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Keeping Cancer At Bay

1 Jun



Photo Credit: Greg Edwards

“How are you doing?” is a complicated question for a cancer patient.

Watching for the return of cancer after a bone marrow transplant is a full-time job, even when results from the first biopsy seem hopeful. Last weekend, my doctors gave me a “pass” to leave the Hope Lodge, my temporary home in Manhattan, for a few days. It was good to have a break to travel upstate to my parents’ house. Unfortunately, I got sick to my stomach during the four-hour trip and spent most of Friday and Saturday sleeping in my childhood bedroom.

But I couldn’t help thinking of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, the New York City hospital where days earlier my doctor had delivered the results of my first bone marrow biopsy since my transplant. If you had asked me how I was doing last Thursday morning — crossing Manhattan in a cab on a muggy, drizzly morning on my way to receive the test results — I would have described the sense of dread welling up inside of me. The biopsy would be the first glimpse at my new bone marrow, the foundation of my new immune system, which had been “rebuilt” with my brother Adam’s healthy stem cells during my bone marrow transplant last month. Would the cancer still be there?

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Follow @suleikajaouad on Twitter and on her Facebook Page.


The Patient in the Mirror

24 Apr


The latest piece in “Life, Interrupted,” my weekly column for the New York Times ‘Well’ section.

Photo Credit: Ashley Woo

“Today, I’m writing from a hospital bed in New York City. I’m in the bone marrow transplant unit, where this week I’ve undergone 20 intensive chemotherapy treatments in anticipation of receiving my brother’s stem cells. In the year since my diagnosis with leukemia, I’ve struggled to hold onto a sense of who I am while I watch the person in the mirror change.

Looking back, I call the first month after my diagnosis “the cancer bubble” because I wasn’t showing obvious signs of my disease. I looked about the same — maybe a little more tired and pale than usual, but a stranger could never have guessed that I carried a secret, deep in my bones.

In the oncology ward, I still felt invisible, flying under the radar with my waist-length hair and the nose ring I got when I was 14. In the waiting room at my second appointment, a man with a sleeveless shirt and a bandanna covering his hairless head leaned in toward my father, who’s been bald since the ’80s, and raised his fist in the air: “Live strong, brother,” he said. Later, my dad and I had a good laugh about the mix-up — it helped ease our tight nerves for a moment. But I remember also feeling slighted, as though my terrible new disease wasn’t being acknowledged.”

Continue reading, here

Follow @suleikajaouad on Twitter and on her Facebook Page.

Hair Tattoos As Pre-Transplant Prep

25 Mar


In a little more than a week, I’ll be entering the hospital to begin the bone marrow transplant process.

This past Thursday, I headed to Astor Place Barber Shop to meet with Miguel A. Lora — barber and hair tattoo artist extraordinaire. My new buzzed ‘do is one of the many different things on my to-do list before this procedure (haircut: check; new pajamas: check; dry cleaning of “Sleepy” — my childhood stuffed animal: check).

Although I’ll be bald as an egg within just a few weeks, experimenting with my hair — purple mohawk, hair tats, and all — has been liberating and self-empowering. Hair loss may be something that’s out of my  control, but while I still have some of it, I call the shots.

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Follow @suleikajaouad on Twitter and on her Facebook Page.

Cancer Chic: My Post-Chemotherapy Mohawk

12 Mar


Photo Credit: Ashley Woo


Follow @suleikajaouad on Twitter and on her Facebook Page.

Bald Is Beautiful Too

31 Jan


Losing all of your hair, especially for women, can be a very upsetting experience. I chose to shave my head before chemotherapy because I couldn’t deal with the idea of long wisps of wavy brown hair coming out by the handful. Once I had sufficiently mourned my mane and gotten used to people staring at me in the street, I realized that I didn’t mind it. Bald can become beautiful too!

Follow @suleikajaouad on Twitter and on her Facebook Page.

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