By: Huesofblue

“A strong, young woman” were the words my teacher, Miss Allinotte, used to describe my aunt, who had been battling with cancer for eight years.

“How is your aunt doing now?” asked Miss Allinotte.

“She’s well,” I replied a little too firmly. “She’s gonna get better now.” I had more hope than reality in my mind.

More than twenty sessions with chemotherapy had caused her hair to fall out and her eyes to swell in their sockets, but somehow, her strength hadn’t yet faded. Neither had her luminous smile and the lamp in her eyes.

“She once was at stage four,” I continued. “Then her cancer came back down to stage one.”

“Really?” My teacher’s eyes widened. “That’s amazing.”

I remembered the ten months she went back and forth from her hospital to home in Pakistan, and the constant phone calls my mom would receive from my grandmother to update us on my aunt’s health. It took her six sessions of chemotherapy, one surgery, and prayers every night before bed to control her cancer cells enough to bring her to stage one.

A miracle. She was a living, walking miracle. Her doctor and the nurses were astonished. Everyone in our family was taken aback. “Tonight,” my mom had declared proudly, “I will thank Allah. You should, too. Pray for your aunty. Pray that cancer leaves her body for good now.”

“She works and can drive,” I had a hint of pride in my voice. “Her and my grandmother live together. She’s not yet married, though.”

“I bet she soon will,” Miss Allinotte replied with a smile, “I will pray for your aunt. And hey, good luck on your exam.” I had asked her a question about cancer cells a half hour ago and our conversation had evolved into people whom we knew that had cancer. Including my aunt.

I called her Coffeela. Her real name is Shaista. I have no idea how I took “Coffee” out of “Shaista” and if that wasn’t enough, I put a “la” at the end. Coffeela. She works as a Professor of Economics. My grandmother does the house chores. They live a simple life together in Cantt, a part of the city of Sialkot which is surrounded by armed forces. Despite Coffeela’s continuous battle with cancer, she is a woman who carries herself with confidence. She is humble. She is a warrior and the hospital is her battleground.

Before I learned Biology with Miss Allinotte, I had no idea what cancer was. I had no idea where cancer emerged from. Then gradually, I came to understand.

Cancer is undoubtedly the greatest mystery that remains unsolved today. So, how is cancer caused?
“Flip to page 432 in your textbooks. Read the case study ‘Cancer: Cell Division Gone Wrong’ and answer questions one to six. There will be a test on this next week. Ask questions if you have any… ”

We had just begun our general understanding of cancer in early April. Cancer is caused by cells duplicating and/or dividing despite getting messages from the nucleus or surrounding cells to stop their division and/or growth, which results to lumps or tumours. Malignant tumours, I learned, are the cancerous tumours. They destroy surrounding cells and tissues.

“Excuse me,” somebody raised their hand from the back. “How does cancer spread?”

“They metastasize,” announced Miss Allinotte. “Meaning, the cells break apart from the malignant, or the ‘primary’ tumour and travel to another place in the body. Then, the cells continue their growth and/or duplication within a different region in the body which leads to a ‘secondary’ tumour and so forth.”

What is the cure to cancer? Is the biggest question any cancer researcher has ever asked. We don’t know exactly. But, there are a few ideas on how to avoid cancer.

Eating healthy is a must. Fill your plate with fruits and vegetables. Don’t like onions? Take carrots. No carrots? Cucumbers. But whatever it is, fill every meal with fruits and vegetables. Chocolate and candy is fine if you eat them in moderation. But remember: the healthier you eat, the less of a chance you have with cancer and other dangerous diseases and bacteria.

Also, carcinogens are environnemental factors that result in cancer. UV rays, tobacco smoke, pollution… are all examples of carcinogens that are capable of causing cancer in living tissue. To simplify: avoid big cities as much as possible.

And of course, who can forget… EXERCISE. Oh, how you detest that word. But it’s time to stop making excuses.The National Institute of Cancer in Canada has proven that exercise can assist with low-risk in cancer. Here’s one (out of many) examples that they have given:

“In a study of over 1 million individuals, leisure-time physical activity was linked to reduced risks of esophageal adenocarcinoma, liver cancer, gastric cardia cancer (a type of stomach cancer), kidney cancer, myeloid leukemia, myeloma, and cancers of the head and neck, rectum, and bladder.”

And finally, go for monthly or yearly cancer screening tests, even if you don’t have any symptoms of cancer. It’ll keep you updated on what’s happening inside your body and you’ll be the first to know if anything is even the slightest bit off.

“Cancer is sometimes caused by mutations, too,” Miss Allinotte declared. “Sometimes, our DNA already has ‘cancer’ written in it. But, that doesn’t mean we’re destined to get cancer. We can do our best to avoid it.”

Coffeela has cut off sugar and processed foods from her diet. She goes for walks everyday. She works everyday. She prays five times a day and reads the Quran everyday. She hasn’t let cancer break her positive spirit. When I hear her voice over the phone, she doesn’t sound like she’s struggling. God has blessed her with courage and given her much resilience. And she certainly has more than enough patience. She’s had an ongoing battle with cancer for over eight years. But, God is with her. And so are we. I pray for her recovery. I pray that the sick recover quickly. Ameen.

In that Biology class, I thought of the twenty four chemotherapy sessions Coffeela has been through until now. I thought of the eight long years Coffeela spent throwing up before bed every night but still having the grit to raise her hands in Isha prayer for mercy.

“What a strong young lady,” Miss Allinotte had said.

Yes, I thought. Yes, she is.