Breast Cancer Diagnosis Prompts Survivor to Take Care of Herself

 cancer survivor, Hashmat Effendi, in hospital bed holding a sign that says "Today is my last (16th) chemo."

Hashmat Effendi has spent more than 20 years helping children all over the world get medical care that they otherwise couldn’t afford for burns, injuries, and birth defects. “I’m originally from Pakistan, and I saw first-hand the struggles of poor children who are disfigured,” she said. But it wasn’t until she was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 52 that Effendi says she began taking care of herself.

“A counselor asked me what I liked about myself and I didn’t like anything about myself because I never did anything for myself,” said Effendi. “But now I eat healthy, I rest properly, I do exercise, I do meditation, I do yoga. It is totally amazing. If somebody had told me 20 years ago I’d be doing all this I’d have said, ‘I wish!’”

Effendi was on a mission in Pakistan in September 2015, arranging logistics for a pediatric burn unit at a hospital, when she felt a lump in her breast. She arranged for an ultrasound, mammogram, and biopsy in Pakistan and was diagnosed with breast cancer. It took 11 days to get the results and Effendi was scared. She called the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345 and they answered all her questions and gave her hope.

When he learned of the diagnosis, her son, a neurosurgeon, convinced her to cut short her trip and return home to Texas. More tests revealed she had stage 2, grade 3 triple-negative breast cancer, a fast-growing cancer that had already begun to spread. Her treatment would include chemotherapy, radiation, and breast-conserving surgery.

‘The whole world is my family.’

“It is impossible to explain how I felt; the fear gripped me tightly and began to squeeze me in its hands,” said Effendi. She was afraid of the treatments, afraid of losing her hair, and afraid of the cancer. “Everything was moving really fast and I got overwhelmed,” said Effendi. “I went for counseling. Everybody was so helpful and so amazing.” She began to feel cared for and supported, and regained her sense of hope and faith.

Effendi’s treatment lasted for 16 months and included 16 chemotherapy infusions, 37 radiation sessions, and several surgeries. She had several serious complications along the way, and she did, in fact, lose her hair. “Now I think losing my hair was not a big deal,” she says.

During one of her surgeries to remove a mass, one of Effendi’s vocal cords was damaged and she lost her voice for a year, until she was able to have another surgery to repair it. During that year she communicated through whispers and writing. At first it was depressing, she says, but she was able to find peace and even blessings as a result of her ordeal.

“I discovered myself in that world of silence. As a result of that journey I am able to understand people better. I needed so much help, and so many people helped me that they became my family. The whole world is my family because everybody was helping me,” said Effendi.

Prayers, love, support, and hugs

“I really feel that I am a better person than I used to be and I can cope better with stress now. I never took care of myself before, and now I do. I take my time and don’t rush things. So what if things don’t get done today? They can get done tomorrow.”

Hashmat Effendi

Effendi says the prayers, love, support, and hugs of her grandchildren Izza and Adam, family, friends, health care providers, other people she met in the hospital, and even her 2 dogs helped her through her treatments and recovery. Volunteers from the American Cancer Society’s Road To Recovery program drove her to some of her medical appointments, and gave her wigs and scarves after she lost her hair.

But as she got close to the end of her active treatments, Effendi began to worry about how she would manage life as a cancer survivor without the constant monitoring and support from her health care team. “This was a scary thought and I was not ready to go back in the world and live my normal life like a normal human being,” she said. Then she learned of a clinical trial studying lifestyle factors and breast cancer patients, and she enrolled.

Effendi says the trial taught her to make healthy lifestyle changes that helped her feel better. She learned yoga, meditation, mind-body exercises, and healthy eating practices. Since she’s begun, she’s seen improvement in emotional side effects such as depression, and in physical side effects such as neuropathy, which causes pain and numbness in the hands and feet.

“I really feel that I am a better person than I used to be and I can cope better with stress now,” said Effendi. “I never took care of myself before, and now I do. I take my time and don’t rush things. So what if things don’t get done today? They can get done tomorrow.”

She’s now looking forward to getting better, feeling better, and eventually returning to the hospital – to help counsel other cancer patients undergoing treatment.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master's-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

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