Rosemary, answering calls at the reception of Nails Saloon in Abu Dhabi Mall on Friday. Photo: Abdul Rahman/Gulf News (story: Sarvy) Image Credit:

Abu Dhabi: If you come across Rosemarie Sintos Ababon, you will find it hard to believe that the hardworking, smiling receptionist is receiving treatment for an aggressive type of cancer.

The 32-year-old Filipina expat works at one of the capital’s busiest nail salons in Abu Dhabi Mall, and has refused to take time off or go back to her country to receive support from her family, despite dealing with a life-threatening disease. She had not even informed her teenage son of her condition until just over a month ago.

“I don’t entertain the idea that I’m sick. I don’t like to feel unproductive,” Ababon told Gulf News.

“I smile. I smile all the time. I don’t want to complain. I am just thankful that I have a great job, that I can receive treatment, I have my sisters [colleagues] who support me, and I am getting through this,” she added.

A mother of one, her ordeal began in August last year when she felt a small lump on her right breast. An ultrasound showed a 0.3mm lump which she was advised was nothing to worry about. However, over the next couple of months she noticed the lump’s characteristics changing, becoming bigger and at times hard or moving from one place to another.

A second ultrasound in early October 2016 showed the lump had grown to 1.5mm, in only two months. “I told the doctor I wanted the lump removed immediately.”

A biopsy of the lump showed that it was a triple positive cancer, a very aggressive form of breast cancer.

 I smile. I smile all the time. I don’t want to complain. I am just thankful that I have a great job, that I can receive treatment, I have my sisters [colleagues] who support me, and I am getting through this.”

 - Rosemarie Sintos Ababon, Filipina cancer survivor

“I spoke with the owner of the salon directly and explained to her that I didn’t want to go home for treatment. I wanted to continue to work, I couldn’t imagine not being busy and I would not get the same high-quality healthcare that I receive in Abu Dhabi back in the Philippines.”

Ababon said her only request was that she be allowed to cover her head with a scarf that matched her uniform when her hair fell out. Her employer, who has been completely supportive of her, agreed.

Upon her doctor’s advice, Ababon had a big part of her right breast removed, followed by chemotherapy sessions, all the while not taking time off from work unless she was feeling extremely ill on days from the treatment and even then, she said she tried to not take more than a couple of days off.

“Sometimes after chemo therapy, I felt like my bones were crushing me from the inside, I can’t explain how painful it is, but I just wanted to keep busy.”

She has endured a number of side-effects from her chemotherapy, which she completed in April, including losing her hair, burnt skin, marks on her stomach, damaged veins, bone pain and bloatedness. However, she has not allowed anything to stop her from trying to look her best at work and being the best she can be at her job.

The owner of the chain salon, Nadine Elias Abdou, confirmed to Gulf News that she was initially concerned about whether Ababon would be able to get through her surgery and chemotherapy treatment without her family’s support but was so moved by her employee’s spirit and strength that she offered to fully support her. “I really admire Rosemary, she is a very strong woman,” she said. “Very strong.”

Ababon’s cancer has not only affected her health, it has also taken its toll on her finances as some aspects of the treatment, including her daily medication, are not covered by her insurance. She also fears that the expensive hormonal therapy that she requires for the next year, which costs about Dh14,000 per session (a session every three weeks), will cause her insurance to reach its limit and leave her without coverage.

However, despite her uncertain future and daily challenges, Ababon is adamant that she will not stop smiling or working and advises others in a similar situation to “stay positive and keep busy.”