Here is a little unrealistic story for your day…and I say unrealistic because as I say it… as we live it… we realize how it doesn’t even make sense anymore! Not that it ever made sense to begin with, but looking back on how it all started and where we are right now is seriously mind blowing!
You see…12 years ago two people decided to tie the knot and get married, start a life together, build a business and have kids. They were so alike in so many things, they shared the same passion of loving life and people, enjoyed welcoming family and friends to their house all the time, loved being of service for God through him and through helping others. They were active in their community and they loved it! you would always see them volunteering in their kids’ schools, planning charity events for causes, serving at their Mosque – Muslim House of worship- They had two beautiful kids (a girl and a boy), life had its own sets of ups and downs but just like everyone else… nothing too special! Nothing too weird! Until half way through their marriage they were chosen with one of the biggest tests any parent can go through… childhood cancer!
Their oldest son got diagnosed with stage 4 cancer a few months before his 6thbirthday and life as they knew it was never the same any more. They decided as a family to accept the test, to roll up their sleeves and unite. They taught everyone around them how to deal with the situation, how that cancer is not the end of the world and how fighting should really be. They were proud! So, proud of how they have set the tone on how to fight positively and show God and the world how much faith pays off and strength feeds on positive energy.
The story didn’t end there because 18 months into grueling treatment (chemotherapy, radiation, surgeries and more) by the grace of God and the power of prayers along with a wonderful medical team… a miracle happened…their son was able to beat cancer and was declared in remission. A remission that was oh so sweet but too short! Because two months into it he started showing symptoms for an even more aggressive cancer, this time it came back in the brain! The story has a lot of painful moments since then, even more painful than the first diagnosis… the brain is no joke! The tumor in the brain was evil and monstrous and showed its signs on the 8 years old warrior. He wasn’t himself for so long, his cognitive skills and overall behavior were clearly affected, his contagious smile tried so hard to fight its way despite all the rough treatments he was going through. He had 4 brain surgeries, two of which were lifesaving after he went into comas and started seizing…the couple sat in a room and were told for the third time at that point that this was it! Their son wasn’t going to make it… that he fought a hard battle and they should be proud but medicine is stuck! And there is nothing else the doctors think they can offer. They rolled up their sleeves again and looked to the sky, asked God to show the world his glory… asked him to prove to the world once again that miracles do happen. It was a slow pace miracle…but it happened. And their son, who was at the time the one who fought cancer twice, who had over 45 sessions of chemotherapy, 50 sessions of radiation, around 25 times in the surgery room, two major tumors and more… beat it again! By the Grace of God and the power of prayers. It was 2015 when the recovery journey began, and the recovery was not just for him but for the whole family… They decided to take some time from work and just focus on their mental health and sanity. They knew what was at stake but they chose life! They chose what matters… because what is money worth it if our kids are not doing ok?
It took them another year to gather themselves and start getting slowly back to life. Their son started showing signs of health, started gaining his weight back and guess what… started attending school.
Slowly but surely it was two years of tons of work, he needed a lot of physical therapy, speech therapy and continuous daily chemo to not just maintain his new remission but help him recover from all the side effects that cancer left him.
If you haven’t guessed it by now… this couple is us! And this boy is our own hero Zein. We are the married couple who finally sat down to tell the story, because as hectic as it is and as out spoken as we are about it… there are always twists and turns in this life that force us to reflect, modify and improve. After what we thought was “it”! Beating cancer twice and started gaining back “normal” we started returning to our life again, we pushed the cancer parents to the side a bit and became just parents… we expanded our family with a beautiful baby girl and became a family of 5, started focusing on our business again and never gave up on being advocates for childhood cancer. We realized how much there is a need out there for our cause, how much awareness is missing for journeys like ours, how many families out there are suffering whether they are high, low or middle income … yet they are all suffering in one way or another.
So, we organically chose life! And decided to dedicate our life to the cause while fighting cancer in a different way. My husband started an initiative in 2015 through our real estate business called (homes for a cause) where we decided to donate 10% of every deal we make to childhood cancer research, I co-founded a nonprofit organization in Southern California called (Create a Smile) whose mission is to inspire kids battling cancer while catering to their needs with personalized gifts and experiences during their journey. Life was good as we took easy steps back into life and helping Zein to recover both mentally and physically. We even were able to take a vacation in 2017 to our home land Egypt and see all our family whom we haven’t seen in 5 years since the original diagnosis.
In Summer 2017, we went for Zein’s regular quarterly full body scans to be hit by another surprise! That after three years in remission, Zein must now face his THIRD cancer! This time it is a different kind, a secondary malignancy caused by all the chemotherapy and radiation. If you are not tired by now following up how weird and crazy this story is… well we are! We were hit so hard and weren’t even able to fathom how after life post cancer became normal we were supposed to go back to this life? What did we do? You guessed it… we rolled our sleeves back up… this time to face a major surgery and a part of his kidney along with the tumor removed. In a true Zein’s fashion he asked: will I be able to walk straight after they remove a part of my body or will my body be a little tilted?
Three months after that the scans revealed another miracle that Zein had beaten cancer for the third time, a short-lived happiness that lasted only three more months. We went for the following set of scans the very next day after we gathered all Team Zein and went for our annual 5k walk against childhood cancer… to be faced by the worst yet! The second kind of cancer is back, it metastasized… it is an adult form of cancer and it does NOT respond to chemo or radiation.
We were sat down in that ugly little room yet again, to hear the same words again… you have a year and maybe two!
Such an unrealistic story, right? 6 years in the making is impossible to summarize!
You see… in this life we can get hit so hard that we don’t even know how to express our pain any more…we just float in life. We chose floating with a smile, with faith. We chose surrounding ourselves with positivity that it became a style of life. We chose to fight every time and believe so deep and so strong that this too shall pass. We chose to leave everything in God’s hand and thank him for the numerous miracles he gave us through Zein. We chose to be greedy and keep asking him for more miracles, because as parents we want to see him grow! We want to see him thrive! We want to throw 4 cancers behind us and move on.
But how do you move on if you chose to never look back… I will tell you…by showing your scars and laughing at them. By digging deep to your bruises and embracing them… by smiling every day because there are always reasons to smile for. By being honest, strong and vulnerable all in the same time.
This is a story of a family of 5, a 4 times cancer survivor, an 11-year-old whom if you met you would probably never guess this was his story! You will have to see the pictures from the dark days to believe it. Our story didn’t end, and we have no idea how or when will it end… but truth be told…we are tired, we are broken but with our faith we are strong! We are still standing and we will never ever give up! This is Us!