UAE

Cancer Survivors Day: Emirati youth opens up about battling cancer at age 27

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Mohamedi, who is a laboratory technologist, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a type of blood cancer, in 2021
Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: An Emirati youth, who was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 27, has opened up about how he conquered the deadly disease, in view of the National Cancer Survivors Day observed on the first Sunday of June, which this year fell on June 2.

Hareb Mohamedi, a laboratory technologist with a laboratory solutions provider in Abu Dhabi, told Gulf News that his health crisis began just before Ramadan in 2021.

He started experiencing night sweats and shortness of breath, which puzzled him. “I thought it might be due to diet or general illness,” recalled Mohamedi.

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These symptoms persisted for roughly two months. A regular gym-goer, Mohamedi noticed he was struggling with his workouts due to breathing difficulties. Concerned, he decided to see a doctor.

The doctor’s initial assessment from the X-ray suggested acute bronchitis, but it revealed something more than that as well.

“In the same picture, they found a mass. Looking back, I feel as if it was found by accident, and I completely see the value in ensuring that people go for their routine check-ups and blood tests,” Mohamedi explained.

After further tests, including two biopsies and bone marrow aspiration procedures, doctors diagnosed him with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a type of blood cancer that affects the lymphatic system, which is part of the body’s germ-fighting immune system.

Coping with the diagnosis

Receiving a cancer diagnosis at just 27 was a shock for Mohamedi, especially as he had recently become engaged. “My fiancée stood by my side and pledged to support me throughout my journey.” Her support, along with that of his family, was crucial for him to maintain a positive mindset while battling the illness.

Despite the diagnosis, Mohamedi decided to continue working and went ahead with his plan to marry his fiancée. His company also offered him full support, even allowing him to work part days.

As a laboratory technologist, Mohamedi’s medical background helped him understand and cope with the shock of his diagnosis better. “It made me more aware of my body and symptoms and helped me take extra precautions,” he said. His prior experience working in the ER (emergency room) also provided insights during his treatment process.

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Treatment journey

Mohamedi’s treatment journey began in April 2021 with his first biopsy, followed by a second to confirm the diagnosis. He then underwent bone marrow aspiration treatment. From August 2021 to February 2022, he received chemotherapy, followed by radiotherapy in March and April 2022.

By October of 2021, doctors had noted that his body only partially responded to the chemotherapy, which was a devastating blow. “It made me lose hope and gripped me with fear that I was going to die,” Mohamedi admitted.

Following this, doctors decided to implement a more aggressive form of chemotherapy.

“The first chemotherapy itself had led to symptoms of dizziness and nausea. The more aggressive form led to me experiencing hair loss, palpitations, body pain, nausea, and severe fatigue. I even experienced fainting during a session of chemotherapy, while the nurse aspirated my blood.

“Each dose of the aggressive chemotherapy would last for two weeks [a cycle]. After each cycle of the aggressive chemotherapy, I would receive immune-boosting injections to increase the count of white blood cells, which was an incredibly painful experience. I would have to take strong painkillers to relieve the pain that these injections caused.”

Overcoming trauma

The physical and mental toll of the treatment was immense.

“My wife and family were crucial,” Mohamedi said. Initially, he struggled with thoughts of “why me?” but eventually, he viewed the diagnosis as a test from God. This perspective helped him stay patient and hopeful. “Staying close to God helped me feel more relieved and hopeful for recovery,” he said.

Cancer Survivors Day
National Cancer Survivors Day is an annual celebration held on the first Sunday of June to honour cancer survivors, recognise their struggles, and celebrate their lives. The day aims to raise awareness about the challenges cancer survivors face, promote resources and support systems available to them, and provide an opportunity for survivors to connect with each other.
It is also a time to recognise the contributions of families, friends, and healthcare providers who support cancer patients throughout their journey.
National Cancer Survivors Day emphasises the importance of early detection, advances in cancer treatment, and the ongoing need for research and support for those affected by cancer. Though it is mainly celebrated in the US, the popularity of this occasion has now spread to several countries including in the UAE.

Becoming cancer-free

In April 2022, Mohamedi received the joyful news that he was officially cancer-free. “I was overjoyed and relieved. I made sure to celebrate with my family and friends.”

By the time he became a survivor, cancer had changed Mohamedi drastically. “It made me more empathetic and proactive in helping others with cancer symptoms or those undergoing treatment,” he pointed out.

His experience also made him appreciate the quality of cancer treatment available in the UAE, diminishing the perceived need to seek treatment abroad.

“I was blessed to have my close friends and family by my side throughout. I really hope that we see attitudes to cancer continue to improve in the UAE, and want to ensure that more people within society dispel any rumours about cancer, instead seek professional medical advice.”

Advocating early detection

Mohamedi actively uses his social media platforms to guide his followers towards credible medical information and away from rumours. He credited his senior supervisor, Dr Amna Almehairi, who holds a PhD in Immunology, for providing tremendous support throughout his journey.

Mohamedi decided to go public with his story to encourage others to seek medical advice promptly and to trust professional healthcare providers over misinformation spreading online. “I want to ensure people understand the importance of professional medical advice and routine tests. I truly hope my story will encourage people to go to the hospital to get the tests they need to make early detection,” he said.

Addressing those battling cancer and the survivors, he commented: “Always stay positive, attend your routine tests, and encourage relatives and friends who experience cancer by supporting and guiding them from your personal experience to make a positive impact on people’s lives.”

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