Let’s face it, how many Muslim Malay women can say “I allow my husband to remarry” in a normal setting?
Now, change the scenario to a breast cancer patient. How many Muslim Malay women are willing to say, “I allow my husband to remarry after my breast surgery”?
Honestly, I am not at all surprised to know that this wonderful lady, Shuhada, said that when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer. If you had read my interview with my friend/former colleague, Fiza READ HERE, who was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer, in a way, Shuhada had it better in the sense that it was an early Stage 1 cancer.
“You see, I have a family history of cancer on my father’s side. So I always knew that if I hadn’t been careful, I could get it too. I was first diagnosed in my 50’s. Unlike most women who went for a check-up and identified a lump, in my case, the cancer appeared more like scattered dots around my right breast. It was more of a pre-cancer stage. But what happened later was, after it was removed, it had spread to the left breast. That was when it became an advanced Stage 1,” she said.
“So, you went to get treated immediately?” I asked her.
“Actually, no. The first time I was diagnosed, the doctor pushed me to undergo a surgery immediately. Well, you know how some hospitals are!” she quipped. “I refused! I told the doctor, ‘No, this is MY body!’ She was taken aback with my response but I didn’t care. So, I decided to seek a second opinion and I did. Even my husband and children told me to decide whichever options work for me”.
Shuhada went to another medical centre to get a second opinion. When it was confirmed that she had breast cancer, she took her time to meet friends who have gone through similar experiences for their opinion. Some friends were still fighting breast cancer at that time. While others had gone through their chemotherapy and breast surgery. She did not stop there. She spoke to people from the National Cancer Society of Malaysia (NCSM) to get more information. “It took me about a month, but I was satisfied with all the inputs I received. That was when I went back to see the doctor to tell her that I was ready for my treatment,” she said.
“Do you know what I was doing within that one month of making my decision, Paris?” she asked me. “I’d go to the bathroom a few times in a day. I’d lift up my shirt and look at myself in the mirror. I imagined myself with only one breast, how odd it would’ve felt to lose something that has been a part of me.”Shuhada, Pink Gladiator/Cancer Fighter
“My husband said, they have served four kids and one husband, what more did I want? He even reminded me that after being married for so long, sex was not the utmost important thing in our matrimony. For better or worse, we have to accept our fate,” she shared further.
“But of course, men! Can you really believe everything they say?” Shuhada laughed. “Naturally, being a woman, I retaliated. I told him that he wouldn’t understand the feeling of loss of something that was so natural for me, my womanly asset. That was when I told him that he could remarry if he wanted to and his reply was…”
“You are very shallow to think like this,” Shuhada enunciated the same line her husband told her 3 years ago. “Alhamdulillah! Things have been great!”
When asked further, Shuhada just said, to her the breast surgery was just another surgery. She had gone through several procedures before so she did not fear the mastectomy at all.
“In fact, the surgery and the recovery weren’t that painful. Of course, sometimes I just look at my scars and I thought, hey, I’m such a badass because I have scars bigger than Rambo’s! I sometimes joke with my husband, if I had removed both breasts, I can start wearing a sarong like him. I can even start putting up the Disabled Sticker on my car while driving because I’m somewhat handicapped now”.Shuhada, Pink Gladiator/Cancer Fighter
“For the free parking, I assume?” I joked back.
“Well, that’s one of the perks!” she laughed along.
The Big Secret!
So, that was when I thought, I should just address the elephant in the room, I mean, Shuhada and I have always had an open conversation. She has been a fan of my non-traditional and sassy personality on and off Social Media. So, here goes… “May I know why you prefer to stay anonymous for this interview?”
“I’ve seen your interview with your friend, Fiza. It was good and I’m sure people of your generation are very supportive and vocal about cancer fighters,” she began. “But sadly, the same can’t be said about people of my generation”.
That was the moment she shared the reactions that she received from the people around her when she informed them of her breast cancer. Immediately, people looked at her differently, as if she was invalid and incapable of doing the things that she used to do. “That was the reason why I had to keep this story within my circle of friends. The things people said to me were in fact hurtful and negative that sometimes I thought it was best if they stop commenting entirely,” she said.
“A friend of mine came to visit me with her husband once. Can you imagine the nerve of that man, asking me, ‘So, what’s going to happen to your husband if you have only one breast left?’ He asked me that right in front of his wife. Even she was embarrassed by that question!”Shuhada, Pink Gladiator/Cancer Fighter
“The same thing happened when I went ‘balik kampung’. My neighbours would come over when they saw me pottering about the house, tending to my garden. I mean, why? There was nothing wrong with me. I was still able to do my house chores,” Shuhada said.
For the very same reason, Shuhada added, that her husband did not allow her to become an active advocate for breast cancer. “I mean, I don’t mind sharing my stories with those I’m familiar with, but I have seen the kind of sentiments I receive with people from my generation and those working around me. Even most of my colleagues don’t know that I’m a cancer fighter,” she said. “It’s good to see you youngsters have taken a more vocal step to raise awareness among the public. You know, what is the best birthday present a woman can get herself? Cancer screening! Both breast and cervical cancer!”
Allah gives the hardest battles to His strongest soldiers
Anyway, not too long ago, when we Malaysians had that small window of opportunity to go out and enjoy life in a new norm, Shuhada and I met for coffee and she informed me that she was undergoing treatment for another type of cancer. Compared to breast cancer, this time she found it to be more challenging as it has affected her physically.
“It was like a wake-up call for me, Paris,” she said. “I felt like Allah was testing me for a reason. It really changed the way I viewed my life”.
So I told her, “My friend, Fiza and her BC friends would say, you cancer fighters are the chosen ones to go through this experience. Don’t you agree?”
“You know, just before I was diagnosed with the second cancer, I saw my son performing his prayers non-stop. He even woke up at night to perform the tahajjud prayers too. It touched my heart so deeply that I too began to perform mine more diligently. I’ve always performed my prayers, but this time, instead of performing them to fulfill my duty as a Muslim, I come to see the true beauty that comes from our prayers,” Shuhada said again.
“And, if God willing, it was time for me to go, I’m not afraid anymore. I’m ready”.