Success Story

by Zainab Ali Khan

One fine summer morning I woke up and glanced at my busy schedule for the day. It was full of meetings and conferences and at the very bottom in fine print was the follow up appointment with my physician.

While I was waiting for the doctor, I was taking care of my e-mails and was arrogantly confident that I will get a clean bill of health as usual.

After my examination, the doctor walked in and said “I think you have cancer” and he recommended that I should see an oncologist. I did not remember any further conversation I had with him. What I did remember is that I walked into the waiting room in a state of shock, sat in a chair and held my head with both hands.

Then the two words flashed before my eyes: WHY ME?  From nowhere, a dark cloud crept over me and completely changed my personality.
When I went home and looked at myself in the mirror, I saw a person I did not recognize.  The reflection showed a pessimistic, sad, and weak person. I did not like what I saw and I was determined to change this appearance. But how?

I then remembered something my grandmother told me when I was a little girl.
“My child,” she said, “sadness and illness are inevitable.  What counts is how you use your inner ammunitions of strength and persistence to become a graceful winner.”

As my grandmother’s words started to sink inside me, I became strong and determined.
I realized that the dark cloud had disappeared and the two words “WHY ME” were replaced with “WHAT NOW.”  I looked at myself in the mirror again and surprisingly found myself.  I said to the reflection in the mirror, “I have been in laboratory medicine management for decades and I will use this experience to manage my own health.”

I realized in order to setup a foundation for a good treatment process, knowledge and organizational skills are necessary.  Therefore, I categorized my responsibilities to take care of my health as follows:

  • Professional – I handed over my professional responsibilities to the CEO of the laboratory and informed my staff of my health status.
  • Research – I researched my illness and the available treatment plans. I needed to find options that would help me emerge from this illness successfully.  I selected a plan which entailed surgery, chemotherapy and a supportive clinical trial.
  • Mentor selection – I picked a very close, long time friend who is not only an excellent physician, but was available to me at any time, anywhere.
  • Selection of medical care giving team – I selected an oncologist who is one of the best in the field and located conveniently to my home. I became familiar with the oncology nurses, nutritionist, physical therapist, social worker, home care giving team, emergency team and pain management team. I informed carefully all of my care givers about my cancer and the treatment plans.
  • Administrative – I informed my medical insurance companies, and I looked into each insurance company’s reimbursement plan. I talked to the hospital’s director of finance to understand the billing process. I also kept a well-organized personal journal.

I proceeded by intricately connecting all of these categories, and I was careful that I did not leave anything unaccounted for. This translated into a strong approach and my feeling confident for my upcoming treatment plan.

Having done this, I now had an answer to my question “WHAT NOW?”

I looked in front of me, where there was a very narrow, rocky road with a deep scary death valley on either side.  Above me, there was a dark sky, but behind me, my husband and my daughter walked with pride giving me strength. I took a deep breath and stepped on the rocky road. A group of angels in white coats flocked around me and not only helped me balance my walk, but more importantly pointed out a small silver lining at the end of the road.
This one step turned into a one year marathon, during which I endured physical and emotional trauma, pain, anguish, setbacks and many discomforts. When I finally reached closer to the silver lining it blossomed into a heaven called LIFE.

One year later, I woke up on a fine summer morning and glanced at my daily schedule, this time among other items on my agenda in bold letters was “Follow up appointment with my Physician.”
As I was waiting for my doctor, I was humbled and concerned. The doctor walked in and gave me my bill of health. As with my initial appointment, I went into a state of shock.  I could not remember any further conversation with my doctor, but I did remember that I walked into the waiting room, sat in the same chair I did a year ago, held my head with both hands and then I saw the two infamous words again “WHY ME?”  This time I let these words stay with me as a motto for my life because they had a wonderful twist of optimism.

This successful journey could not have happened without the guidance of my grandmother’s wisdom, the support and strength of my family and the medical care giving team. I would also like to take this opportunity to acknowledge those who have donated their hard earned money towards cancer research. Through this network of family, the medical staff and the community, cancer patients like me live to tell their success stories.