11-year-old Emirati gives hope to cancer patients in US
The youngster, who lost her grandmother to cancer and is now seeing her dad put up a brave front while battling the disease.
A Grade 6 Emirati student recently completed her volunteer work at one of the leading cancer institutes in the world, MD Anderson in Texas, US, where her dad was undergoing treatment.
Maria Mohammad Falaknaz, 11, who also lost her grandmother to cancer, talks about how patients need something more than just the comfort of the hospital staff and how the younger generation needs to take up volunteering and lend a helping hand to their community.
A Gems Wellington International School student in Dubai, Maria flew to the US to be with her dad who was being treated at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Centre (colloquially MD Anderson) - which is one of the three original comprehensive cancer centres in the US. The centre houses the Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Building for Personalised Cancer Care, which was built in 2016 through a transformative grant by the Khalifa Foundation. It was built after the UAE founding father met up with the top officials of the Anderson cancer institute and encouraged them to build a centre for more research work in the field.
During her visit, Maria decided to approach the hospital management and asked if she could see and meet other cancer patients in the facility.
After the welcoming response from the management, the youngster spent one month volunteering at the hospital. Maria, who aspires to become a doctor, said she would visit a number of cancer patient wards at the hospital, meeting and greeting them, asking them how they were, and giving them hope by talking about how her dad dealt with the disease and how one should stay hopeful. She would also look at their CT scans along with their doctors who would explain to her the different abnormalities in each case.
"The reaction I got from them was heartwarming, touching and emotional. They appreciated me and what I was doing at my age - that is spending time with them. I smiled, and they looked very calm," she said.
Talking about volunteering, Maria said: "I have seen my country, the UAE, helping and sending aid to so many countries in need. I believe anyone from anywhere can take part in volunteering. Any type of comfort, support and care can help sick people feel appreciated."
The youngster, who lost her grandmother to cancer and is now seeing her dad put up a brave front while battling the disease, said she believes that apart from doctors, patients also need a different kind of comfort that can be provided by volunteers, especially the youth.
"Although my first volunteering opportunity landed at MD Anderson, I used to take part in charitable activities whenever I get the chance since childhood. Now, I am an eager volunteer who is constantly looking for initiatives to broaden my experience. My work also had a very good impact on my school friends, who are now interested in knowing more about the benefits of volunteering."
Giving out her message to the younger generation, Maria said: "Any help matters and it helps me with understanding how cancer patients feel. Meeting healthy people also helps patients have a taste of the beautiful life outside the hospital, and they then look forward to getting betting. This positivity is something that we as volunteers can provide to the patients."
How Sheikh Zayed building in Texas came to be
A notable specialist at MD Anderson recalled how he met the late Sheik Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who had shared a "great vision" on cancer research.
Dr Robert A. Wolff, a specialist at the Department of Gastrointestinal Medical Oncology, Division of Cancer Medicine, said: "Many years ago I met the late founding father Sheikh Zayed who spoke about his desire to help mankind and the natural world (wildlife). He understood that he was blessed by God and that he could help mankind in many ways. One of the things he said to me was that 'we must do research together'."
"He was a forward looking man and recognised that progress in bio-medical sciences required resources and research. Although he passed away, his family - the President, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces - were committed to ensuring his vision was fulfilled and that's how we developed this building through the generous funds from the UAE government."
Since 2016, the building has been used as a facility where researchers use their expertise to create personalised treatment.
"We used to think cancer in one person was similar to another, but with research here, we recognised that each person can have a form of cancer that is unique to them. This building is dedicated to researchers who try to come up with treatment for specific abnormalities in individuals," Dr Wolff said.
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