'No other symptom but tiredness': 11-yr-old Sharjah girl fights stage 3 cancer after diagnosis shocked her family

Doctor advises parents to seek help when they see some of these signs in their child: painless swelling of lymph nodes, persistent fatigue, a spell of fever lasting over two weeks, night sweats, unusual weight loss


Ashwani Kumar

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Published: Sat 4 Feb 2023, 5:54 PM

Last updated: Sat 4 Feb 2023, 6:19 PM

Eleven-year-old Tala is back in school now and may look like any other child. What many do not know, however, is that she is a brave warrior who fought her way through stage 3 Hodgkin's lymphoma.

The Jordanian girl — daughter of Osama, an electrical engineer, and Leena, an Arabic teacher — was happily staying with her family of two sisters and two brothers in Sharjah when life threw a grave challenge at her.

“Tala was like any other child. She was playful and mischievous, but she would get tired easily and claim painful and weak legs after any sporting activity,” her mother Leena said, recollecting the events from January last year. One day, the family noticed that Tala had a protruding lump on her abdomen. She was taken to a paediatrician, who referred her to a specialist. Her parents took her to four different healthcare centres in Sharjah but none could diagnose the big C.

After multiple rounds of empirical treatment, the abdominal lump subsided, so the family thought the problem was over. However, the symptoms resurfaced again, and this time, they were frequent and severe. Worse, at that moment, six precious months had already gone by and the cancer had already grown.

After four doctors told them that nothing was wrong with their daughter, the unconvinced parents tried a fifth one.

Remembering those days is never easy, Leena said.

“Carrying your child from one unit to another looking for an answer is emotionally draining. Not knowing the diagnosis is frustrating. Tala had no symptoms except tiredness, and every doctor we went to never gave us a clear-cut diagnosis.”

Their fifth doctor, Dr Nancy Nabil Kamel Israel, specialist in paediatric oncology at NMC Royal Hospital Sharjah, was particularly curious about the abdominal lump, and decided to investigate it. Soon enough, she reached the exact diagnosis of Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Dr Nancy noted that Hodgkin's lymphoma is a type of cancer that affects the lymphatic system, which is part of the body's germ-fighting immune system.

“In Hodgkin's lymphoma, white blood cells called lymphocytes grow out of control, causing swollen lymph nodes and growths throughout the body."

Dr Nancy explained that Hodgkin’s lymphoma is caused by a change (mutation) in the DNA of a type of white blood cell called B lymphocytes.

“The exact reason why this happens isn't known. The DNA gives the cells basic instructions, such as when to grow and reproduce,” the doctor noted.

“And upon reaching the diagnosis, it was then time to start with her treatment right away,” said Dr Nancy, who prescribed a four-month treatment plan with a monthly dose of chemotherapy.

“Undergoing chemo wasn’t easy for Tala and her super understanding and supportive family. The loss of hair, in particular, during the chemo was heartbreaking for everyone,” said Dr Nancy.


Tala took her last dose of chemo on July 13, 2022.

“Once the therapy was completed, we needed to wait at least three to six months of a period to have a clear green sign that the person was cancer-free. Finally, the two diagnostic tests confirmed it – Tala was cancer-free towards the New Year.”

Currently, Tala is on a three-month schedule of regular follow-up and tests.

Cancer doesn't have to be a death sentence as many cases can be managed if detected early. This is why health experts have been advising residents to get screened regularly. The UAE's popular Pink Caravan Ride is back on the roads today, raising awareness and spreading hope.

Asked about the warning signs to watch out for when it comes to kids, Dr Nancy said: “One must watch out for any or a combination of signs in one’s child such as painless swelling of lymph nodes in your neck, armpits or groin region not resolving with classic medicines – say, antibiotics, persistent fatigue, a spell of fever lasting over two weeks, night sweats, losing weight without trying and severe itching. Early diagnosis makes a big difference in prognosis, line of treatment, and survival percentage.”

Tala completed her academic year online. She now goes to school, her hair has grown, and she's happy and playful. Her caregivers try to keep her in a safe environment for her immunity.

“As we see Tala going about her daily activities, I cannot but admire my child who went through so much at such a young age and yet she manages to put a smile on our faces every day. She's a mama's girl, and she is my inspiration,” Leena added.

February 4 is observed as World Cancer Day.


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