She has maintained that she would not be a cancer survivor today were it not for her deep and abiding faith in the power of Almighty God. Mona Hadeed’s fight against the odds that she could overcome Hodgkin’s disease is a fascinating story that led her to write a book on her travails called The Healing Desert: In the Sands of Time. At a very moving book launch outside Nigel R Khan Booksellers in West Mall on March 13, the author was supported by Sr Paul Clarke, who gave a very spirited welcome that set the tone for what could be expected when reading the book. Her expressions of support linked with the story of the power of faith were compelling. Hadeed’s transformation from her self-description as a “Sunday Catholic” to surrendering her life completely to the Lord is indeed a story of how personal challenges can transform lives in a very powerful way. She is able to tell her story today of her personal determination to overcome a terminal illness.
However, it is the reflection on how one minute we think we are all right and life is going along merrily and the next we enter into a zone of spirituality that brings its own serenity in the face of the most virulent challenge of all—the battle against cancer—that makes this book inspirational. What happened to Hadeed could have happened to anyone in any walk of life. How she dealt with it may not have been everyone’s response. A swelling under her right armpit, together with a severe skin allergy, got worse and in May 1983 was diagnosed as Hodgkin’s disease. Like many people who get such a diagnosis, she wanted a second opinion. After travelling with her husband, Aziz, to the United States, Hadeed’s second opinion confirmed the first one.
She was offered what she was told at that time was a trial experiment of either radiation or both radiation and chemotherapy at Jackson Memorial Hospital. She decided to go with the trial therapy after a machine made the decision for her that it would be radiation alone. She took the chance bearing in mind that she could not allow the cancer to deprive her children of their mother’s love.
When faced with such daunting circumstances some people may take the chance with an experiment, while others may not. Hadeed stepped forward. It was her first step to overcoming the odds that were stacked against her. But unknown to her, when she arrived at hospital to undergo her first treatment, there had been a new development in her case. Her doctor greeted her with the news that what was originally looking like a fist-sized tumour in her stomach was actually “a group of air bubbles” in her intestines. Hadeed felt she had experienced her first miracle, as she had already turned her life devoutly toward the Lord and her spiritual transformation had already begun. She had to have her spleen removed as a precautionary measure and she commenced six weeks of treatment. Perhaps the depths of her pain can best be captured on Page 6 of her book where she says: “Each day, Aziz drove me to the hospital to receive my radiation treatment. God knows how grateful I was to have him by my side. I remembered those days as if they were yesterday, lying in the back of the car, sick to my stomach from the treatment, holding onto my pillow for comfort, and tormented by all the thoughts that raced through my mind.”
Back in Trinidad, a prayer group was being formed and her friend Peggy Burmingham was central to that effort. When she moved away from Hadeed’s neighbourhood, Hadeed had the challenge of carrying on with the group. It was the prayer group that allowed her to experience an emotional and spiritual side to her life that led her to embark on what she believes is a calling for her to reach out to others and touch their lives. Her struggles were not only with her cancer, which she survived, but the real test of her faith and courage was to come when her husband was diagnosed with cancer in February 1993 in his left kidney and also with a variant of hairy cell leukaemia. This was to start a journey of trials and tribulations that would usher in an almost 20-year period of surgeries and treatments that would end in 2012 with his passing. She recalls that on Valentine’s Day in 2012 Aziz took a turn for the worse. There was bleeding in his brain and he needed immediate surgery. He never regained consciousness and slipped into a coma. On February 26 after a 12- day battle, he passed.
Mona Hadeed had lost her husband of 40 years and through it all she never once asked the Lord why. Her tribute to her late husband tells another story of courage of determination to succeed. She tells his story in the book this way: “Aziz Hadeed was a great man, who came to Trinidad from his hometown, Amar al-Hosn, in Syria. I can remember the enthusiastic young boy he was at age 21. Coming to join his brothers in business and to make a better life for himself and his future, he forged forward to learn the language, make himself a part of the community, and understand the culture of the country he chose to live in.” Her fond memories of him and her admiration for the odds that he had to overcome to become successful in business in this country are a story all by themselves. Hadeed gives us a glimpse into that while also sharing with us her own challenges over 19 years with his illness. Her faith has been strengthened in ways that she never imagined. Her story has touched the lives of so many, not to mention her editor, Megan Wilson. At the book launch, it was revealed that Wilson had sent out some flyers advertising her services as an editor just at the time that Hadeed was looking for someone to play that role in telling her story. As fate would have it, they were brought together through one of Hadeed’s spiritual friends, who had got one of Wilson’s flyers in his mailbox. After a chat in a casual setting at West Mall, Hadeed handed over the story of her life to a total stranger to help her write her book.
Little did Wilson know that she too would be personally affected by Hadeed’s manuscript. Wilson confirmed that her life was transformed as well. Many things were said at the book launch that highlighted this story of faith, courage and strength. Hadeed’s son Dominic spoke about his mother’s courage and how much of the struggle she kept to herself. In many respects, she may be regarded as the tower of strength for her family, but she must know now that her story has inspired many and will inspire many more. The book has been a bestseller since its launch and is now sold out. More copies are expected soon. It is a compelling story of how one person can face the challenges of cancer, not only in her own life, but also in her husband’s life, and embark on a journey into deep and abiding faith that grows stronger with each new challenge that is laid out on the road map of destiny. Mona Hadeed ends the book by saying, “The journey continues.”