Ever since I was first diagnosed with breast cancer I have been candid in sharing the journey on my blog. t I have been battling cancer since 2008. I’ve taken readers on my blog step by step through the highs and lows of my journey. I shared how my cancer was initially discovered and treated while living in Riyadh with my Saudi husband. I’ve talked about the loss of my own husband to this dreaded disease. I’ve written comparisons about distinctions in cancer care between Saudi Arabia and the USA.
At present I have had no treatments for my cancer for a period of time as I have been told that my body requires a complete rest and break from medications. During this period my cancer has continued to spread. Sometimes fear of what is happening makes my body and mind numb until I remember my faith.
At this point in my life I think it is important and vital for me to share my story of faith. It will also illustrate the importance to me of bridge building with others regardless of faith, nationality, color or differences.
I have always believed there is a God; that has never been a doubt in my mind. As a young girl I was raised in a traditional Catholic family. Although my entire family practiced the rites of Catholicism I never felt I truly understood the practices. I remember asking a nun at one time why did I have to confess any sins I had committed to a priest and not directly to God. I’ll never forget her response. “Because that is the way it is and do not ask silly questions.” Her answer only confused me more. By the time I married the man who is my son’s father I had long left the Catholic church.
My journey took me to multiple Christian churches where I began to learn more about Jesus. However, at that time in my life I was never in one location or a member of a specific church for any length of time. As a result, my participation was irregular and I kept searching for spiritual answers. I did attend Christian church services when I was in Virginia prior to launching my career abroad. During that time I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior and was baptized. Any sins I had committed were forgiven and my body felt pure and reborn.
But, curiosity continued to beset me. I have always been a person who wants to explore and experience and understand traditions and faiths different to what I know. It was the time in my life I requested and received a posting with my then employer to Pakistan. I wanted to work in Pakistan because it was different from anywhere I had ever been before, the work issues were substantial, I relished the professional challenges and had a curiosity on what it would be like to immerse myself in a predominantly Muslim country.
I was warmly welcomed in Pakistan by both Muslims and non-Muslims. My work kept me as busy as I wished and was fulfilling. Many Muslims became the dearest of friends. I became curious about Islam and they were happy to share with me. I felt it was prudent for me to have a basic understanding in order to perform best at my job. I had friends with whom I had much in common in spite of differences in faith. They answered questions for me about Islam which I was able to understand. We had some good conversations. My faith and belief in God never wavered while in Pakistan. I would occasionally attend a non-denominational Christian church which (at the time) was not far from the US Embassy.
While in Pakistan I met Abdullah, the Muslim man who became my husband. As our courtship progressed so began another and more intense journey with me on gaining a better understanding of Islam. There was never any pressure or demand from Abdullah about faith. He made it clear he accepted and loved me exactly as I was. Our relationship progressed and at the same time I was transferred from Pakistan to India. I had felt very comfortable in Pakistan with a wide network of international friends and a man who I was growing to love. Arriving in India only made me miss him more. I started to read a Quran. What I read at that time seemed to provide answers to me in a clear way which I understood. Within 7 months after arrival in New Delhi I chose to secretly practice Islam. When Abdullah learned of my decision he wanted to make sure it was not because of him or our relationship. I told him I felt I had found an acceptance that I understood; even though I remained a closet Muslim. I did not acknowledge to my family, colleagues or many friends about my decision.
In 2002 Abdullah and I were married and made a life together Northern Virginia. In spite of his position as Acting Director of Islamic Affairs at the Saudi Embassy in Washington, to the majority around me, I continued to remain a closet Muslim. While in the United States together Abdullah and I would attend church services when visiting my family. I found myself feeling comfort and familiarity at those times. Abdullah always remained devout to his faith but would have questions for church pastors or family members.
It was 2006 when Abdullah’s posting in Washington, DC came to a close and time for him to return to Saudi Arabia. I was excited and scared at the same time to be moving to Saudi Arabia. I knew how important family and tradition were to Abdullah. I prayed that his family would accept me. My fears were groundless. They met me as the beloved wife of their son/brother/nephew and made me a welcomed member of the family.
Abdullah and his family were beautiful examples and teachers of the best of Islam. They practiced peace and tolerance and did not judge others who followed different faiths.
However the longer I was in Saudi Arabia and with the exception of Abdullah’s family and other friends, I saw too many actions which went against what I read in the Quran. I felt that Islam was used as a tool and as a fear to control. I realized that Muslims and Christians do not worship the same God.
I saw and read fatwa’s that contradicted one another. Why should one fear a loving and kind God? Why should there be a count on credits earned towards Jannah (paradise)? The actions I observed were not limited to Saudi Arabia but the Islamic world overall. I could not stop my memory that God is kind and full of forgiveness and compassion. I did not need to live in fear.
Yet fast forward to 2008 and fear entered my life. It was first with my own cancer and then four months later Abdullah’s diagnosis of a rare and acute leukemia. Due to distinctions in the approach to treatment and Abdullah’s declining condition, we chose to travel to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas in March 2009. When we arrived in Houston I saw churches again for the first time in 3 years.
Something happened in my heart and it clicked wide open, hungry to feel the peace and blessings of Christianity. As Abdullah’s health declined, he and I began praying in the Christian way. We held hands and I let the words of prayer just come from my heart. I reconnected with God and Jesus as my savior. Abdullah knew of my feelings and never judged or condemned my choices.
In October 2009 I learned that my own journey with cancer was not finished. However, due to my cancer, I have a greater compassion and understanding towards others who are facing their own fears and battles
Abdullah passed away in February 2010. I had to rebuild a new life while undergoing aggressive treatments. I learned not to take anything for granted. I live each and every day to the fullest. I no longer “sweat the small stuff.” My cancer has given me a greater understanding of faith and trust.
A year after Abdullah’s passing I became a member of the Vineyard Church. I was baptized again reaffirming my faith in Jesus as my Lord and Savior. The special feeling for Muslims as a people has remained in my heart. I do not agree with the principles of the religion but do not extend that feeling to the people who choose to follow Islam. However, I have chosen to have no contact with Muslims whose minds are closed, intolerant and can’t accept others who choose to practice a faith other than Islam.
My journey with cancer continues to be a roller coaster ride. I’ve had multiple types of treatment; I’ve had periods of good remissions. It was easy to let myself forget about the cancer inside of me and continue to simulate a normal life. I have a circle of friends, I am active in my church and eager to give back to others as I can through my blog, my community, through bridge building and showing strength and encouragement to other cancer warriors and their families.
My cancer has become more aggressive but I know God, through Jesus Christ, works miracles and has the power to heal. There’s nothing greater than feeling His love, strength and spirit inside of me. I am proud to declare myself a follower of Jesus.
I will love You, O LORD, my strength. The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; My God, my strength, in whom I will trust; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I will call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised; So shall I be saved from my enemies.
For You will light my lamp; The LORD my God will enlighten my darkness. You have also given me the shield of Your salvation; Your right hand has held me up, Your gentleness has made me great.