Catherine Vander Cammen and Goolcher Navdar-1685881650927
Catherine Vander Cammen (left) and Goolcher Navdar at Majlis Al Amal at Al Jalila Foundation in Dubai Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Dubai: On National Cancer Survivors Day today, June 4, two exapt women in the UAE have revealed the pain of battling the disease and shared their inspirational journey to recovery.

Belgian expat Catherine Vander Cammen was diagnosed with cancer on her 60th birthday. Now 69, she said: “It was not the best news to receive on your birthday. My cancer treatment took a toll on me as well. There was a time I thought I would not survive but here I am telling you my story.”

She added: “There are ups and downs in a cancer journey. But there is hope. And there is strength that can do much for you to find a way out of the journey,” added Cammen.

About National Cancer Survivors Day
National Cancer Survivors Day is celebrated widely on the first Sunday of June - this year it falls on June 4. The day is meant to “demonstrate that life after a cancer diagnosis can be a reality”. Though it is mainly celebrated in the United States, the National Cancer Survivors Day Foundation is growing its popularity in other countries as well.
The National Cancer Survivors Day was first announced by Merril Hastings at the second national conference meeting of the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on November 20, 1987. The first National Cancer Survivors Day was held on June 5, 1988.

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Cammen’s journey

Cammen, who was living and working in the UK when she was diagnosed with cancer, said during a routine shower she found the nipple on her right breast inverted. The result of a painful biopsy turned positive. She underwent a mastectomy. The following year, doctors found a malignant lump on her left breast as well and she underwent another mastectomy.

“The journey was long and tedious. But I have come out of it with a lot of support and love from family and friends.”

She said one of the most important steps along the journey through cancer is acceptance.

“Accepting your condition and the treatment is the biggest step towards recovery. There is no point fighting it or resisting it,” she added.

Cammen – who has been cancer free for nine years now - said there are ups and downs in the journey. “One day you could be feeling great. Another day you don’t feel the best. But it is fine and absolutely normal. The important thing is to find a passion, interest to keep you busy and pre-occupied.”

She added: “My husband and I live with our son, daughter-in-law and grand-daughter here in Dubai. Two years ago we decided to come and live with our son and his family. It has been so great.”

Cammen spends a lot of time with her grandchild Nicole at home. She is also involved in various activities at Nicole’s school. “It is important to find a passion, a hobby and immerse yourself in that. Take the mind away from unwanted worries. Surround yourself with positive and loving people. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help. The Majlis Foundation for one has been such a great support to not just me but several cancer patients. So seek the help and learn to be happy with the present,” she said.

The Majlis Al Amal by Al Jalila Foundation has been hosting events every day in the lead up to National Cancer Survivors Day. The discussions include a varied topics like ‘Finding strength through colour with Altearah Bio; Thriving Beyond Cancer; Parenting through Difficult Times; Reinventing yourself after cancer’.

‘Curveballs of life’

Indian expat Goolcher Navdar could not agree more. The 63-year-old cancer survivor has managed to stay cancer free thanks to her treatment and alternative therapies, which she says helped her a lot.

Navdar said even before cancer there were a series of challenging events in her life which left her mentally, physically, emotionally and financially drained.

“Cancer came to me in June 2010. Already so depleted with the curveballs life threw at me, one would think life had no other way but to turn upwards. But it is said, sometimes you need to be completely broken to be whole again. And that is exactly how it was meant to be,” said Navdar.

Healing from within

“My body was already so weak and frail, and because chemotherapy is notoriously challenging to endure physically - and mentally - I took the decision not to follow that route. I wanted to turn inwards for healing. I was already on the spiritual path and wanted to put all my knowledge towards self-healing, through plant based nutrition, and other integrated healing modalities. It is not a popular decision, many did not have faith in it and my own family was against it. But this was my choice,” said Navdar.

She said her oncologist convinced her family it was a grave mistake to avoid chemotherapy and that radiation was a must. “For the sake of my family, I went through an intensive treatment of 35 radiation sessions, five days a week for seven weeks, each day straight from work to Abu Dhabi and back. The support of my loving children and sisters, the prayers and good wishes of my friends and relatives helped me immensely to brave this period.”

Thirteen years on, Navdar is cancer free. She has been on the path of holistic healing ever since.

“With the help of alternative healing, health supplements, holistic natural remedies, some necessary changes to my diet and lifestyle and a will of steel, I pulled through. I made it, and I have been cancer-free for the past 13 years! All my tests prove that I am healthier than ever before, with the grace of God,” Navdar said.

Learning from cancer

She added that her cancer journey through the darkest days of her life has taught her to live in the moment and to forgive. “Living in the moment is key. Forgive yourself and forgive those who have hurt you. Be grateful for all that you have in your life. Focus on what you have, rather than what you don’t.”

Navdar said: “My advice to anyone who is dealing with this condition is to not be overwhelmed by emotion. You can go through it with timely treatment and a positive strong attitude. This is the start of a journey to look after yourself, your mind and body.

“Don’t be afraid by what you already know about cancer. Every case is unique. Don’t think the worst. Strengthen your immune system with live food, yoga, laughter, joy, play, travel, and everything else that brings joy to your heart.

“And remember – it is only with complete love of self that you can spread love around you. Look after your body and mind like it belongs to someone you love.”