Living with the consequences of cancer in Gaza

Living with the consequences of cancer in Gaza
3 min read
13 Apr, 2015
Feature: With access to diagnosis, treatment and care limited, life for cancer patients in the Gaza Strip like budding story teller Aseel al-Hajj has been littered with obstacles.
The siege has seriously affected the quality of medical care available in Gaza [Anadolu]

Aseel al-Hajj Ahmed was only three months old when she was diagnosed with malignant retinal cancer in both eyes. For Aseel and her family, who live in the Gaza Strip, this was only the beginning of a lifetime of difficulty and struggle.

Aseel is now eleven. When her mother, Umm Hussein, took her to Egypt for treatment soon after her diagnosis, doctors told her surgery was an option. However, they did not recommend it because of Aseel's young age, the low

     Aseel underwent the surgery where her eyes were removed and replaced with glass eyes.

success rate of the surgery and the high risks associated with the surgery, including death.

Bitter choices

The grieving mother found herself facing two bitter choices; put her baby daughter through surgery and risk her life, or take her back to her home in the Jabaliya camp in Gaza even if this meant that her daughter would slowly die right in front of her eyes. She decided to return back to Gaza empty handed.

On their second trip to Egypt, Aseel underwent the surgery where her eyes were removed and replaced with glass eyes. From that time she had to live the rest of her life in darkness.

Aseel was supposed to stay in Egypt for eight months to take her chemotherapy sessions. However, her family was informed that they had to return to Gaza as the Rafah Crossing Border to Egypt was going to close for a long period.

So they took the medicine for her eight-month therapy and returned to Gaza.

A year later, they visited Egypt again so Aseel would resume her chemotherapy sessions.

Um Hussein said: "As a side effect for this dreadful disease, my daughter has to go through lots of checkups, which sometimes affect her liver and kidney functions. She has to follow a special diet, including a daily dose of honey, which is expensive, and due to our financial situation, we cannot afford it."

Eman Shannan, director of the Aid and Hope Program for Cancer Patients Care, said Aseel is just one of thousands of children on their programmes. "What makes Aseel special is her talent in story telling as well as story writing."

First in her class

Right now, Aseel attends a school for the blind, and she is first in her class. She has many hobbies, including writing mysteries in braille. When her mother asked her to read something she has written for us, she jumped and hurried to her room.

She moves easily around the house without a cane or any sort of assistance. She returned soon and sat on a floor mat, reading her story as her fingers slid across the paper. 

An 11-year-old, but a strong voice. "Five months had passed since his family was murdered, yet he was still driven by the flames inside his heart to find out who killed them..."

Aseel is not driven by her own story, however. Her message? One of unity.

"I want to tell people that, hand in hand, you can bring your misery to an end. If you find in yourselves the determination to end the disputes and conflicts, you will indeed succeed in doing so regardless of the obstacles."