UAE residents share incredible stories of surviving cancer through scars, chemotherapy

Survivors now on a mission to uplift, motivate and help other patients

By SM Ayaz Zakir

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Published: Thu 3 Feb 2022, 7:30 PM

Last updated: Thu 3 Feb 2022, 10:19 PM

Cancer kills.

Not just the body, but also the mind, soul and spirit, as your body slowly goes to waste.

But, early detection, a strong will and a fighting spirit can also heal those afflicted by the dreaded disease.

Mind you it’s not easy, but then who said life comes easy?

As the world marks World Cancer Day today (February 4), we bring you some brave warriors who have fought their battles with all their might and their scars tell a story of triumph.

Here are their powerful stories:

Mary Joy, 51, Filipina expat

Mary Joy with her husband and her caregivers
Mary Joy with her husband and her caregivers

Mary Joy’s life turned upside down last year when she was diagnosed with cancer.

One day the Filipina felt a lump in her breast and was brought to NMC Royal Hospital in Sharjah during the Covid lockdown last year. An ultrasound and biopsy showed she had Stage 3 breast cancer.

“It was hard for me to believe. There was no light at the end of the tunnel. But my grandchildren, children and doctors at the hospital gave me hope and motivated me to fight the extreme battle,” said Mary.

She was then subjected to chemotherapy sessions after a mastectomy to remove the cancerous breast.

In total, Mary underwent 16 chemotherapy sessions - partly funded by local charitable organisations. “I am really thankful to those who helped me in my tough times,” she recalls.

Mary is cancer-free today and she thanks her surgeon for helping her during her journey from treatment to recovery. “Most importantly, Dr Sai Babu helped me deal with my stress as I became emotionally drained. And I am grateful to him for his understanding of not only the disease, but also of emotions playing behind the scenes of a troubled soul,” she said.

Mary said she probably contracted the dreaded disease due to over 30 years of smoking, before she finally kicked the habit. She is now on a mission to make others quit the habit. “Smoking has an adverse effect on health and I urge people to quit. It will take you nowhere,” she said, as she revealed plans to enjoy life as a grandmother.

Miriam Rodriguez, 33, Portuguese expat

Miriam Rodriguez
Miriam Rodriguez

Cancer survivor Miriam had been on a mission to uplift and motivate cancer patients, before she herself fell victim to the dreadful disease.

The Portuguese national who had come to Dubai to set up her beauty business, had been making and providing wigs for cancer patients in her home country and Dubai for free. “I did not think in my wildest dreams that one day I would be wearing one,” said Miriam.

After giving birth, Miriam noticed a lump in her breast as she was breast-feeding her baby in March 2021, just as Covid was causing havoc around the world. When she consulted Dr Arun Karanwal, specialist medical oncologist at Prime Hospital, she was told that she had cancer and that the tumour was growing. “I delayed treatment by six months due to fear about the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Miriam.

The consulting surgeon advised Miriam to go in for surgery to remove the lump. However, to Miriam’s misfortune, the cancer kept spreading even after surgery, and her breast had to be removed.

Miriam said that was not the only devastating thing for her. Being a hairstylist and make-up artist, she always gave importance to her looks. “When I was subjected to chemotherapy, I was shattered. I wanted to uplift my spirits and find a solution to motivate myself,” said Miriam.

“My experience as a stylist and make-up artist helped me during this phase. I tried my best to look good even as I was battling the scourge. I confidently went out for dinners, outings etc with my family,” she said.

Miriam said that while the earlier chemotherapy sessions were fine, she found her spirits fall with successive sessions and she even lost hope of survival at one point of time.

The Porteguese, who delayed treatment for six months, warns that it is dangerous to delay treatment if one is diagnosed with cancer - even in the early stages.

“Do all to keep fit and healthy, and stay away from this disease,” Miriam says.

Today, Miriam has turned vegan and avoids sugar. “All my dietary adaptations were made in consultations with doctors and I read about the disease to understand how I could help my treatment succeed.”

And she is continuing with her noble cause of providing wigs for cancer patients. She has even launched her brand Mya’s and is planning to collaborate with hospitals to make cancer patients look good.

Steven Roderick Kelly, 70, American expat

Steven Roderick Kelly with his doctor.
Steven Roderick Kelly with his doctor.

Steven Roderick Kelly’s problems began when he experienced extreme pain near the abdomen area on day, which suggested swelling in his pancreas. When the 70-year-old American expat visited NMC Specialty hospital in Abu Dhabi, doctors diagonosed him with pancreatic cancer and told him that it was spreading to his liver.

He was started on chemotherapy to control the tumour. He then underwent endoscopic ultrasound guided fine needle biopsy (FNB), which uses a special biopsy needle that fetches a larger specimen from the pancreas which is a very difficult organ to get a sample from without undergoing surgery (the organ is located deep in the abdomen, behind the stomach).

The cancerous tissue was removed through this procedure.


Kelly, who had the choice to get treated anywhere in the world, placed his trust in the UAE’s healthcare sector. “I realised how the UAE is embracing medical technologies which are at par with the best hospitals in the US, and I am extremely thankful to the hospital and my doctor for treating me,” said Kelly. “The healthcare system in the UAE has reached a technologically advanced level,” he added.

Kelly has now gone back to his home country and is leading a good retired life, doctors at the hospital told Khaleej Times.

Dr Yogesh M. Shastri, department head in gastroenterology, NMC Specialty Hospital Abu Dhabi, who treated Kelly said the American was given an option of an open surgical procedure — a major surgery to remove the cancerous tissue from his pancreas.

This is a high-risk procedure with ICU stay. However, Kelly opted for a minimally-invasive option to remove the cancer tissue.

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