To heal yourself, start from your thoughts: Narine Geroyan
Narine Geroyan has come a long way since she was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer in 2015. Back then, her major worries were that her two children were very young. To add to her pain, she had also been laid off from work. But despite the worries, she did not allow them to overwhelm her. Through sheer positivity, proper medication – and perhaps the de-stressing effects of working on a passion, crochet – she has managed to beat the dreaded disease.
Narine remembers the time when she started her treatment and began losing her hair. "I decided to wear a wig," says the 44-year-old. "My kids thought it was my new hairstyle."
Her treatment was long drawn out – a mastectomy, eight rounds of chemotherapy, a course of radiation, and a course of injections. During that period, she shuttled between Armenia, her home country and Dubai – spending time with loved ones in both places. She remembers her friends from Dubai calling her regularly encouraging her to be strong and stay positive. "Those calls were truly helpful," she says.
Returning to the UAE in 2016, and finding herself with a lot of free time, she decided to pick up her long forgotten crochet needles and try making soft toys. With a bunch of loving friends to encourage her, she pursued her passion which also helped her a great deal in fighting the disease. Last Christmas, she made a Santa and shared a photograph of it with a few friends. "They were encouraging," she says, "and told me to continue. Crochet truly helped combat negative emotions and channel my energy to creativity."
Today, completely recovered, she still remembers the advice given by her doctor, a piece of advice she has been living by for the past seven years. "Be positive, think and talk positive. If you give up, even the best medicine or doctor can’t heal you. To heal yourself, start from your thoughts. You are beautiful and strong; you will beat it."
Since she appeared in a feature in Friday last year, her crochet hobby has now turned into a small business. She teamed up with children’s author Michele Ziolkowski to create crochet soft toys for the book titles Heiko the Hippo and The Little Camel (they were offered to little kids as a combo.)
Upon reading the article, philanthropist Arwa Beig also contacted her to be part of the makeover series for cancer survivors as part of her Arwa’s Beauty Beliefs initiative. "I received gifts and was treated like a celebrity. I felt so special that day," remembers Narine.
The breast cancer warrior, who continues her regular check-ups and treatments, attributes her recovery to God, and to her doctors in Dubai and Armenia. "Crochet too helped me stay mindful," she says.
Even during Covid, she claims that her hobby kept her busy, so much so that she did not find the time to worry too much about anything else. "I am grateful to the government of the UAE for effectively combating Covid and making me and the people I care about feel safe."
Covid has taught me that staying in touch with friends is vital to your well-being: Neetika Thakur
It was on her birthday in 2011 that Neetika Thakur first detected a lump in her left breast. "I initially dismissed it, thinking it was nothing to worry about," she says. But while on a trip to India she mentioned it to her mother-in-law who insisted she get a check up done. However, her gynaecologist was not in town, so the consultation was postponed.
"It was some months later, when one day my daughter Diksha came over to hug me and when she pulled me towards her tightly, I felt a sudden sharp pain in the breast," she recalls. Neetika remembers holding her chest and sinking into a chair. "My daughter got worried, called my husband and rushed me for a check-up."
A week later the results were in: she was detected with breast cancer.
A year and a half since she was detected, after three phases of treatment in India, Neetika became cancer-free in October 2012. She returned to the UAE in November and joined school the next day itself.
Ten years down the lane since her first diagnosis, Neetika is grateful for all blessings in life. Even though they were extremely cautious and followed all necessary precautions, she and her family contracted Covid in February this year. "But the Ministry of Health and Preventions staff supported us immensely during the pandemic when we were affected by Covid," she says. "The staff was mindful of my immune-compromised condition and breast cancer history and took care of me very well."
Neetika is also grateful to her school principal and management for supporting her during those trying times. "I’d like to thank all frontline healthcare workers too! Their dedication and support during this unprecedented time is highly appreciative."
Neetika has been keeping busy by following her passion of teaching Mathematics at DPS Sharjah. "I have learnt to adapt to the new mode of hybrid teaching, which is a mix of virtual and in class session," she says. "I also took the work from home opportunity to learn new IT and soft skills. I obtained several certifications, spent ample time with family and enrolled in a few Microsoft online courses to keep myself updated."
Covid has taught Neetika that staying in touch with friends and relatives is imperative to your well-being. "I also understood the importance of appreciate our planet, the resources that we have and conserve whatever we can by adopting sustainable methods in our daily routines."
Her advice to those afflicted with breast cancer is to stay happy and positive. "Share not only moments of happiness but also moments of lows because that makes you, as well as anyone associating with your story, much stronger and lighter. Always pursue the willingness to live and spend time with your loved ones," she says.
My advice? Enjoy life: Mandy Daswani
Indian expat Mandy Daswani is feeling elated that she just managed to lose 5 kilos. "My health is great! The weight loss makes me feel better," she says. "I exercise as often as I can, have made slight changes to my diet and trying to eat less carbs at night."
Eight years ago, Mandy had a brief stint with breast cancer during which she says "I was the worst patient ever". She was at work when she got the fateful phone call after running a series of tests and she remembers breaking down completely.
Ever since her remission, she has been doing constant follow ups and hopes to be off medication in two years.
In January this year, she took a vacation to Goa got stuck in India for six months as the flights got cancelled due to the pandemic restrictions. "We lived with my sister in Pune. It was a completely different kind of lifestyle. With no house help, we did all the cleaning and cooking ourselves. As it was supposed to be a short holiday, I hadn’t taken my laptop. I felt totally disconnected from my Dubai life. It was really a learning experience," she says.
On the personal front, her younger daughter Sacha got married while her elder daughter Priya has had another child. "They were truly moments to cherish and enjoy," she says.
Mandy enjoys travelling, hitting the beaches and bonding with her two grandchildren Naisha,4, and Doushik, 2. "My advice to cancer survivors is really just enjoy life, be active – any form of exercise, even if it is just 20 minutes a day, helps. Try not to stress or do anything that does not make you happy."
Stay positive and optimistic, no matter how hard things get: Sirine Fadoul
It was only after an intensive search that the doctors diagnosed Sirine Fadoul with stage one breast cancer in 2018. Sirine battled the whole course of her treatment without any family present in the country. Since the advent of Covid, she still hasn’t been able to see her family. "But l have my Dubai family, a close group of friends who are my support system and always there when I need them. I also rely on my BC support groups such as BrestFriends Al Jalila Foundation and the amazing warriors I met through these communities and groups," she says.
She is grateful for her clean bill of health and continues with regular follow-ups and medication which are now part of her life. "It’s a blessing in disguise since these follow-ups ensure that I stay healthy overall and can move on with my life knowing that everything is under control," she says.
Since the article in Friday, she has been, like the rest of the world, coping with and adjusting to a new normal. "I had big travel plans for 2020 but had to put everything on hold until it’s safer to travel again and do the things I love. I have started a new job that I’m enjoying."
However, Sirine did manage to go on a hike for charity with Gulf for Good in Kyrgyzstan. "I’m also having a blast taking weekly salsa lessons and learning Spanish," she says.
If there is one thing Covid has taught her, it is patience. "Covid has been much more challenging for those undergoing treatment. I decided end of 2019 to take a sabbatical and travel extensively in 2020, explore the world, do probono work and enjoy the things I am passionate about. But unfortunately, this wasn’t possible. However, I did a lot in the past two years and pushed myself to work out more, cook more and learn a lot of new things.."
She urges other cancer patients to stay positive and optimistic no matter how hard things get. "A smile has great power (and we should) leverage them."