldn’t take seeing it fall in my hands, but you know what? Shaving it was kind of a liberating experience, because when you’re afraid of something and wait for it to happen it scares you even further. I decided to just get it over with.
Amira: How did you feel at that exact moment?
Noha: I remember looking at myself in the mirror, I had removed my breast, shaved my head and I was looking like my worst fear, but from that point on, something changed. I was starting to accept what was happening, because until that moment, I still thought I was in a dream, and I would wake up soon from it. This very day, was my “AHA” day. I still remember the exact date, 5th of May 2011. And ever since that point, I started to deal with it. I fought one day at a time, I didn't think ahead, it was just one day at a time.
Amira: And from there on, was it an emotional rollercoaster?
Noha: Yes, I had to deal with various emotions, from anger to embracing what I’m going through, then back to anger, then happiness that I’m still here and fighting, then depression, lots of blue moods followed by pink moods. At the end of the day, you can’t accept that you’ll crawl inside of your bed and wait for it to get the best of you, you have to fight and fight hard. Throughout every single detail of the day, you fight to be well and overcome the constant mood changes and overwhelming emotions. On top of that, sometimes people around you are very mean, even without meaning it.
Amira: How so?
Noha: If there's a message I’d like to pass on to people from my experience, it would be not to take cancer lightly. I didn’t take having cancer lightly and it’s not nice to undermine what others are going through. You don't know what's going on with them or how they feel. A lot of people told me that it's very common, and people survive it and they get well and that everything will be easy for me. They think of breast cancer as the easier kind of cancer, but the thing is there is no easy in cancer. Cancer is cancer, and it's hard for a woman to go through breast cancer, because it changes the way her body looks. To accept my scar and that my body looks different than other women wasn’t easy. Eventually you get well, you fight and you go through life with a different perspective. Cancer changes people.
Amira: How did it change you?
Noha: Sometimes to a better person, but also on some level it shook part of my old self, but I will get it back. I used to be a free, strong, outgoing, outspoken, wild and upbeat person. The journey was so hard, and hence getting back to the person I used to be will take time. One of the things that really changed about me is that I now appreciate people around me much more and understand their struggles. I’d like to think that I became a kinder person who empathizes with people. Some of the people I know came out of cancer with the best versions of themselves. I’m not there yet, as in the best version of myself, but a better one than before.
Amira: What’s a lesson you’ve learned and wish to pass on to others?
Noha: Never underestimate yourself, don’t let people around you take you for granted and don’t make yourself small for any person. Holding in negative feelings, without releasing them, is not good for your well-being. Of course it’s important to always do check-ups and maintain a healthy lifestyle, but within that healthy lifestyle your emotional state plays a big role. Try to live a stress-free life and find out what makes you happy. Yes, your family and friends are a big part of that happiness, but you also need to look for that individual happiness, be it your passion, hobbies, work, traveling, meditation or reading. Don’t compromise who you are, because life is too short. I was 36 years old, in a very good place from the outside, but a mess from the inside, and in 24 hours my life changed drastically. You collapse no matter how strong you are, if you are not well from the inside.