PROFESSIONAL AND PERSONAL LIFE
Hello everyone, I am Ashma Khanani Moosa. I am based out of Houston, Texas. I am a registered nurse by profession—also an integrative health and wellness coach. I work closely alongside my husband, a preventive family medicine physician. I have two beautiful children who are currently 21 and 26—a fun fact: I live right next to NASA. Our family loves to travel a lot, and it’s our passion.
My diagnosis was Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, which is Breast cancer. Initially, when they performed the mammogram and all the other tests, they said that it might be stage one cancer, and we could do a lumpectomy, which would cure everything, and I could move on with my life. This being my second primary cancer, I got a little concerned and talked to many people and went to my oncologist asking to move ahead with bilateral mass activity, thinking it would provide me with more peace. It was secondary cancer, and there were chances that it could move to another breast, and I didn’t want to live like that.
The doctors were unhappy, so I went to MD ANDERSON CANCER CENTER, like the Mecca of cancer treatment in Houston. They informed me that as I was so young (48 at the time), I wouldn’t manage it emotionally, and that wasn’t the therapy for my diagnosis. They also suggested I have a psychiatric evaluation. I told them no. I told them I was firm in my decision, so they went ahead and performed the operation. The operation was long as I also chose to have a skin transplant. It was a 14-hour process. I felt it was the best option for me as I didn’t want any artificial parts in my body and then have other surgeries later on. I was mostly confined to bed for the duration of my rehabilitation.
I couldn’t do much for myself. My children were still small, which worried me. My aunt from Canada came to help me, which took away my worry a little. After two weeks, I went back for my follow-up appointment, and my biopsy was taken. They told me that my cancer had been metastasized.
A drug called Herceptin targets my type of cancer explicitly. So, to improve my chances, they recommend I undergo chemotherapy. This gave me a nervous breakdown.
The first six months were aggressive, including three different medications, and during the latter six months, I was on Herceptin. I had chemotherapy for one year in total.
There were no initial signs or symptoms. It was discovered during my routine mammogram. My husband received an unusual call from our doctor on Saturday saying, “This is about your wife, I’m seeing something suspicious, and I want you both to come on Monday to have a biopsy.”
When the phone rang, I could see my husband’s expression alter. I witnessed something similar to what I saw when diagnosed with thyroid cancer. He became earnest, and I immediately sensed something wrong. I went frozen. We exchanged glances when he hung up, but we didn’t say anything because the kids were present.
He knew that I knew something was not right. I had to go in for a biopsy on Monday. I’m a nurse, so I understand what that implies, so we let the kids play and then we talked about it and agreed that we never want to keep anything from our children because we are religious people. God tests you with illnesses or problems, but at the end of the day, your journey will lead you to meet your creator.
We sat down with our daughters and informed them that mommy had to go for the biopsy on Monday. My husband described what it was, and my daughter had a lot of questions. I wanted to involve them in the decision-making process, and it rattled us because it was second cancer, and I wasn’t sure which way this was going to go.
ALTERNATIVE TREATMENTS OR METHODOLOGIES
I strongly believe in meditation and prayer. I also push myself to go out in the garden and walk in the green grass every morning, even when I am exhausted. It helped me heal, and I also believe in many natural remedies.
Maintaining a good attitude is the essential instrument for overcoming any difficulties. Keeping a positive mindset helps in yourself surrounding with positive people. Meditation helped me with my Insomnia.
Maintain mental health, manage finances, and find happiness in life. I have such a diverse group of friends in my life who helped me throughout the journey. I’ve always been known to never say no to someone who needs something, and it all came back as a blessing to me at that time.
LIFESTYLE ADJUSTMENTS DURING AND AFTER THE TREATMENT
In terms of what we cook, we’ve always been pretty healthy. We enjoy cooking at home; I prepare various dishes, but I strive to make them healthier by using fewer oils and more whole foods. My children are also in the habit of doing so since we cook together, and they are pretty aware of it. We don’t like to eat fast food. I never took kids to a fast-food restaurant, so they don’t have the habit of eating fast food as teenagers. What you eat determines who you are; therefore, I like to produce my herbs. I use a lot of basil, arugula, cilantro, and curry leaves in my dishes. I love the whole foods, healthy approach, and my husband is also a preventative health and wellness specialist, so having a partner like that helps a lot.
LIFE LESSONS FROM CANCER
First and foremost is that you should never give up. Hope is the last thing you should give up, and you always should see this adversity or problem as an opportunity and accept it and face the issue head-on. In my instance, there are several distinct perspectives on faith. I always ask my clients about their spiritual practices; it doesn’t have to be that they should go to the mosque five times a day to pray or visit the temple. Spirituality is the process of establishing a connection with your creator. It may be as simple as taking a walk in the park and noting the minor details that are essential right now. That was the most important thing I learned.
Appreciate this present, be grateful to be here, and avoid looking back or forward because we don’t know what the future holds for us, so why clutter our minds with things that haven’t happened yet, and the past is the past. If I live that way, I’ll be cluttered and will never be able to go forward. I believe that embracing and making this an opportunity was my biggest lesson. I used this opportunity to strengthen my children because they will also face challenges. I wanted to teach them that whatever happens is for a reason; all that matters is how you embrace it and navigate it is the statement of your journey.
STIGMAS ATTACHED TO CANCER AND THE IMPORTANCE OF AWARENESS
I feel that educated women going through breast cancer have an easier time talking about it, but ladies in their 50s still have that old-fashioned upbringing.
A woman I spoke with, the daughter of the patient, was so upset as a caregiver that she came to me and said, “Is there any way you can talk to my mom because she doesn’t want to tell anyone outside our family, so how am I going to get the support that I need for myself?” I’ve seen mothers who refuse to speak to their children. I believe that not discussing breasts openly or discussing problems that a woman is going through is the worst stigma. If you’re experiencing an issue, you must talk to someone. I perform a presentation every year to raise awareness. In the first year, my husband described his experience as a caretaker. I think everyone in the room cried that day. I brought my daughter to speak about what a 13-year-old went through the second year. I had no idea she was going through all of that when she talked, but it brought so much awareness and positivity, and it broke the stigma of a 13-year-old speaking in front of 200 people.
IMPORTANCE OF SUPPORT GROUPS
I didn’t have a support group, and I didn’t have somebody I could talk to who had been through it before, which is why I started the coaching.
I ask cancer patients one question, “How much joy do you have in your life right now?”. Each person has views. Everyone learns from each other, and that is the foundation of support. Choosing the right support group is essential based on your background and culture.
MESSAGE TO OTHER CANCER PATIENTS AND CAREGIVERS
For a cancer patient, the caregiver is the most crucial person. Caregivers require breaks as well. After a while, you may feel like, oh my gosh, I’m taking so much of their time, and they are not complaining. At that point, you should tell your caregiver it’s okay to step away and perhaps someone else can come in.