Dubai: A Dutch expat in Dubai who was diagnosed with cancer has shared her inspirational story, describing her learnings from the ordeal and sharing advice with others.
Manon Van Buuren, who was diagnosed with stage 4 colorectal cancer three years ago, said: “Cancer tookaway a lot, but on the positive side, that included decades of habits that were maybe no longer constructive to my life. After a period of recovery, I am more conscious of what I do and do not need in my life.”
She added: “I’m now in a more relaxed state than I was before. This is because I have come to the realisation that having cancer is not the end of the world. Things can be worse in life. If anything, it made me value life, my loved ones and things that I normally took for granted. I wish I had lived more this way before I became ill.”
About colorectal cancer
According to World Health Organisation (WHO), colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer worldwide. It estimated that in 2020, almost two million cases of the cancer was diagnosed. WHO adds that colorectal cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death, leading to almost 1 million deaths per year. This is despite the fact that effective screening techniques exist that could reduce the number of deaths from this disease.
In the UAE, according to a Ministry of Health and Prevention research report titled ‘Cancer Incidence in United Arab Emirates Annual Report of the UAE – National Cancer Registry – 2019’, colorectal cancer is the most common cancer in males and third most common in females. It is also the second cause of cancer deaths in the UAE.
Dr Arun Karanwal, Specialist Medical Oncologist, Prime Hospital, said: “Colorectal screening in the UAE is available for adults from 40 years. The number of colorectal cancer cases in adults under 50 is increasing and it is estimated that more than 41 per cent of cases in the UAE are found in adults under the age of 40.”
He added: “The symptoms of colorectal cancer often don’t appear until the later stages of the disease, when it is more difficult to treat. Screening can help catch it as soon as possible, with many cases being successfully cured if detected early. Routine screening is recommended for everyone over the age of 40 to prevent colorectal cancer. If you are considered at high-risk, screening should happen every year.”
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Word of advice
Van Buuren cautioned everyone to take note of their bathroom habits. “Any changes, I would suggest to visit a doctor immediately.”
Recalling her own experience, she said that in her case, it took her 18 months and three doctors to finally get a diagnosis of cancer. “I had thrombosis and had started medication for that. So when I had bleeding in my stool, the doctor said it could be a side-effect of the medicine. Slowly my tolerance with food began to drop. I could not eat many things as it would lead to diarrhoea. Finally one doctor advised a colonoscopy which revealed colorectal cancer.”
Later her cancer appeared metastatic, spreading to her lungs.
“I have been living with cancer for a little over three years now. I have learned a lot about the disease and how to live with it and I am so grateful for the time I have been given.”
Van Buuren said that during her chemotherapy, she wrote a cookbook full of recipes for her family – husband Wernick, daughter Iris, and son Alex. She said: “These were dishes we prepared at home every day. As a family we eat together and that I know the children will one day enjoy making for their families. So I picked dishes that we enjoyed eating together. I included festive dishes as well, things we prepare for Christmas and birthdays.”
“Beside there were dishes we picked up as a family on our travels. We have been to many places and have loved eating certain cuisines.”
The ostomy bag
Van Buuren wears an ostomy bag.
“I have undergone an ostomy surgery. Itallows bodily waste to pass through a surgically created stoma on the abdomen into a prosthetic known as a ‘pouch’ or ‘ostomy bag’ on the outside of the body. For some people, having a bag or a pouch attached to the body can mean an emotional adjustment," she said.
"For me personally it was mostly a physical adjustment. Learning to attach the pouch to the body is quite hard in the beginning. But with time I got used to it. The bag poses no hindrance at all. I can be active, wear fashionable clothes and live a happy life with an ostomy bag. It also saved my life.”
Find your support
Van Buuren said the UAE has a commendable support system for cancer patients.
“The Majlis, Al Amal, by Al Jalila Foundation is one where I found support. It has a great support system for cancer patients and survivors. I have made so many friends who have been with me in my cancer journey. There is a community here which very supportive so no one is alone in the journey.”