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The Beat Goes On

25 May

By SULEIKA JAOUAD

Photo Credit: Anne Francey

Music, as the saying commonly goes, can soothe even the savage beast. What about the frail beast? The sad one?

My parents started me on the piano at the age of 4, but it wasn’t until the fourth grade that I chose music for myself. The music teacher at Lake Avenue Elementary School stood in front of the class with a dozen stringed instruments lined up at the front of the room. Choose your instrument, she invited us.

The thought that I could choose my instrument was a revelation. Violins, violas and cellos were the hot items — and there were more of them than any other instruments — but I was curious about the big wooden object at the end of the row, leaning up against the the chalkboard. The double bass. It was taller than I was — taller than the tallest boy in my class — and what’s more, my teacher told me I was one of the only girls in her memory who’d expressed interest in playing it. I had to try it. That afternoon I took it home and gave it a name: Charlie Brown. I was going to be a double bassist.

By age 16, I was a student in the precollege program at the Juilliard School of Music in New York City. Every week I commuted from upstate New York — a four-hour ride on Amtrak — often barely making it on time to my 9 a.m. music theory class. Everywhere I went, my bass came with me. It was cumbersome. It attracted stares — and sometimes unwanted offers of help from strange men. Lugging it around the subways and buses and sidewalks of New York City was a chore — especially for a teenage girl who insisted on wearing heels — but it was worth it. When I showed up somewhere to play, I felt like I had already warmed up.

Last spring, one year out of college, I found myself once again commuting from upstate to the big city. Same train, same route. But this time I was on my way to see an oncologist. I was 22 and I had just been given a diagnosis of acute myeloid leukemia. My relationship with music changed abruptly. I no longer had the stamina or the interest in playing the bass. And once I entered the hospital to begin my intensive chemotherapy treatments, I stopped listening to music altogether.

Between the hospital walls, hearing my favorite songs filled me with a deep, unbearable ache. Music, and the memories attached to them, reminded me of all that was no longer. Where had that feisty, fresh-faced music student with long auburn hair gone?

Continue reading, here.

Follow @suleikajaouad on Twitter and on her Facebook Page.

A Patient for Now, but Maybe a Mother Someday

27 Apr

By SULEIKA JAOUAD 

My piece on cancer and fertility — or infertility, as the case may be — published on April 24, 2011 in the ‘Science’ section of The New York Times.

Suleika Jaoaud, spending time with her boyfriend, Seamus McKiernan, in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., before her bone marrow transplant.

Photo Credit: Anne Francey

The family minivan idles at the intersection of 59th and York in Midtown Manhattan. My boyfriend swabs my midriff with alcohol as he steadies the needle. My parents look on from the front seat, quietly studying their 22-year-old daughter and the young man they’ve known for only a month. The needle is filled with gonadotropin, a hormone that stimulates the ovaries to produce eggs. I’m late for my checkup at the fertility clinic.

How in the world did I get here?

Continue reading, here.

Follow @suleikajaouad on Twitter and on her Facebook Page.

The Patient in the Mirror

24 Apr

By SULEIKA JAOUAD

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.

Countdown To Day Zero

5 Apr

By SULEIKA JAOUAD 

My latest column for the The New York Times:

Photo Credit: Seamus McKiernan

“Cancer goes hand in hand with waiting — waiting for doctors, test results, appointments, and most importantly, waiting for better days.

Since my leukemia was diagnosed last May, I’ve been waiting for a bone marrow transplant, a risky procedure — and my only hope for a cure. Today my friends are busy starting their lives, but at 23, I am worried that mine might end before it has really begun.

My disease was high-risk and advanced when it was discovered. I was bedridden, suffering from painful mouth sores that made talking and eating very difficult, and I had frequent infections because my immune system was compromised.

Since the diagnosis, my life has been a slow emergency, my world a waiting room. Each month I do a round of chemotherapy, and then the doctors examine my bone marrow to determine if I’m ready for transplant. “Not yet,” they keep telling me, “just a few more rounds.” And so I wait.”

Continue reading, here

Follow @suleikajaouad on Twitter and on her Facebook Page.

New York Times Video Portrait

3 Apr

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Follow @suleikajaouad on Twitter and on her Facebook Page.

Column Debut

3 Apr

Life, Interrupted: Facing Cancer in Your 20s

By SULEIKA JAOUAD
Suleika Jaouad
Photo Credit: Emma Dodge Hanson

“I was so excited for what lay ahead, I nearly forgot to wave goodbye to my parents. Armed with a college diploma, my first job offer, a one-way ticket to Paris and a new pair of heels, I was ready to take on anything. Little did I know, I would be back in New York seven short months later. But my parents would not be taking pictures at the airport or chatting about my future plans. I would be in a wheelchair, too weak to walk.”

Continue reading, here.
Follow @suleikajaouad on Twitter and on her Facebook Page.
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