“After each chemotherapy session, I held my newborn in my arms for peace”

Dubai: Cancer is not the end of the road. Not certainly, if you have self-confidence and want to regain your mental and physical well-being.

Brazilian expat Erika Al Harmoodi is one of those brave people who has changed her life since being diagnosed with aggressive cancer at the age of 34.

Worse, she was 36 weeks pregnant when she found out she had cancer. But she fought hard and today she overcame the dreaded disease and regained her life and well-being.

It was just another morning in the shower when Erika discovered a lump in her left breast. It was September 23, 2018. “I felt a lump in my left breast duct. I always say my baby saved my life. My breast was full of milk and because of this the lump had moved and reached the duct. That’s why I could touch it and feel it. I got out of the shower and immediately went for a medical examination.

The following day, Erika took a second opinion at another hospital where she underwent tests and scans. On October 1, his results turned positive. She had stage 1 breast cancer, an aggressive tumor. Erika said she was lucky to have been diagnosed early because she might not have lived to tell her story. “The doctors at the hospital said it was good that I discovered the lump early on.”

Erika’s son, Mansoor, is now three and a half years old. He attends the crèche and speaks three languages: English, Arabic and Portuguese.
Image Credit: Supplied

Delivering a baby, fighting cancer

The doctors informed Erika that she had to give birth to start chemotherapy, considering that she had an aggressive tumor. In addition, she could not undergo a caesarean section. She had to deliver her baby through the natural process. On October 8, 2018, she was taken to labor. Doctors caused pain. Her son Mansoor was born four days later. He was born healthy – just two kilos and 600 grams.

But it wasn’t over yet for Erika. In fact, that was the start of her cancer journey.

“I had a deep desire to feed my baby. I asked the doctors for permission to feed him for a week. The doctors didn’t want to push my treatment. So, for just one week, I had the pleasure of feeding my baby. I fed him only with my right breast.

continue treatment

A day after Mansoor was born, Erika was under the scans again and ten days after giving birth to her first child, Erika started her cycle of chemotherapy. “I wanted to take care of my son on my own, so Mansoor came with me to the hospital while I was undergoing chemotherapy. After the session, I held my son and cradled him in my arms. That was my feeling of peace.

Erika 1

“I wanted to take care of my son on my own, so Mansoor came with me to the hospital while I was having chemotherapy,” Erika said.
Image Credit: Supplied

Family support

Erika said she found comfort and support from her husband, Marwan. “He is my soul mate. Without his love and support, I couldn’t have done it on my own,” she said. “Three months after Mansoor was born, I brought in a nurse from the Brazil to take care of us. Luckily, I responded well to the treatment. My mind was constantly fighting the disease. I wanted to live. I wanted to see my son grow up. I wanted to live a happy life with my husband.” she said. Erika said she never felt unhappy with her chemotherapy sessions. “Every day I looked in the mirror and made daily affirmations. I said I was grateful for my body. I was grateful for so many blessings. She said she felt like a superwoman – juggling so many things at once.

Always look on the bright side. Look in the mirror and see how many blessings you have. You have to feel it from within. For example, the fact that you can see is a blessing, that you can walk and talk is a blessing. Remember that cancer is just a bad cell. It’s not stronger than you. So never give up on yourself.

– Erika Al Harmoodi, cancer survivor

Let’s move on…

Erika’s son, Mansoor, is now three and a half years old. He attends the crèche and speaks three languages: English, Arabic and Portuguese. Just as her life evolved, her mother also grew stronger through her battle with cancer.

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A day after Mansoor was born, Erika was under the scans again and ten days after giving birth to her first child, Erika started her cycle of chemotherapy.
Image Credit: Supplied

Last year, Erika published a book called To be inspired. It is a motivational book. “I was the only Brazilian expat to present a book at the Sharjah Book Fair. My books are also on sale at the Brazil Pavilion, Expo 2020 Dubai,” Erika said.

For each of you, Erika has a message: “Don’t wait for something to happen to take care of yourself and love yourself. Surround yourself with good people. Be surrounded by good people and be happy in what you do. If someone or something is not good for you, change it immediately because your mental well-being is essential for your physical health.

She continued, “Always look on the bright side. Look in the mirror and see how many blessings you have. You have to feel it from within. For example, the fact that you can see is a blessing, that you can walk and talk is a blessing. Remember that cancer is just a bad cell. It’s not stronger than you. So never give up on yourself. Keep dreaming and busy after cancer. Many cancer patients suffer alone. Do not do that. There are groups where you can meet other people and make new friends. I did this. We often meet, exchange gifts. We are there for each other. Don’t fight alone because you have friends who can help you.

Emotional and practical support

Dr Houriya Kazim, Consultant Breast Surgeon, Medical Director of Well Woman Clinic, Assistant Clinical Assistant Professor at MBRU and Founder/President Brest Friends, said: “As important as medical and surgical treatment is the emotional and practical support for the patient and his family. The drop-in center is a safe place where women can talk to other cancer patients and just let their guard down, relax, have a cup of tea and take a volunteer-led art and yoga class. . These drop-in centers are also a great place to connect with the wider community – for older women and children who don’t have cancer, but want to volunteer and help run a such center.

“At Brest Friends, we offer nutrition education, stress management, life coaching, exercise and fitness, lymphedema prevention, and spiritual and emotional support.”

Martin E. Berry