Warriors of the pink ribbon

Deepa Ballal
Filed on October 28, 2020

Shadab Khan

Dikrayat Saleh

Nisha Koiri

Umaima Tinwala

Survivors recall their battle with breast cancer and urge women of all ages to sign up for annual check-ups and early detection

The day and date are etched perfectly in Umaima Tinwala's (42) memory. On February 2014, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, stage 1. Having seen her mother battle cancer for 10 years and eventually succumb to it, she knew what lay ahead. Being a single mum, all she wanted was to be there for her nine-year-old daughter. "It is sad that many women ignore the early symptoms and risk chances of survival considerably," she says.

Fear of the unknown as she puts it, is what haunts us all and cancer is one journey that all dread to take as it can drain one emotionally and financially too.

"It's okay to ask for help," she says with a smile. Umaima chose to get treated in India as the medication here in the UAE was very expensive and she was not covered by health insurance. Five years later, she is cancer-free, busy shuttling her daughter between school and home, and working for a cyber security firm. Since her recovery, she has been an inspiration to many. Spreading awareness being crucial, she engages herself in giving talks at various schools on how important early detection is.

"I am shocked when young girls as old as 15 and 16 years come and tell me that they feel a lump in their breasts. I tell them they need to disclose this to their mothers and get it checked immediately," she insists. "Sadly, such is the taboo surrounding this topic that it is hardly discussed. Moreover, there is so much hype about losing hair, going bald. It's hair after all, it will grow back," she says emphatically. "What's important is that one can survive, cancer is curable," she says. To walk the talk, she never wore a headscarf and flaunted her bald head for the world to see.

Another soul to face this turmoil head on is a well-known name in the art world, Shadab Khan (40). A versatile contemporary artist whose bold compositions did all the talking till cancer wanted to be part of her canvas.

"I hope you can understand me," she says as she talks to me. Though cancer-free, she has dystonia because of the treatment, wherein her speech is slightly affected. But her zeal and zest is unmatched.

With no family history of cancer, she was in denial for some time, but a gnawing sense of discomfort in her left breast in July 2018, finally pushed her to visit the gynaecologist. An ultrasound and the look on the physician's face, confirmed her fears. Further diagnosis revealed she had Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, stage 2, grade 3. As the basic insurance didn't cover the expenses, she chose to fly back to India for her treatment. "The surgery and radiation was bearable, but not the chemo. It made me so weak I had no strength to even grab a glass of water," she recollects.

Drawing her inspiration from nature, and getting the timely support from her family, Shadab sailed through this phase of her life.

"Cancer taught me how mentally strong I was," she says. December 15, 2018, I took my last radiation, December 17 I landed in Dubai and December 20 I started painting," she adds with a big smile.

Dikrayat Saleh (51), a freelancer who loves narrating stories through her YouTube channel, never knew cancer would knock at her door too.

"I always thought I would never get it. I am quite healthy and don't fit into any category," she reminisces. In 2015, she was diagnosed with Lobular cancer. After three years of treatment she underwent breast reconstruction but didn't want to continue. With cancer cases rising and more younger people succumbing to it, Dikrayat feels early detection is the key to survival. "Also, watch what you eat," she adds. A staunch believer in God, she says, "this disease shows what you are made of. I am happier now; I don't get angry at all," says Dixy, as she is fondly called by kids.

They say stories of hope and survival often reaffirm our faith in the different possibilities that life has to offer. Upasana Bijoor (32), an ex -cabin crew, was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ when she was 28. She underwent lumpectomy and was advised to take hormone suppressants for five years. Instead she chose to find her answer in food.

"My greatest learning in nutrition has been to provide the body with real unprocessed, unrefined plant food and the body will heal," she affirms. Six months later when she went for a check up, she was told that other smaller lumps diagnosed earlier had disappeared too. "I had more energy, my skin cleared up and I felt alive again," she quips.
Today, she is a certified health coach from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition, one of the world's largest schools for nutrition.

Mumbai resident Nisha Koiri (47) defied all odds. Bestowing her full faith in plant-based nutrition she refused to even get the surgery done and wanted her body to heal the natural way. What followed was a disciplined routine of building her immunity and let the body fight the cancer.

"The power of faith and the magic of Nature Cure helped me sail through the tough times with much ease and positive effect," she contends. "The last few years have made me understand the role of nutrition, environment, habits and positivity in the healing of an individual. I am grateful to God for this life changing diagnosis and I now look forward to bringing betterment in the lives of those who are suffering from chronic health issues," she elaborates. Her fight began in May 2016, and in Jan 2018, her ultrasound reports showed no metastasis and calcification process in the lumps. She was cancer-free.

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