Abu Dhabi: When Emirati national Hassan Al Najjar beat intestine cancer back in 2016 he expected a warm welcome when he returned to his office — a bank at which he was a top-performing employee — but instead of being congratulated on his recovery he was asked to produce his medical documents to prove that he was indeed sick.
That cold welcome made Al Najjar think twice about his career path, and after having just defeated cancer, Al Najjar decided to embark on a new venture, one that would see him go on to create his own successful business.
“The fact remains that today in most companies employees are numbers only. When I arrived back home in the UAE after my cancer treatment I went to the office smiling from cheek-to-cheek and I was puzzled to receive no welcome backs, hugs or even welcome cards,” said Al Najjar, recounting his first day back at the office.
“I only received mandating letters from the HR urging the submission of my medical reports to prove I was in treatment. I felt disgusted and betrayed by those I had served daily — that they would assume I would have staged the whole thing!” he added.
“I decided to submit my resignation right away, I was treated like an ID number and not a colleague,” Al Najjar said.
In the months before his return to work, Al Najjar, 29, was going through intensive cancer treatment, which he called the most harrowing period in his life.
“It started with a tad of stomach pain which escalated, mandating a doctor’s check-up with the results taking away my spirits and stealing my smile. I was diagnosed with intestine cancer,” he said, recalling the day he found out about his sickness.
“I lost hope and went into a series of nervous breakdowns at the time. I left the country for treatment in Germany and stayed there for a couple of months. I went through daily intensive treatments and solitary moments. I was praying and wishing for a miracle to cure me of this disease,” he said.
In that period of bleakness, Al Najjar did manage to find some brightness, making friends with a 10-year-old girl who was also undergoing cancer treatment.
“One person who I’d never forget was a little girl named Mila. Despite being a cancer patient at a young age her courageous smile pushed me to fight and move forward.
“She used to pass by everyone’s bed at around 11.11am and asked us all to make a wish and hope for a cure to knock on our doors,” Al Najjar added.
Al Najjar’s health started to turn for the better with the hospital eventually giving him the go ahead to return to the UAE — good news he had hoped to share with his new friend Mila.
“As days passed by, with the grace of God I started to feel better and the cancer cells were almost entirely eliminated. Feeling revived and overjoyed I went to Mila’s treatment room to share my happy news. I waned to to ask her and her family to visit me back in Dubai yet I couldn’t find her,” Al Najjar said.
“With complete mystifying shock I was informed that she had passed away. My eyes watered for the courageous soul who strolled like an angel in the hospital corridors blessing us with her smile and positivity. I always say in heaven we shall meet, Mila.”
Starting a business
After resigning from his workplace, Al Najjar decided to start his own flower shop which he named after Mila. The business ultimately didn’t turn into a success.
“I started a flower shop and named it 11:11 flowers after the late Mila. I was unaware of the difficulties a start-up might face, and I eventually went into a minus in revenue numbers and banks chased me non-stop. The business didn’t flourish and unfortunately went bankrupt.
“I never gave up and took a leap of faith towards a different approach, a different field and started a media production company,” he added, recounting how his initial failure made him only more determined to succeed.
“In the beginning I was freelancing most of the time, with my motivation coming from my big dreams of having my company expand one day and to compete with the best in the industry,” he said.
After two years of hard work Al Najjar says his dream of turning his media venture into a successful company started to pay off.
Hard work pays off
“Today, I serve major Dubai government entities and many private companies by producing media content and filmmaking. I run my own company, guide my own team, and work with one main principle — I lead by heart and my team members are not employees they are part of the portrait picture in my bedroom; a family.
“Once you are passionate about what you’re doing, you will never feel discouraged, bored or tired, especially when you know the more you work the bigger the portrait picture of the team gets,” he added, highlighting how his heavy work schedule energises him.
And having been on such a long journey in just a few years, Al Najjar says he has learnt several lessons to last him a lifetime.
“There were many lessons I leant on my journey and one of them is once you learn how to die, you learn how to live. This is something that resonates deeply with me.”