Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: For a person with cancer, accepting one’s fate may be a hard thing to do. For Filipino expatriate Sharon Mendoza Dreisbach, who was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer in October 2015, it was an experience that ultimately fortified her resolve to live a meaningful life.

Dreisbach, 48, who holds a doctorate degree in management specialising in human resource management, says she now sees her illness more as a blessing.

“It was October 2015, when all of a sudden I felt a shooting pain from my armpit to the tip of my breast and it was just so painful that I immediately rushed to the hospital for some tests,” says Dreisbach in an interview with Gulf News.

She went to three different hospitals in the UAE.

“In the first test I was not really convinced with the result and I also had a very traumatic experience with that particular hospital. So I was referred to another hospital in Al Ain, which did the same test with the biopsy and that was the time when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, stage three,” says Dreisbach.

A visit to NMC Specialty Hospital in Abu Dhabi further confirmed her condition.

“My reaction when I was told that I have breast cancer was acceptance,” says Dreisbach. “Not all people may have that same kind of feeling because when you say cancer, it is associated with death.”

Sharon Mendoza Dreisbach

She adds: “Regardless how good the technology is now, how good the medical experts are, the modern medication, if you don’t accept your situation, that is already like putting yourself into a death bed because you will start experiencing depression and deterioration not only physically but also emotionally and psychologically.”

Her decision to accept her fate led her to see her condition as a blessing.

“I left everything to Allah. I did not question Him. But I look at it as a blessing. Instead of asking Him why, I prayed and basically asked, ‘what is Your message to me,” says Dreisbach.

Dreisbach is being treated at NMC Specialty Hospital. The hospital staff, she says, has become a part of her extended family, which has certainly helped the entire experience become more bearable.

“I have a lot of good memories with them,” she says, adding that she had a very positive experience with her oncologist Dr Mohanad Diab and surgeon Dr Balaji Balasubramaniam. “I trust them so much.”

In August last year, she was declared cancer free. She recalls that as she walked out of the doctor’s clinic, she simply jumped in joy and just let out her emotions as reality began to sink in.

Although she is already free of cancer, she says her treatment will continue until 2020.

She says the experience gave her a clear message: maintain a healthy lifestyle.

“For me, the definition of healthy lifestyle is not only eating the right food, but the totality of the person being healthy physically, emotionally, mentally and most especially spiritually.”

Working in academics, Dreisbach, an assistant professor at Skyline University College in Sharjah, saw the opportunity to spread awareness about breast cancer. She started to reach out to students who were also suffering from cancer.

“You might not be able to give them financial support, but the most important support that you can give to them is the morale support, just letting them feel that you are there and to show to them that I survived this and so can you.”

She says she’s also grateful that the school was fully supportive during her treatment and in her advocacy.

Dreisbach also supports a group, Breast Cancer Society of Southern Mindanao, which helps cancer patients in the Philippines.

“Right now they have more than a thousand members,” she says.

“In General Santos City alone, there are 500 women who are suffering from breast cancer and it’s really sad to say that 90 per cent of them can’t even afford a single treatment. So I really feel bad about it.”

She’s also part of a support group in the UAE called Blessed.

The group organises makeup sessions, fashion shows and other events for cancer survivors. Blessed

“They basically help a lot, not only in terms of finances but in terms of increasing the morale of each member. “During our sessions, every time I meet someone who also has cancer, I always take a selfie with them.”

She says the entire experience has become a source of strength. “Every time I’m alone and feel a bit low, I look at the pictures again and it gives me energy. It was basically a part of my treatment also. It helped my morale actually.”

As a member of the two support groups, Dreisbach saw it as an opportunity to build a bridge between the two countries.

“Allah has given me this opportunity to meet a lot of people, for me to be an instrument to build a bridge between one country and another.”

When she shared the situation in the Philippines with her fellow members at Blessed, the members quickly mobilised to donate medicines to the Breast Cancer Society in Southern Mindanao.

“They had medicines that were just kept in the warehouse, so we sent them to the Philippines, so they can be put to good use.”