This story was submitted by Nimaat Al Azzah, Breast Cancer Survivor and Mayo Clinic Patient
Life is full of surprises — some are happy and some can flip one’s world all around. In October, on my 37th wedding anniversary, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was looking forward to celebrating this day with my family but with a casual visit to the gynecologist, this dream was shattered. He felt something suspicious on my right breast and arranged for an immediate mammography appointment.
On the day of the mammogram I got dressed like any other day but the fear, anxiety, worrisome was not like any other day. Two of my daughters came along to the lab. After the mammogram, the specialist asked to meet with me and my daughters and told me that I had cancer in my right breast and that I could live for another five years. While she was talking, my eyes were on my daughters — one of them was crying and the other was in shock. As soon as she finished, my motherly instinct was to protect my daughters from the hurt and reassured them that people’s lives and destinies are all in God’s hands, and it is only for God to determine how long each of us will live. I thanked her and left the lab.
At the beginning I was shocked, afraid, angry and in denial. I asked myself, “Will the doctors ask me to go through a mastectomy, will I have to take chemotherapy, will I live to see my youngest daughter get married, will I..? Will I..? So many questions were in my head but the question that I asked myself a thousand times was, “why is this happening to me?” I do not drink, smoke or do anything that is harmful to my body. Yet, I have a cancer that is threatening my life and shattering my dream of living a healthy life with my husband, daughters and grandchildren.
The decision was to remove these cancerous tissues through an immediate surgery in Jordan and my husband insisted that I resume my treatment at the Mayo Clinic which is known for its lead in cancer treatment.
I remember thinking while packing my things, will I ever come back to my daughters, husband, to this room? Will I ever come back to drink the morning coffee with my husband in our favorite glass room? I said my good byes to my family looking into their fearful eyes. They all assured me that everything will be all right but I knew they were as frightened as I was from the unknown.
I arrived in Minnesota and remembered the last time I was there. It was for my daughter’s Master’s graduation ceremony. But, the emotions were extreme ends. One was of a joyful, proud mother, and the other was of a sick, frightened mom who was not sure she would even make it home.
At the doctor’s appointment, the doctor comforted me and explained to me that the surgeons in Jordan had done a thorough job removing the cancerous tissues, that I was fortunate to have found out about this cancer before it had spread, that it was not of an aggressive nature, and that I needed follow up with radiation for six weeks.
It was a relief to know that I was in no need of chemotherapy or mastectomy. I received the radiation treatment for six weeks. Although weathering this harsh therapy was one of the challenges that I had to cope with, my husband and daughter’s presence and Mayo Clinic’s staff and even volunteers made it, in a way, a healing experience. Everybody smiled, everybody was hopeful, inspiring, caring and loving. I have had so many hugs from strangers assuring me that I will be all right. Some shared their survival stories and this meant so much to me. I was inspired by people who worked at the main gate opening doors with one arm because they had lost the other. I was escorted to the sessions by loving nurses and was received every morning with great welcome and warm affection. I became friends with the nurses and the doctors who managed to understand my broken English and reassured me that I was fine and that I should keep hopeful.
I was fortunate with amazing doctors. Their names were Dr. James Ingle, Dr. John Donohue and Dr. Yolanda Garces, who explained every step of my treatment so thoroughly and encouraged me throughout the radiation sessions. And to them I am forever thankful.
I completed the radiation therapy and the doctor prescribed medication for me to take for five years and was told to come to Mayo Clinic every year for check up. And that’s what I have done for the past nine years, and I have been cancer free ever since. I am healthy, happy and ever grateful to my gynecologist who had asked me for the mammogram, to the amazing doctors in Jordan and in the U.S., and to the nurturing nurses and staff at the Mayo Clinic who made my breast cancer treatment a positive healing experience filled with love, compassion and empathy.