The Story of a Victory Bell

জোহরা ফেরদৌসী's picture
Submitted by Zohra Ferdousy on Sat, 12/01/2013 - 6:30pm

“We are wishful kites wandering the open skies
Eagerly anticipating our dreams to realize
We are a multitude of beacons clad as fireflies
Illuminating hope, yearning despairs demise...” by Sohel Ahmed

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. There is not a single personal cancer story that allows you to hold your tears. Yet, each one of them tells us the ultimate truth about these people who are touched by the disease; cancer can take control over human body but not the spirit. It is the human spirits that always triumphs. I will start with a prayer that I say every day of my life:

“God grant me the SERENITY to accept the thing I cannot change, COURGAE to change the thing I can, and WISDOM to know the difference”.

My personal cancer journey started in 1978, when my eldest sister was diagnosed with cancer. Our mother named her “Ratan”, which means “precious jewel” in my mother tongue. In 1978, cabin number 11 of the Dhaka Medical College Hospital (Bangladesh) became our home for a period of time. I was a seven-year-old child at that point. I could not understand many things at the time, but I have vivid memories of the deep sadness, and extreme helplessness on everyone’s face as cancer was an obvious death sentence at that point in time. After 8 months of battle with cancer, we lost our loved one at the age of 29.

I was diagnosed in 2007. After years of struggle as a first generation immigrant woman, I had finally landed with my dream job, moved to the first family home, and was planning to extend the family. In less than two weeks after that move, on one fateful evening, the discovery of a lump in my body led to the next morning visit to a doctor’s clinic. Eventually, after a series of agonizing diagnostic tests, I was told on December 18th - “You have got cancer.” Clinging to the last ray of hope, I repeatedly asked if there was any chance of error. The reply was “NO”. To my next questions, the doctor’s replies were blunt: “There is no cure for cancer”, “We will further investigate to know how far the cancer has gone”, “We cannot tell how long you will survive”, “and Cancer can come back anytime in your life even if you survive this time”. I came out of the doctor’s office a different person... shocked, numbed and speechless. I was hearing doors shutting off one after another in my head…someone has just dropped dark ink on the dream I drew over the last 10 years...someone has pushed me into a dark tunnel after I climbed up the hill… someone has torn down my life into pieces……

Like any other cancer patient, I have gone through the cycle of disbelief… denial… why me….why now…. what did I do wrong…. My first reaction was how I could protect my family. Above all, I felt responsible for causing pain to my loved ones: as a mother, a daughter, a sister and a wife. It will hurt my mother to lose another daughter to cancer. It will be difficult for my siblings to lose their youngest in another battle to cancer. It will bring them back the sad memories of the first defeat. There is real chance that my husband will be alone. I will not be there to read bed time stories to my son; see him graduating from high school; entering university; getting married. I will not be there when he needs me. I felt as if I was letting all my loved ones down… I was quitting my job “unfinished” too soon….

My active cancer treatment took two years, which included 3 surgeries, 6 cycles of chemotherapy, and another one-year- long advanced therapy, countless visits to the hospitals, doctor’s clinics, and diagnostic labs. During my cancer treatment, I slipped into deep depression…. I was literally walking in the cancer tunnel, every moment of my life.

Far away from my mother, sister, and brothers, I knew only 3 people in Ottawa, whom I knew from Montreal. Then, how did I travel through that cancer tunnel? I take pure joy into acknowledging the passionate support I have received from many people who have touched my life so deeply that no word is enough to thank them. This is where I would remind you about the victory bell at the chemotherapy room of the Cancer Centre where I got my treatment. There were multiple doctors of various fields from oncology to psychiatry, nurses, social worker, lab technicians, volunteers, cancer peer- support groups, the spiritual care centre at the hospital and the cancer patients who were going through the treatment at the same cancer centre. They were all involved in my care outside of my family and friends.

