Cover Photo Courtesy of The Estée Lauder Companies’ Campaign Against Breast Cancer
Born, raised and settled in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Mayadah Bahareth is a proud mother of three who now manages her family’s real estate in Jeddah. A strong woman in every sense of the word, she explored her strength through an experience that many women out there have gone through, breast cancer.
Stronger now more than she has ever been, she shares her unique and challenging journey with us at Azyaamode and our readers, gives insights and advices for every person going through the same, and inspires through her experience those who need inspiration.
Can you share your initial reactions and emotions when you first received your breast cancer diagnosis?
When I first heard my diagnosis, I nearly fainted. I am a spiritual person by nature and started reciting a verse from the Quran that I never knew I memorized. It is something that was on the back of my mind. Afterward, I had this feeling of tranquility. I was filled with serenity, love and tranquility, and I started to think of my plan for the journey on which I was about to embark.
What were some of the key decisions you had to make regarding your treatment plan, and how did you approach making those choices?
Without hesitation, I decided to travel abroad. It’s not that we don’t have credibility in my country, we have a lot of credibility but I didn’t know any oncologist. At the time, I knew 4 people who were, or were being, treated by a famous doctor in Paris. Therefore, his name came straight to my mind, decided to get my treatment in Paris and started making calls in preparation for the journey.
Could you describe the support network you had in place during your journey and how it impacted your experience?
Support for a cancer patient is very important. The cancer patient is in a state of psychological trauma. My family’s support was excellent. My sister used to accompany me to each appointment, and my 2 sons were very supportive; they were my medical secretaries. It was their job to check my results and appointments with the doctor and take care of everything for me. They used to write for me all my appointment times, they would call to remind me of blood tests. They also used to handle the logistic side of preparing everything. It was managed with excellence, and this was a big part of my treatment. My sons and my brother even created a group between themselves in order to discuss the plan, what to do… They took care of everything and that was very important. In addition, seeking psychological help from a professional was very helpful.
Many people find strength and inspiration in various ways during challenging times. Can you share any sources of inspiration or coping strategies that helped you through your breast cancer journey?
In fact, when I finished my therapy and came back home, I had Post-Trauma Stress Syndrom and my children asked me to seek professional help, they actually made me appointments with a specialist twice and I canceled them. The patient is usually scared of these things. Finally, I went to the doctor and the sessions were very enlightening. It cleared some thoughts I had. Also, during my therapy, a friend of mine bought me an online course about meditation and how to deal with stress, and this was great because this makes one realize that fear is a thought and a feeling, not a reality, and you’re the victim of your thoughts – which made me feel relieved. That’s when I realized that I had to take care of myself above everything else. Reading also helped me cope with this reality, as well as listening to the Quran and taking up hobbies like doing puzzles. I was doing puzzles all the time because this took my mind off of things. I also used to be a bridge player, so a friend of mine once came to me and reminded me of playing bridge, and I needed that reminder of a game I used to play 20 years ago. So, I went back to playing it and I am still doing so until now. The patients should think of themselves. Dealing with your own thoughts is a big challenge, as well as turning them into good ones. I would envisage myself in places that I like with people who I love, and create a reality that I would love.
Breast cancer treatment can be physically and emotionally demanding. How did you manage the side effects and maintain your overall well-being during this time?
In terms of treatment, I was subject to chemotherapy and I had a double mastectomy. All the physical parts I lost didn’t affect me in any way because they are physical. They are not a part of my soul. My soul wasn’t taken. Only a part of me was taken. Even losing my hair wasn’t a problem, it even grew back nicer. I would put on a scarf or a hat and people used to tell me that I am elegant. I also used to go to a dermatologist because I wanted to take care of myself and my hair when it grew back. I wanted to take care of my nails as well because chemotherapy turns them darker so I wanted to know what vitamins I should take.
As you reflect on your journey, are there any insights or advice you would like to offer to others who may be facing a breast cancer diagnosis or undergoing treatment?
Cancer comes with a lesson, and my lesson was to reevaluate my life and rearrange my priorities. It brings the patient closer to God regardless of their religion. I felt like I was blessed and this was my opportunity to reevaluate my priorities. I care about myself and about being a woman. Undergoing a double mastectomy doesn’t make me less of a woman. I rely on my personality to be a woman, not on my body. I am not one of those people who rely on their looks because I wear the dress, the dress doesn’t wear me. A handbag doesn’t define me, I define it. Now that I am older, I am stronger. I am stronger for passing through this experience. Life changes in a split second.
In terms of advice, I would recommend a cancer patient not to listen to anybody, only refer to your doctor. As I mentioned in my plan before, one should choose a doctor and stick to the one they chose. Don’t listen to anybody else. I believe in science and I believe in medicine. I also tell them to set a treatment plan and stick to it. Stay away from toxic people and from stress, as it’s a very important factor in cancer.
Article Written by Mirella Haddad