If you read about Dina Sabra’s experience with breast cancer, I’m sure you remember her cousin and caretaker, Rania Samaha. Like Dina, breast cancer has played a huge role in Rania’s life.
Rania As a Caretaker
Rania, is a caretaker to the maximum extent of the word. As a 9 year old, Rania was giving her diabetic mother diabetes shots and joined her mother in every hospital room her mother has ever been in. As a newlywed, Rania took in her father-in-law and looked after him until he passed of colon cancer 3 years later. As a 33 year old, Rania dropped everything and traveled to New York to look after her cousin Dina as she recovered from a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery.
Rania’s dedication to her family and their health came at a price. Before her mom was diagnosed with cancer, Rania owned her own preschool which her two little girls attended. “Because of my mom’s illness, I [had] shut down [the preschool] and it was heartbreaking,” said Rania, “[Owning and running the preschool] was one of the best things I did in my life.”
When Rania’s girls were only toddlers, her and her husband often took trips alone “to have time and remember who [they] were,” while the other stayed home with the kids. During the summer of 2012, Rania was due for a trip and planned to go to New York. Hesitant to leave her girls behind, Rania intended to cancel the trip. Coincidentally, before she cancelled, her parents called saying that her cousin Dina had been diagnosed with breast cancer and was being treated in New York.
“When my mom had breast cancer I was the one that stayed in the hospital with her, showered her and took care of her so I knew that Dina going with her dad and brother was never going to work,” said Rania, “She needed the support of a female.” Instead of cancelling her ticket, Rania felt that it was a sign from God “telling [her] why [she] bought the ticket.” Sad to leave her girls for 2 weeks, the longest they had been apart, Rania explained the situation to them and headed off to New York.
Fresh off the plane, Rania met Dina back at the hotel, right in time to see Dina remove her bandages and look at her body for the first time post-surgery. “She immediately started screaming that she wanted her old self back and she didn’t want this,” recalled Rania, “I remember just standing there and knowing that the moment was so much bigger than anything.” Overwhelmed, Rania excused herself and “took [her] credit card and started buying everything in front of [her].” While some people eat when they’re unconscious, Rania shops when she’s unconscious.
Unsurprisingly, Dina’s recovery was emotionally taxing for both her and her cousin. Every night at 10pm Dina would have a breakdown, but Rania ”used to allow her only half an hour of crying a night,” so Dina could keep moving forward and not get swept up in the pain of the situation. “I was very strict about it,” said Rania. Whenever Rania felt overwhelmed, she never let Dina see it. “I never cried in front of her if things hurt,” said Rania, “I would pretend I had to… get something from the pharmacy, and that’s when I’d go cry or call a friend.” Even once Dina’s recovery in New York came to an end, Rania wanted to go home directly; however, “my husband insisted that I went to Chicago for three days to recover so I wouldn’t come home with how I felt about the whole thing,” said Rania.
Because Dina didn’t have insurance in the US, she was recovering in a hotel rather than in a hospital. This meant that Rania’s role as caretaker extended to nurse-like duties, including emptying Dina’s bag of seroma. If being a caretaker and nurse wasn’t enough, Rania also acted as an entertainer and tried to make the most out of Dina’s situation. One night, the two ladies watched (or should I say attempted to watch) Magic Mike before realizing they felt “too old for this stuff.” For Rania, blowing off steam also meant blowing off cash. Rania said prancing around the hotel room wearing some of her random and funky new purchases really helped lift Dina’s spirit.
Just like Dina, Rania has always wondered if her family’s genetic link to cancer would catch up to her. Unlike Dina, Rania did have insurance in the US, so she traveled from Saudi Arabia to Houston, TX to do her first mammogram, and visit some friends while she was in town. While it took Dina multiple tests and doctors to detect cancer, it only took Rania one. Rania’s doctor detected precancer and encouraged Rania to move forward with a mastectomy immediately. Rania said that after seeing her mother and cousin battle breast cancer, and her father-in-law suffer through colon cancer, “[she] saw what the really hard parts were and realized … what you don’t want for yourself.”
Unwilling to make a crucial decision out of fear, Rania told her doctor that she was going to take 6 months to change her lifestyle and try to stop the cancer from spreading before moving forward with any sort of treatment. With Rania’s trust in God and dedication to her health, her mammogram showed the cancer got smaller 6 months later. The cancer continued to get smaller until it was completely gone by December of 2019, 3 years later. Rania then decided not to worry anymore. “I don’t want to imprison myself,” said Rania, “I don’t want to be this person that lets it control me anymore.” Rania also mentioned that she never told her parents about her precancer. “I didn’t want to put them through anything,” said Rania, “That’s part of my caretaker personality, I don’t like to involve people in my pain.”
Now, Rania is healthy and cancer-free. She has never gone back to a full-time job because she’s always been looking after someone; but, she has recently taken up coaching. She tells others what to eat, what breathing exercises to practice, and through it, she has learned to take better care of herself. “Maybe I overdo caretaking and I do it as a way to escape taking care of myself,” said Rania, “[Coaching] showed me in so many ways that, if I’m helping everyone, [I need to] help myself first.”
With all the hardship and pain she has experienced, whether it was her own or that of another, Rania has managed to stay positive and to never pity herself. What got her through it? “God,” said Rania. When asked what advice she would give to other caretakers, Rania said, “If you believe in [something bigger than yourself], and you love yourself and have self care in your life … then you are able to then take care of others.”