Somewhere I read God never sends any hurdle on us without His guardian angels. I would like to talk about an amazing person whom I consider an angel. It was my social worker (Heather MacPhail). She gave me the first hug and lent her shoulder to cry after my diagnosis. I was one of her most difficult and nagging patients. At that point, I did not believe that I would even see my son starting elementary school, which was due in a few months. For over two years, she lent me her ears to talk, hands to hold, and shoulders to cry. She did many things for me that I do not believe belonged in her job description. In one instance, I was admitted to the hospital for a complication due to chemotherapy. To my surprise, she came to see me after seeing in her system that I was in the oncology ward. She participated in my prayers, arranged Zamzam (the holy water) for me that Muslims drink during sickness, called my home days and nights to check on me. …She was literally holding my hands and bringing in the light of HOPE into my cancer tunnel.

It will not be fair if I do not say few words about my doctors. Remember those blunt replies from my doctor? The same doctors took every necessary step so that I was treated as a whole person. Every aspect of my well-being was carefully addressed. On the very last day of my active treatment, my oncologist whom I still see every 6 months, hugged me and told me that she took deep pride and joy in being helpful to me. My doctor, a mother of three children, also mentioned that she was touched by my fear that I might have to leave my son in this world too early.

At one point of walking the cancer tunnel, I started exploring what has been developed in Bangladesh in terms of cancer care since 1978. To my despair, the demand for cancer care in Bangladesh has increased manifold. While cancer does not have to be a death sentence anymore, far too many families are still losing their “precious jewel” in the battle with cancer too soon. In my quest, I came to know about the Ahsania Mission Cancer & General Hospital, which may offer an infinitesimally small solution to the cancer care problem in Bangladesh. But I would remind you of the proverb: “Every great journey starts with the first tiny step”.

When I started to accept cancer and all the things it brought to my life is then I found the answer to “WHY ME?” I believe that if I could be a part of giving hope to a single cancer patient that would be the reason I have got cancer. Cancer may not have a cure yet, but certainly there is HOPE.

I would end my story with the victory bell at the chemotherapy room of the Ottawa General Hospital Cancer Centre. The chemotherapy room is an open space without much privacy. Cancer patients not only share that room but they also help each other in their emotional inner journey…from losing hope…grieving for the lost dreams…to pulling up …and moving forward again. The victory bell at the chemotherapy room is a symbolic “goal” for cancer patients to achieve…a constant “reminder” not to give up when they are crossing hurdles one after another. Every cancer patient rings the bell with their family and friends when she/he finishes the last chemotherapy. As you can imagine, it has a profound impact on the remaining patients. Far away from my family, I rang that bell with my social worker.

I know how privileged I was to be a Canadian Citizen. The Canadian Health Care System protected my family and me from worrying about the access to cancer treatment and the cost of it. My dream is to have at least one victory bell for the cancer patients in Bangladesh. Today, I am here to ring the bell of HOPE in honor of my beloved sister, in honour of the generous Canadian Health Care System, and in honor of everyone involved in my cancer care. I believe each one of us have the COURAGE to ring that bell for cancer patients. Would you ring that victory bell to give HOPE to cancer patients in Bangladesh?


Acknowledgement: I deeply appreciate the comments and edits from my friends Abir Alsayed, Rizwana Alamgir-Arif and Subrata Sarker and my niece Tasfia Rahman on this story.

Foot Note:

In 2012, a volunteer team of Bangladeshi expatriates living in Ottawa-Gatineau (Canada) ran a campaign for a cancer hospital in Bangladesh. The goal was to raise awareness and funds for the Ahsania Mission Cancer and General Hospital in Dhaka. The hospital project started in 2005, which is primarily funded by the Government and the citizens of Bangladesh (living in and outside the country). The Ottawa campaign was a response to the hospital’s appeal towards the Bangladeshi expatriates to support this noble cause.

