A Message from Fatima:
When one of my dear friends was about to enter his 30s, instead of having a meltdown, he created a list of 30 things to do under 30. This idea resonated with me and when I turned 29 I also created a 30 under 30 list. This list consisted of items as silly as learning to walk in heels to jumping out of an airplane. When I mentioned this to my undergraduate friends we scheduled a trip to go skydiving. After this I began to put the other items on my list off—clearly I had time—a full 12 months to be exact. Little did I know that my world would soon be turned upside down.
In April, I felt a lump in my breast and a pain radiating from under my arm. After weeks of back and forth, on May 26th, 2015, I tested positive for invasive ductal carcinoma. Two lymph nodes were also positive. My doctor informed me that there were treatment options, but I needed to meet with an oncologist as soon as possible.
Suddenly instead of going on a solo trip or learning to walk in stilettos, my 30 under 30 list included mammograms, insurance battles, PET scans, picking out wigs, looking into implants and the other joys of breast cancer.
One of the biggest shocks was learning my fertility would be affected. This isn’t an aspect of cancer highlighted in the movies. When I created my list getting married and having children was the furthest thing from my mind, yet here I was adding researching fertility options to my 30 under 30.
I learned that planning was useless. This proved true on my first day of chemotherapy. On July 1st I had planned on having my last raw meal, a lox bagel, with my sister and friend before heading to treatment. Instead we were in a car accident and driven by Sgt. Tommy Matias of the NYPD to my first chemo session. I mean, really, who gets in a car accident on their way to chemo AND gets driven to chemo in a cop car.
Once I got to MSK I just wanted to get chemo started and over with. Due to the events of the day all the anticipation and the stress disappeared. I took a pic of the first session to send to family and friends. A good friend even texted back with, “only you would look smug getting chemo.” Around then is when it hit me, I forgot to ask my oncologist something: could I still go skydiving?
When I finally remembered to ask, I was elated to hear her say yes. This was the first time in months I had been excited. I would get to do something from my 30 Under 30 and feel “normal.” Yet it wasn’t quite “normal.” I had to hope that after four rounds of the red devil, a chemo cocktail, I’d be well enough.
Saying those first four sessions were miserable is an understatement, but I realized it also meant I was a quarter of the way through chemo and the skydiving trip was around the corner. When that weekend finally arrived, words cannot begin to express the gratitude I felt to have my friends with me. That day I felt more anxious about not wearing my wig than I did about the actual jump.
By the time we arrived to the skydiving site, I felt giddy with anticipation. On the flight up all I could think about was the beauty around me. When they opened the door, I welcomed the cool wind and all systems were go. We jumped. The wind pushed against me, my body felt as though it couldn’t fight back. I felt my skin rippling and the instructor pulled for the chute. While I was in the sky, time finally slowed down and I was floating. It was the first time I was carefree! I knew that if I held onto this feeling I could make it through the remaining 12 chemo treatments.
Through those remaining treatments, when things got rough, when I felt weak – which was often – I reminded myself I couldn’t give up. My 30 under 30 list may have changed drastically but I had checked off the most important item: survival. On Nov. 11th, two days shy of my 30th birthday, I left chemo in my 20s.
(Fatima’s story was originally published in Visible Ink Anthology 2017.)