Cancer and Curry

Screen Shot 2018-09-22 at 08.21.31.pngThis week see’s the launch of the annual collaboration between Mother of All Lists and Stand Up to Cancer.  Unfortunately 1 in 2 of us will be diagnosed with Cancer at some point in our lives, so its something that will effect us all in one way or another. Stand up for Cancer are committed to using donations to speed up research and ultimately payback Cancer for all the damage its caused.

When I came across Saima’s Thomas , on Instagram I was blown away not only by her energy, but also by the fact that she was speaking about Cancer from a perspective I hadn’t heard before. She is a) young (which makes her lung cancer diagnosis all the more enraging) b) Pakistani and illness is not commonly discussed in South Asian culture. Side note I also salivate over Saima’s cooking, she owns a Masala Wala in Brockley, South East London. Here she shares her story:


  • It was April 4th of this year, I showed my GP the private ultrasound of my neck, the wait for a scan proved too long on the NHS, and I was deteriorating, he told me to go to A&E immediately because my thyroid was perfect and that was what the doctors initially thought the swelling was coming from.

  • he called the ear, nose & throat nurse who was expecting me

  • I was quite ill at this stage, suffering with upper chest swelling and breathing problems, the doctor recommended someone take me to A&E, something in my gut told me I couldn’t wait another minute after a month of watching the symptoms worsen I had to go there and then.

  • ‘Gareth i’m going to Pembury Hospital right now please get a taxi and meet me there, I have the car’

  • Feeling desperate for an answer to what was wrong with me I told my partner who was working in london that day to join me in kent.

  • Was it flu, thyroid, what could it be, we made jokes and laughed as my appearance has significantly changed from the swelling

  • In January this year I suffered a miscarriage so the hospital felt strangely familiar, I had been brought into a&e back then due to the amount of blood loss, little did we know what my body was trying to tell me, cancer had arrived.

  • Two days later after various tests, scans & biopsies I found myself in the cancer ward in maidstone, the doctors didn’t have a clear idea of the primary cause but the scans don’t lie and there I was

  • It all felt like a dream, it all happened so fast, my mother and sisters came to the ward straight away with absolute fear in their eyes.

  • My sister arrived armed with as many trash magazines and snacks as possible.  When she found out about the overnight stays my sister came back with a metric ton  of beauty products. WHsmith and Boots did not see her coming.

  • All of us as clueless as the next as to why me Saima aged 29 and otherwise fit an healthy is sitting next to chemotherapy patients and ‘old’ people.

  • I felt lost, I felt fear, i had never been admitted to hospital before, I hardly ever saw my GP and suddenly this year felt like a complete crash course in navigating my way through the NHS services.

  • I felt funny about taking paracetamol let alone scary sounding drugs such as dexamethasone and blood thinners.

  • The nurses were so great even though they were obviously stretched they did the utmost to look after patients.

  • On day 3 of my hospital stay I cracked, a nurse held me so tight in the middle of the night, I was crying and so scared, she gave me weak tea and bourbon biscuits, a national remedy for when everything goes tits up. This brought me calm and I eventually settled to sleep.

  • Beep… beep…beep,beep, beep, no i’m still awake, hospitals aren’t most relaxing of places to get a good night’s sleep let’s face it.

  • After 5 days of being hospitalised I was allowed to go home with lovely steroids that give you a gorgeous fat moon face and make you crazy hungry.

  • I just had to sit and wait, my immigrant Pakistani mother, asking me Saima, what are the doctors saying? explaining cancer to her proved difficult.

  • Illness is not discussed as commonly in south asian culture as it is in the west, she had never heard of ‘cancer’.

  • I almost wished I hadn’t heard of cancer, I wish I could relax, but I knew it meant bad news, it meant tumours, something has gone wrong, I knew too much and almost admired my mothers ignorance to the disease.

  • I eventually got to see a clinical oncologist for the results, ‘Saima, you have Non Small Cell Lung Cancer Adenocarcinoma stage 4’.

  • ‘Excuse me, what does that mean’.

  • The doctor said that the cancer has metastasized and it’s incurable, that they could offer palliative treatment but cannot cure the cancer, it had spread to my liver and lymph nodes.

  • He proceeded to show the CT scan and point at the dots in my body.

  • My partner now husband gareth broke down crying, I was completely mortified.

  • ‘We are going to start radiotherapy on your lung today’.

  • Just so much information, I was truly overwhelmed and felt exhausted at this point, they were really edging towards blood cancer, as weird as it sounds I was gearing up for that diagnosis, not lung cancer at my age, it’s an old people’s disease.Screen Shot 2018-09-22 at 08.23.54.png

  • Well that was my view and plenty of other people’s views, there’s seems to be a shame element about, lung cancer, it’s not attractive.

  • Next thing i know I was in a gown going for my first radiotherapy treatment, I will be honest when I say I didn’t look it up and had no idea what I was in for as I had 2 hours in between the appointment and session.

  • When I tell people about my condition, some respond with, do you smoke? Almost justifying my mortality to themselves, I respond yes I dabbled with cigarettes in my 20s, i’m now 29?

  • But does it mean i should have this disease over my head, I wouldn’t wish this upon anybody, its essentially a medical expiry date.

  • The average age of diagnosis for lung cancer is 70-74 years old I am in the special 5% under 40 to be diagnosed with this disease.

  • In life things go wrong, cells, go wrong so i’m gonna live with cancer, im gonna stand up to cancer, it will have to keep up with me because I am not ashamed.

  • 1 in 2 will experience this disease in their lifetime so we have to stick together and raise awareness so others do not live in fear, we have to work on normalising and changing our approach.

  • I had no clue about the disease and had to have a crash course and become an expert fast, even my GP was flabbergasted and did not put my symptoms together to conclude that it could possibly be cancer.

  • Although I cannot physically fight this disease I will look to live well and carry it with me.

  • Since returning to health and receiving palliative treatment in the form of targeted therapy, I take a chemo pill called afatinib I have had substantial tumour reductions and am currently stable at this point health wise.

  • Until the next 3 month scan, im on mini check points with my health and actually I kinda like knowing what’s happening inside me, we all have unknown fears about our health, relentlessly googling ailments and conditions. Its nice that the experts can tell me whats what.

  • All together I would rather not have this and start my 30s with the usual, gotta buy a house have kids stuff,but hey this is what I have been given, its not quite the gift i was looking for but im gonna work with it.

  • Life continues, I got married to the love of my life last month, we had a beautiful day surrounded by loved ones and friends, a celebration party more than anything.

  • Gareth gifted me a new washing machine and called it my ‘new toy’, so who knows out of us two who will die first. I could be a killer and a lung cancer patient too.Screen Shot 2018-09-22 at 08.22.02.png

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