Within 10 days of being diagnosed with DCIS breast cancer, Dina Sabra was off to Lenox Hill Long Island Jewish Hospital in the Upper East Side for a bilateral mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. Despite Dina’s Canadian citizenship and lack of insurance in the US, she chose to undergo her operation in the States because she would be treated much quicker as a patient paying out-of-pocket. Initially, the hospital wanted to keep Dina around for a few months before her operation, but they ended up being able to schedule her in three and a half weeks after her arrival. “I guess they felt sorry for me because I told them I have three kids back home… so they were able to schedule me in sooner,” said Dina. “It was really sweet of them.”
Beating breast cancer wasn’t an easy fight for Dina, but thankfully, she didn’t fight it alone. Dina’s cousin, Rania, flew in from Saudi Arabia to stand by her side throughout her recovery. Rania showered Dina, medicated her, and even carried the emotional burden that Dina was finally ready to release. “My cousin would look at the watch and start having palpitations because.. every evening, around 10 pm I would get this crazy nervous breakdown and cry and cry and cry,” said Dina, “I needed to get it all out before I came back because I didn’t want to do that in front of the kids.”
Dina’s dad also arranged for his friend and his friend’s wife, Nashwa, to drive down from New England to welcome Dina when she was dismissed from the hospital. “When I came out of the hospital and they were there I was annoyed with my dad,” said Dina, but that irritation quickly faded upon Dina’s discovery that Nashwa was a “Godsend.” She had experienced the same thing as Dina, and “was an amazing support, emotionally, physically,” said Dina. “I just felt so loved because she’d made this effort to drive all the way and spend time with me.” Although Nashwa is much older than Dina, they bonded deeply and are still in contact to this day.
During the few weeks she spent recovering in Manhattan before she was ready to travel back to Dubai, Dina followed her gut and always did what felt right. While Dina’s friends found comfort in breast cancer support groups, it didn’t feel right to Dina. “For me that was something I was just not interested in doing,” said Dina, “I would rather talk to a close friend.” However, something Dina did find comfort in, that helped her feel normal, was reading a book or watching reality TV shows. One of her favorites was “Married to Jonas.” “It’s mindless viewing, you just laugh and you don’t actually have to think about anything,” said Dina.
As thankful as Dina was for all the support she received from friends and family after her operation, she decided to delegate her phone calls to her cousin for a while because some questions and comments were too invasive. “People mean well, but sometimes they would ask me questions I wasn’t ready to answer,” said Dina, “or it was too much sympathy and I didn’t want to feel like some sort of victim.” One of Dina’s friends mistakenly made an ignorant comment to Dina; “She said, ‘Well look at the bright side while we all have really saggy boobs, yours will be nice and perky,” said Dina. Looking back, Dina said she knew her friend meant well and was just trying to help her find the silver lining, but “at the time you that’s not what you’re looking for.”
After three weeks of recovering in New York, Dina was ready to travel back home to her family. Back in Dubai, Dina’s youngest, Layla, was still completely oblivious to her mother’s situation and was even irritated by her mother’s low energy. “She was angry that I would usually carry her upstairs to put her in bed and I couldn’t carry her to put her in bed,” said Dina. “This was the one thing that [she] picked up on at that point.” In reality, “It took months and months to regain my mobility and kind of fell quasi normal,” said Dina.
Even with a full recovery, Dina’s visit from breast cancer left her house out of order. Breast cancer replaced her usual workout routine with a morbid fear of lymphedema. Although Dina’s doctors have cleared her to resume her active lifestyle, Dina said she has never gone back to her usual workout routine because “certain things make [her] really uncomfortable.” “I’ve never been able to do a full form push up, and I used to do that before,” said Dina.
Despite Dina’s struggles, she chose to not place blame where it wasn’t due. She didn’t blame herself because she was very healthy, fit, sober, and her family has a rough history with breast cancer. “I never did the whole ‘why me God?’ thing,” said Dina, “it was just one of those things I accepted.” The only thing Dina felt guilty about was the financial burden the procedure posed on her family. But at the end of the day, “God wrote this,” said Dina. “I’m blessed that I have the support that I need and a husband that’s willing to fork out the crazy amounts of money that he did for me to get treated.” It’s been 9 years since Dina’s run-in with breast cancer and she is now healthy and cancer-free!