Alana Mohammed describes herself as a fighter who looks at death with unflinching eyes. After surviving the surprise attack of cancer, the 57 year old has returned to living her life in San Fernando where she works as an administrative assistant. She is also enjoying window shopping for the Christmas season.
It was last year in May when Mohammed had been diagnosed with breast cancer, the world’s leading type of cancer according to the World Health Organization (WHO). At the time of the discovery, she had been visiting her physician for an ailment concerning her knee. While waiting in the reception room, she rested her hand on her chest and felt a lump on her right breast. Mohammed was shocked.
Finally getting to see the doctor, he examined her and advised to do a mammogram and a breast ultrasound. After a week of waiting for results, it was found that there were, in fact, two lumps in Mohammed’s right breast. She said she had no symptoms of the cancer before the doctor’s visit.
“I was blown away, I couldn’t comprehend what was going on. I said to myself, ‘What is going on with me?’”
Following her general practitioner’s orders, two months later in July, she underwent a mastectomy which resulted in the total removal of her right breast. She started chemotherapy in September that same year for six months and radiation in March 2023.
Regarding Trinidad’s health services, Mohammed has not had any complaints She even went as far as saying that her time spent in the Oncology Department at the San Fernando Hospital where she had received chemotherapy was like being at the Hyatt.
However, when the mother of two was asked whether the removal of her breast had impacted her self-image and sense of femininity, her eyes filled with water.
“It was a bit tough when I did the surgery ... My daughter took care of me for the first three weeks at home. She nursed me back. And every time she would get in the shower she’d ask me, ‘Mommy, you want to take a look?’ and I’d say, ‘Not yet …’ But before she went back out to work she said, ‘Mommy, you have to look at (the scar).’”
Now, Mohammed has the confidence to look at herself in the mirror and she praises God for sparing her life.
“Yes, I have one breast, but it’s not showing that I have one breast, now is it? It’s a padded bra!” she laughed.
Enduring the rigorous trials that came with her diagnosis, Mohammed is not worried about the possible return of cancer, citing a person’s mindset was the starting point of feeling at peace and living life to the fullest. She has not felt guilt towards herself for the diagnosis, however, she admits to having cried many times throughout the process, bearing the weight of hospital visits, medication, and other treatments.
“I cry it out, I let it out. I don’t keep it inside, because I know to myself if I let that anger take over me it would be devastating to my own health. I try my very best to be positive. I see things always for the better, this is my personality. Sometimes it does get to me, and I cry it out,” she said.
“I think your mindset plays a lot in this. You don’t feel the cancer, you tell yourself, ‘You’re going to be okay.’ Your mindset is important. Ever since I’ve known myself I always knew that cancer was not a death sentence–you can overcome it. God blessed me with beautiful children and a therapy dog named ‘Olie’; he helped me a lot,” she said.
Moreover, besides taking on the physical woes of cancer treatment, she has also been the receiver of fearful comments from others, having been told that her teeth would fall out from chemotherapy and that she would vomit and have diarrhoea. These voices attempted to instil fear within her mind, but she remained resolute in listening solely to the voice of her body.
“People will come at you with all sorts of things. I looked, instead, to see how my body responded to the radiation. And only you know your own body. Your mindset is prime,” she said.
She advises those diagnosed with cancer to strictly follow the instructions put forward by their doctors.
“The list doctors gave you to follow, the chemo and radiation, please follow those lists, it works to your advantage. I did not go through any vomiting, diarrhoea, or constipation. I respect ‘Mr Chemo’ because he is a dangerous drug. The only thing I had was fatigue. And my hair fell out beautifully,” she said.
The 57-year-old fighter has been through tremendous hurdles in her life to which she now responds: “I’m still here.” She thanks God for sparing her life and restoring her back to good health.
“God is the maker of us and He knows how much we can take and how much He’s going to give. My faith is in Him.”
Breast cancer is not only a condition of older women
Dr Rajendra Rampaul, an oncoplastic surgeon at the Pink Hibiscus Breast Health Specialist Centre, has been treating patients for ten years in Trinidad. He is concerned by the high rates of breast cancer in the country, which also affects men.
“I have always been troubled by the high incidents of breast cancer in our country. What is also troubling is that breast cancer is not a condition of older women, I’ve often had to look after women in their thirties and forties with breast cancer.
“Based on my experience-based opinions, it is probably a contribution of genetics. We are an isolated island with an isolated genetic pool, it must have an effect after 300 years,” he said.
Rapid-fire questions for Alana
1. Favourite movie?
2. Chadon beni or chive?
3. Cinderella or Snow White?
4. San Fernando or Port-of-Spain
5. Favourite book?
6. To honk a bad drive or cuss?
Honk a bad drive
7. One surprising fact about Alana?
No surprises. I am what I am. What you see is what you get.