The Campaign team was:

- Afrina Momen & Rupam Faruquee
- Farhana Islam & Sadaquat Junayed
- Happy Rahman & Mizan Rahman
- Humaira Armin & Mamun Mahmud
- Humayra Kabir-Faisal & Aad-Yean Faisal
- Marufa Rahman & Mazib Rahman
- Radha Dey & Subrata Sarker
- Rebecca Khan (Dipa)
- Rizwana Alamgir-Arif & Faisal Arif
- Sanjeda Ahmed & Sohel Ahmed
- Yasmin Akter & Lokman Hossain
- Zohra Ferdousy

The campaign team participated in various community events (e.g., picnics, festivals, Terry Fox Run, etc.) throughout the summer 2012. The five-month long campaign was culminated into a Charity Event (Cancer Benefit Evening / ক্যান্সার জয়ের স্বপ্নসন্ধ্যা) at the Ron-Kolbus Community Centre (Ottawa) held on October 13, 2012. With remarkable support from the Bangladeshi community, the Campaign raised CAD $22,252.80 and BDT 91,000.00. The Human Concern International, a federally registered charity organization in Canada, helped to transfer the amounts to the hospital administration. The total contribution went as a combined gift of love and care from the Bangladeshi Expatriates in Ottawa-Gatineau to the cancer patients in Bangladesh.

The above story was one of the two cancer survivor’s stories shared during the Charity Event on October 13, 2012. “Life after Cancer” by Subrata Sarker was the other story.


Shipra's picture

Dear sister Zohra God bless you.When you were sick,someone told me, I couldn't hold myself.
Even today I can not write because my tears.
With great hope and lots of love,didi.

জোহরা ফেরদৌসী's picture

Thank you, Shipra didi. I know how much you love me…sometimes I wonder why life is so beautiful?...I do not deserve to be loved so much!

Cancer is not all bad, didi…It gives so much strength, I never could imagine before.

Somewhere I read it is like finding the inner treasure that you never could think of…cancer ultimately gives the light to see the truth. It is kind of what Tagore said, ”সত্য যে কঠিন, কঠিনেরে ভালবাসিলাম/ সে কভূ করে না বঞ্চনা... “

জয় হোক মানবতার ।। জয় হোক জাগ্রত জনতার

শাব্দিক's picture

I hope and deeply believe all the cancer sufferer may able to ring the victory bell one day like you.

Apu, I can’t hold my tears while I read this blog, that made me remember the “precious jewel” of my life, whom I lost. I still don’t have the courage to share that story and face the reflection of my life. I shall do that one day when I will be brave enough.

I wish you a healthy and happy long life.

ভাঙে কতক হারায় কতক যা আছে মোর দামী
এমনি করে একে একে সর্বস্বান্ত আমি।

জোহরা ফেরদৌসী's picture

I can’t hold my tears while I read this blog, that made me remember the “precious jewel” of my life, whom I lost. I still don’t have the courage to share that story and face the reflection of my life. I shall do that one day when I will be brave enough.

I wish I could hold your hands…You know even though I am not being able to touch your hands, my tears are with your tears.

This is what I believe…cancer did not only take from me, it gave me back a lot too. It made a part of a big family: cancer family. Anyone is touched by this disease, directly or indirectly, is my family.

জয় হোক মানবতার ।। জয় হোক জাগ্রত জনতার

সাফিনাজ আরজু's picture

Apu, I couldn't hold my tear anymore while i was reading your journy against cancer. Feeling proud of you, you were so brave to face it properly.

I also have lost my 9 years older “precious jewel” in this battel only two years ago, how can i forget those days? How can I forget my little angel?

I wish all the cancer sufferer may able to ring the victory bell one day like you.
We shall overcome one day!
May you have long long long happy, healthy and peaceful life.

----আমার মুক্তি আলোয় আলোয় এই আকাশে---

জোহরা ফেরদৌসী's picture

I also have lost my 9 years older “precious jewel” in this battel only two years ago, how can i forget those days? How can I forget my little angel?

You will never forget that. We don’t forget our loved ones. We keep them deep in our heart alive. Nothing can take them away ….We laugh when we remember a happy memory with them, we cry when a sad memory comes into our mind…yet we keep them close to our heart. They give us strength to move forward…remind us to touch someone's sadness. This is how they live very closely with us…they are never far from us!

জয় হোক মানবতার ।। জয় হোক জাগ্রত জনতার

নীল's picture

বড় আপা -

আমি - আমরা সবাই নির্বাক।

জোহরা ফেরদৌসী's picture

নীল, ভাল থেকো...

জয় হোক মানবতার ।। জয় হোক জাগ্রত জনতার

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