Giving Back with Time
It was spring 2007, and Mohammad was only a few weeks away from sitting for his Tawjihi exams when his neck started hurting. He had been spending hours bent over his textbooks, studying intensely, so he naturally assumed it was simply a matter of aching muscles. It was his mother who found the swelling and told his father.
"My father is a doctor; he is an optician. He knew we needed a biopsy, but I suspect he knew it was cancer even before the results came back from the lab", says Mohammad. It was his father who took him to the King Hussein Cancer Center (KHCC), carefully leading him through parking lots and back doors, trying to protect his son from the truth as long as possible.
Mohammad was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma. "The doctor simply told me that I have cancer," says Mohammad, "and he said there was no time to delay, I needed to start chemotherapy right away". Stunned and overwhelmed. Mohammad walked out of the doctor's office into the waiting room unable to hold back his tears. A gentleman came up to comfort him and encourage him. "An Iraqi," says Mohammad, "and his little girl had cancer too". It was a moment that has stayed with him.
That spring, Mohammad followed his doctor's recommendation and began his treatment immediately. He had chemotherapy every two weeks, and although initially only eight sessions were scheduled, they were later extended to ten and then to twelve. "Everyone said you need a strong spirit to get over cancer, so I focused on staying positive," says Mohammad. But the physical side effects were by no means minor. Exhaustion and nausea wracked his body, and prevented him from completing his exams as scheduled. Sometimes, just turning over in bed was too painful to do. All his hair, including his eyebrows, fell out. But the worst he faced was hearing his father cry at night.
During his time at the King Hussein Cancer Center, Mohammad received support from a young man who had had a similar experience to his own. Mohammad also saw the summer camp for pediatric cancer patients and the activities going on there. As soon as he was well enough he asked about how he could volunteer.
Realizing that the fight against cancer requires extensive support, the King Hussein Cancer Center established several support groups and volunteer opportunities. Ma'ak was established as a child to child support group, matching a child who has a particular type of cancer with one who has already been through it. Seeing that someone has lived through a similar experience provides invaluable hope and encouragement to pediatric patients and their families.
The SIWAR volunteer program was created to engage different members of the community in volunteering at the King Hussein Cancer Foundation or the King Hussein Cancer Center. Individuals and corporations can contribute time or talents in a variety of ways. Volunteers may choose to support patients and their families directly at KHCC; they can assist in administrative functions and fundraising campaigns; or they can work towards generating cancer awareness in the general public. Everyone at KHCC realizes the immeasurable value that volunteers add and views them as an essential part of the organization.
Mohammad volunteered for three months with the Ma'ak program, and then joined SIWAR. To this day he remains committed to giving his time to the King Hussein Cancer Center - going so far as to schedule summer college courses around the KHCC summer camp schedule.
"Some pain is unbearable," says Mohammad explaining why he chose to volunteer and speaking from his first hand experience. "I want to cheer these kids up, to find some way to alleviate even a little of the pain". Among these kids are the little Iraqi girl whose father comforted Mohammad two years ago, and others who have made an impression on him: Like little Siba, who is suffering from Leukemia, or five year old Jamil who has so many problems that "when you hear him talk, he sounds like a doctor!" says Mohammad. But the hardest thing is when a child doesn't come back, explains Mohammad. "Like Abdallah. "He had such a big smile. I asked about him the next time I volunteered and they told me he had passed away".
As for Mohammad's own treatment, he completed his final chemotherapy session on November 14, 2007. It is a day he refers to as his new birthday and one that he celebrates each year. The following spring he managed to complete the remaining subjects in his Tawjihi exams and is currently studying Marketing at a local university. He still visits KHCC for regular health checks, but it is pretty clear that Mohammad will still choose to visit long after he has completed his last checkup.