My name is Lina El-Sharif, I am a 31-year-old, working mother of a 2-year-old boy, and I am from Palestine. I would like to share my beautiful journey with Breast Cancer. Yes, I said it. It is beautiful, because it’s a journey that allowed me to discover my internal strength. I am not here to share a story of fear, but to share a story of determination, passion, faith, and love of life.
On Valentine’s Day this year, I went on a date with my loving husband, got dressed, had a romantic dinner, got roses, and as a treat, we went on a couple massage; life was so beautiful and pink. During my massage, I felt a very tiny lump, smaller than anyone would get concerned about, just as small as the top of a pencil’s eraser or more specifically, the size of a lentil. Should I worry? Should I ignore it? I’m just going to enjoy our date which rarely happens given that we have a naughty 2 years old boy, and a busy working schedule. The second morning, the thought didn’t get out of my head, I have been always hearing those stories about young women who got Breast Cancer and all those awareness campaigns in October, so I guess this was a situation where I needed to go and check.
I took an appointment on the same day with a gynecologist, I was diagnosed with fibroadenoma, a solid, non-cancerous tumor that sometimes comes to women post breast feeding and it should go away. I was somehow relieved but not reassured, few months later, I still felt it there. My gut feeling said there is something wrong, always trust your gut feeling on those things. So I went for a second opinion and I could read it all over my doctor’s face. She asked me to go for an ultrasound and if needed a mammogram, as it only looks ‘suspicious’. Ok, so far nothing to worry about, no one said the “C” word.
Suddenly, I found myself getting an ultrasound, mammogram, biopsy, MRI, and requested to do a genetic test to see if I carry the “Breast Cancer” gene in my family, and boom, I was told I have Breast Cancer. I was completely blank. My doctor started talking about the procedure, and I didn’t hear anything. The questions that sprung up my mind were: Why now? What is my husband going to do without me if I died? How am I going to tell my mother? Am I going to lose my job? Am I going to lose my hair and look so pale? Life was just starting to get better.
I guess that moment felt like the safety manual that you read on airplanes. They always tell you to fasten your seat-belt, wear the life jacket if you ever went into the water, etc. But once you are in the water, you just freeze. I’ve been always exposed to Breast Cancer Awareness campaigns every October, and I was familiar with the symptoms, but never knew how would I react if it ever happened to me.
The panic took a couple of days to settle. Then, calmer, I decided I had to gather myself, not only for me, but also for the people who cared about me. Then came the tough process of dealing with their concerns and bits of friendly but unnecessary advice. In times of crisis, I guess everybody becomes a doctor and the advice comes free and fast! It’s not that they were busybodies. They were acting out of their concern for me, but I preferred dealing with it myself. My concern at that point was how to get ahead with my life.
It was a chance to look into my past, evaluate my current, and decide on my future. It was time to take some decisions. I realized even in the worst situations, we are still blessed to be able to take choices. When you list the choices, it becomes much easier to decide. I had the choice to either worry about death, pain, and surgery; or simply enjoy life, become a much loving mother and wife, give more to others, and make a difference in this journey. I simply picked to make it worth living.
A big change that cancer brought into my life was how I dealt with losing my hair. I’ve always had thick long hair, and I was proud of it. One of my breast cancer friends suggested that I get rid of it before it started falling off. Instead of sounding tough, it sounded sensible to me. It would help me deal better with this as I was the one in control. I ended up feeling liberated. The cancer had not taken it – I did! Now I don’t wear anything to cover my head, I am being myself. Plus, I realized that hair is really overrated. Life is much easier when you shower in 2 minutes and you don’t have a “bad-hair day.”
Walking in public with my bald head specially in malls or restaurants was however something else. Though nobody made fun of me directly, I could see their stares on the back of my head, and detect their attitude by their body language. People can be mean sometimes by pointing and having a little giggle. One of the most painful comments I’ve got was from someone who said that I looked like an alien. I guess he felt he was being funny. But I find it hard to laugh at such jokes. The more I was challenged with those situations, the stronger and more stubborn I became to make it a point that no one should ever change the way they look to gain acceptance. I am extremely comfortable and proud with how I look, and I refuse to change it for anyone on earth. Now my attitude is; if you can’t accept my baldness, look the other way. But I wish people would stop being so judgmental about looks.
My company (Brazilian Foods - BRF) has been wonderful in supporting me through my treatment, even though I joined only in January this year. I was told by our CEO (Patricio Rohner) that the only expectation they had from me is to beat my cancer. This moment was a big push to my strength and motivation to fight as I knew I was supported by a people-oriented company. Also, our Commercial Director (Fadi Felfeli) was such a great support, as he was constantly checking on me and motivating me to face everyone the way I feel comfortable with. Having leaders with such a big heart is just the perfect mix for inspiration. So, I too don’t take a sick-leave unless absolutely necessary.
What also brings a great sense of joy into my life is that Breast Cancer gave me the chance to follow my passion. I have been always dreaming to use my crochet talent to make a difference. So I finally launched my Instagram page: @Hookin_Good where I post my pieces, they get donated to support Breast Cancer Awareness events for the time being.
I believe the hardest part is believing that good things can happen in these situations, and ensure that your full energy is dedicated to act this way. But once you reach this mindset, life will have a completely different flavor regardless of the obstacles. Yes, Breast Cancer is very common nowadays, and it does not necessarily occur in older ages. It can happen to anyone, including men. So please don’t ignore the signs, listen to your body, trust your gut feeling, check yourself, and always put your health first. Yet, if you ever had to go through this, I promise you, it’s not that bad. It’s not the end of the world, it is just the beginning of a new chapter in your life. Enjoy what you wish to enjoy and stay away from anything negative in your life. Life will go on and everything will be fine, if you feel it will be fine. It all depends on you and what you believe.