Emirati cancer survivor Sumaia Alkaabi who won her battle against the disease is now on a mission to use her experience to raise awareness and bring hope in the lives of other patients.
Ms Alkaabi, 32, a mother of three, from Al Ain visits people in the hospital, celebrates the end of their exhausting chemotherapy sessions and uses social media to help individuals and families who are bravely fighting day in and day out.
Ms Alkaabi said she felt a lump while breastfeeding her baby in the middle of 2019, but was only diagnosed with breast cancer in 2020.
“Seven months of tests and check-ups did not help in finding out the nature of the mass,” she told The National.
“Only after I changed my doctor and went to Burjeel hospital in Al Ain, they were able to immediately give a diagnosis.”
She said she stopped breastfeeding and began her treatment journey with surgery to remove the lump. This was followed by a number of condensed chemotherapy sessions in which higher doses were given over a few days.
“It was then that I noticed how desperate and sad cancer patients around me were,” she said.
“To be honest, I didn’t give in to feelings of pity and sadness. I shaved my head and wore a wig even before my hair fell off.
“God will not test those who he knows can’t handle it and for me, I honestly see my happiness in the happiness of others.”
Ms Alkaabi said that after undergoing chemotherapy, she thought that she must try to bring cheer to the lives of people facing the same problem.
“I am a positive person, I always have been,” she said.
She asked for the hospital’s permission, took a list of all inpatients, and then started visiting them in their hospital rooms in an initiative she called “Happiness Dose”.
“They were surprised at first when I introduced myself and said that I was there to support them,” she said.
Ms Alkaabi said she talked to them about her experience, shared her feelings, spoke of the challenges and how to remain hopeful.
She brought cookies, candy, flowers and motivational cards for other patients.
As time passed by, the patients became more welcoming and looked forward to her visits, she said.
Ms Alkaabi received 24 sessions of chemo and 25 sessions of radiotherapy, but she did not stop visiting other patients in the hospital. Recently, she was declared cancer free.
A few months later, with support from the doctor in charge, she made a WhatsApp group for female patients.
“I noticed how low women felt mainly because their hair fell out, so I made this group,” she said.
Over time, the women started sharing their fears and offered emotional support to one another.
Ms Alkaabi said she bought 20 wigs for the women in the group.
She broadened her initiative by taking her idea to Sheikh Dr Salem Al Amiri, head of the Emirates Oncology Society in Al Ain.
“He happily supported my idea to buy wigs for cancer patients and even donated some money,” she said.
Ms Alkaabi said she joined the Emirates Oncology Society as a member and has helped more than 200 patients.
Patients who finished their exhausting chemo were surprised with a cake and a party attended by other patients and hospital staff.
“It was important to celebrate the end of their journey with chemo and to encourage others who didn’t yet to be more hopeful,” she said.
To further increase the support, she made use of her growing number of followers on Instagram.
“I have thousands of followers, and I often receive requests from businesses to market their products,” she said.
“So I thought why not charge them but not to make personal gain and also ask them for special discounts for patients.”
Many businesses were more than happy to offer slashed prices for this good cause.
“There are beauty centres, flower shops, restaurants, garment shops and many others,” she said. “Any financial profit from promoting products goes to providing support for patients.”
Recognising her efforts, she was given the Hope Award by the Emirates Oncology Society at its third annual conference last September.
“It was a huge surprise because I had no idea and I was not even informed about the award,” she said. “I was urged to attend it, and I went even though I was taking some medical tests for minor surgery.”