At just 29, lung cancer was probably the furthest thing from Saima’s mind. She had just got engaged and was running two businesses, including her own restaurant – the delicious Masala Wala cafe in London. In her own words, she was just getting to know herself.
To help her make sense of her diagnosis, she started writing a blog called curryandcancer.com and talking openly about her illness, something that is not readily done in Black and Asian minority cultures.
“Illness and disease, let alone cancer, is very much a taboo subject and not discussed in Black and Asian communities. There tends to be a lot of stigma about what disease means.
My mother didn’t actually know what cancer meant. On top of dealing with my own symptoms and the life changing news, I had to explain to my mother what I was going through, that what I had was incurable. It wasn’t a flu or, something. At the time, I had a skin rash so she was under the impression I had chicken pox or something! So it was another challenge for me to tell her the severity of what I was going through.
But my coping mechanism has been to really open about it and talk about my experiences.
I started my blog – curryandcancer.com – after I was diagnosed. I took the news quite badly obviously and the writing just helped me make sense of everything.
“At the time I was 29 and for me the plan was to start a family, buy a house, progress in my career. Never did lung cancer, especially an incurable diagnosis, come to mind!”Saima was diagnosed with incurable lung cancer aged 29
Being so young, you’re in the hospital, you see the faces and they don’t relate to you. They aren’t my tribe essentially so I sought my own tribe online. I started sharing my experiences online on social media and it’s been fantastic because I’ve got a community behind me now, a community of young people who are going through varying different cancers or illnesses or experiences. It’s just been super helpful and cathartic for me to express myself in that way.
I’m still me regardless of the cancer diagnosis. For me, I didn’t want to be lumbered into a cancer patient role. People were actually like it’s game over for you love. Actually, no! You can live well with it and you can live purposefully with it. I think that’s what I wanted to prove to myself. I’m a bit of a hard nut so I just wanted to prove to myself and others that you can live purposefully.
After my diagnosis, my partner, Gareth and I got married. We got engaged in January and I was diagnosed in April. I was quite bossy and said, “Something good’s got to happen. Let’s get married!”. So, we did!
We got married in August last year with all our friends and family. It was a lovely summers day. We had a beautiful, big, old party in our back garden with our nearest and dearest. A big old knees up. Lots of food. Lots of booze. It was an unforgettable day. I loved it.
There’s lots of bad days with cancer
I just try to be kind to myself and acknowledge the bad days and that they’ll pass and there’ll be better ones. That’s all you can go by.
There’s always going to be those bad days regardless of what you’re going through in life, whether it’s lung cancer or whatever is happening, you can have a bad day in work.
But the point is that it will pass. Things will get better. That’s what gives me the courage to carry on. I’ve got a great support network. I love my family dearly. They are really my strength so they get me through those hard times too.
Before, I feared the next steps. At the time I was 29 and for me the plan was to start a family, buy a house, progress in my career. Never did lung cancer, especially an incurable diagnosis, come to mind!
I don’t fear that anymore. We are essentially all dying. I’ve just been told some news that medically restricts my timescale compared to the next person. But we don’t know what’s going to happen to ourselves. That’s my kind of attitude on it!”