Sharjah: On the occasion of World Cancer Day (February 4), doctors and parents of an 11-year-old Jordanian girl in Sharjah have shared her inspirational story on how she overcame Stage 3 cancer.
Tala Osama, daughter of Osama, 50, an electrical engineer, and Leena, 39, an Arabic teacher in a local school, was studying in Grade 6 and staying with her family of two sisters and two brothers in Sharjah.
Lump on abdomen
Recollecting the series of developments since January 2022, Leena said: “Tala was like any other kid, playful and mischievous, with the only difference being that she would get tired easily and claim painful and weak legs after any sporting activity.”
One day, Tala showed a protruding lump on her abdomen. The parents took her to their local paediatrician, who asked them to take her to a higher centre as he could not make any diagnosis.
The ordeal of reaching the exact cause of Tala’s problems had just started. The parents took her to four reputed centres in Sharjah, but none could diagnose the little girl’s cancer. After multiple rounds of empirical treatment, the abdominal lump subsided, and parents thought the problems were over.
However the symptoms resurfaced, and this time they were frequent and severe. Six months had already elapsed by now and the cancer had grown. Each time a doctor said that nothing was wrong, her parents felt something was missing in her diagnosis or treatment, and they felt compelled to take their daughter to a different doctor.
Their fifth doctor developed a particular interest in the abdominal lump and decided to investigate it. Soon enough, he reached the diagnosis of Hodgin’s lymphoma, a type of cancer that affects the lymphatic system, which is part of the body’s germ-fighting immune system. In Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, white blood cells called lymphocytes grow out of control, causing swollen lymph nodes and growths throughout the body.
Leena said: “Not knowing the diagnosis is frustrating because the emotional upheaval of carrying your child from one unit to another looking for an answer is emotionally draining. Recounting those days is not easy. Tala had no symptoms except tiredness, and every doctor we went to never gave us a clear-cut diagnosis.”
Dr Nancy Nabil Kamel Israel, Specialist, Paediatric Oncology, NMC Royal Hospital Sharjah, said: “Upon reaching the diagnosis, it was now time to start with her treatment right away.” Tala was prescribed by Dr Nancy a four-month treatment plan having a monthly dose of chemotherapy. Tala took her last dose of chemo on July 13, 2022.
Once the therapy was completed, there was a wait of at least three to six months to have a clear sign that she was cancer-free. Finally, the two diagnostic tests confirmed the good news – Tala was cancer-free towards the new year. She is now on a three-month programme of regular follow-ups and tests.
Tala completed her academic year online. She now goes to school, her hair has grown, and she’s happy and playful. She is doing well in school. Her caregivers try to keep her in a safe environment for her immunity.
“Undergoing chemo wasn’t easy for the brave Tala and her super understanding and supportive family. The loss of hair, in particular, during the chemo was heartbreaking for everyone,” said Dr Nancy.
Dr Nancy explained why this type of cancer occurs: “Hodgkin lymphoma is caused by a change [mutation] in the DNA of a type of white blood cell called B lymphocytes. The exact reason why this happens isn’t known. The DNA gives the cells basic instructions, such as when to grow and reproduce.”
Signs to watch out for
“One must watch out for any or a combination of signs in one’s child as painless swelling of lymph nodes in your neck, armpits or groin region not resolving with classic medicines – say, antibiotics - persistent fatigue, a spell of fever lasting over two weeks, night sweats, losing weight without trying and severe itching. Early diagnosis makes a big difference in prognosis, line of treatment, and survival percentage,” the doctor added.
‘She’s my inspiration’
Leena said: “I don’t think any parent is prepared to hear that your child is diagnosed with cancer. After the initial shock and disbelief, we go along hoping for the best and praying non-stop to God, asking him to be merciful and end this phase. We are all much stronger than we think, and when it comes to protecting our children, the strength and resolve to improve them are superhuman.”
She added: “Today when I look back, I cannot imagine my husband and I braved this ordeal without help, as our extended families are not in this country. As we see Tala going about her daily activities, I cannot but admire my child who went through so much at such a young age and yet she manages to put a smile on our faces every day. She’s a mama’s girl, and she is my inspiration.”