Earlier this year, I had the privilege of connecting with three warrior mamas, who shared their inspiring stories of courage, perseverance and positivity — their battles of surviving cancer together with their loved ones. A Canadian, an American and a Scandinavian mom, all connected to each other, and to other mothers, with a cancer diagnosis in their family that not only changed their own lives but also the lives of those around them.
Hina Haq is a warrior mama to three beautiful children. She has battled cancer twice; with remarkable grit, perseverance and positivity. She documents her resilient journey on Instagram and shares moments of victory as well as vulnerability in hopes to inspire others going through similar experiences in life.
1. Can you briefly tell us about your cancer and healing journey?
Back in 2020 when the whole world was in lockdown due to COVID-19, I felt a lump in my right breast. It worried me for a few days even though I was active and feeling healthy. I decided to wait until the lockdown was lifted, to get the lump thoroughly examined.
Life went on and soon it was February 2021. Now that I had time to breathe again, I decided to have a complete check-up. I went in for a routine mammogram. The next day I got a call to come back in for a more detailed check-up. When that happens you just kind of know where it’s all heading.
Fast forward to a week later, biopsy results revealed stage three breast cancer without any family history. My whole world changed overnight! As I searched for meaning through the pain, I desperately wanted to turn this negative chapter in my life into a positive one, in any way that I could.
When I was first diagnosed, my doctor gave me an advice that I will be forever grateful for. She suggested not to scour Google for answers. Sooner than later, I realized all can be faced in another way; with grit, grace and gratitude.
I’m very open about what I have gone through — the highs and the lows. I am passionate about getting people activated, especially on social media. Sharing my story openly, with others who might be going through a similar experience, and encouraging people to get regular screening and check-ups was a big part of my healing journey.
2. How did your diagnosis and treatment affect your family and parenting?
The scary cancer diagnosis was followed by overwhelming decisions about treatments and then actually going through regular treatment appointments. No doubt, last year was a tough one for me and my family. I can’t say I always felt up to the challenges, but decided to show up, not quit and give it my all as I knew that my kids were watching me. Together, we have learnt that family is about being together and the best gift of all is indeed love.
No doubt the journey has been a rough one, but in so many ways it has been a year of growth, evolution and introspection. One of the things that kept us going strong as a family was focusing on, and celebrating, little things that turned out well. What matters the most to me is that my kids see me fight with all my might and positivity.
3. How can the community (friends and family) support the journey of a loved one going through cancer?
Emotional support from friends and family is extremely important and can make a big difference to the quality of life of someone battling cancer. No matter how you communicate, whether it’s in person, by phone, email, card or text, what you say (and how you say it) is so important.
The truth of the matter is you will not be able to completely understand the complexity of their experience, or their pain and fears. You might not even know what to say and that is okay. Sometimes the person fighting cancer may not even want to talk, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want you there. Often the most calming thing is your presence and your company even if words are not exchanged.
Friends and family can also support their loved one with a cancer diagnosis by taking easy walks together, watching movies, listening to music or doing an activity that actually brought the two of you together. If your loved one wants to talk, be ready to listen and let them lead.
The most unhelpful thing to do during this time is to offer advice or opinions. DO NOT do that unless you’re asked. Be there for them by offering to run errands, clean the house, pick up medications or drive to and from appointments. Simply being there, and being available, means a lot!
Raakhee Mirchandani is an author, editor and pediatric cancer crusader. Her new book, “My Diwali Light (Little, Brown, 2022),” was released in September, this year. She lives in Hoboken with her husband Agan and their fiery, healthy and bookish 8-years-old daughter Satya.
1. Can you briefly tell us about Satya’s cancer and healing journey?
My daughter Satya was diagnosed with cancer before she was even six months old. My mother’s instinct told me something was wrong, but we couldn’t quite understand what. We were lucky to have had a loving South Asian doctor who listened to my concerns about my baby. Dr. Ayesha Mahmood listened to my mother’s intuition and ran tests to settle my mind. Turns out, things wouldn’t be settled for some time — the tests showed our newborn had cancer. My husband Agan, Satya and I were cared for by an incredible team of doctors and nurses, at Hackensack University Medical Center, who not only cured our daughter but nursed us all back to life, back into the light.
2. How did Satya’s diagnosis and treatment affect your family and parenting?
Satya’s diagnosis was shocking. I knew kids got cancer, but I never expected my kid to be in that group. While we were in the hospital, in treatment and dealing with surgeries, the diagnosis was the heaviest weight on my heart. I functioned entirely on instinct, doing whatever it took to keep Satya happy, healthy and alive. I didn’t parent much, I just tried to survive. After seven years of watching Satya thrive, I can totally say that cancer has affected my family and parenting in a way I never saw coming — we now live our lives in service of children with cancer. I run to raise money for kids and families with a pediatric cancer diagnosis and will do everything in my power, until my last day on Earth, to support children with cancer. This is our family’s purpose.
3. How can the community (friends and family) support the journey of a loved one going through cancer?
I think doing, rather than asking, goes a long way. My mother brought smoothies to the hospital almost every day. My cousins brought french fries and pizza. My brother and sister-in-law just sat with me in the hospital room. Agan’s parents and my maasi got on a plane and just came to support us in whatever was needed. If they would have asked me what I needed, well, I would have said nothing. The truth is, I didn’t know what I needed, but they did. I needed their presence and support, their love, and the carbs and green juices that they brought. I needed to feel less alone and when they showed up for me, without me asking them, I knew that I was surrounded by the strength that would carry us.
Midhat is a gorgeous, brave mother to two beautiful daughters. Her older daughter, Nabiha is a cancer survivor. Midhat is originally from Karachi, Pakistan and has been living in Sweden for the past 14 years.
1. Can you briefly tell us about Nabiha’s cancer and healing journey?
Nabiha was diagnosed with a rare Leukaemia PH+ mutation. The treatment of this mutation is considered very high risk. There are only a handful of patients diagnosed with this mutation. The treatment is still part of a research study with collaboration from all over the world and Nabiha was one of those cases.
Nabiha has recently come into remission after two and a half years of continuous intensive chemotherapy. Her treatment has had multiple side effects, one of which is a severe weakening of the bones. Nabiha was wheelchair-bound for several months, unable to stand, walk or put any pressure on her fragile bones. She currently went through her last surgery to remove her port from her chest and she’s getting regular blood tests and physiotherapy here in Sweden.
2. How did Nabiha’s diagnosis and treatment affect your family and parenting?
The diagnosis changed our lives completely. We went from having a normal, happy and carefree life to being continuously fearful of losing our baby to cancer. Each time she went through an intense chemo session, she had to fight multiple infections.
It was a very tough time for our then-two-year-old daughter Soha. At that time, all our energy and attention were focused on Nabiha and her treatments. Soha had to be kept at home from preschool to avoid potential viral infection exposure for Nabiha as her immune system was compromised.
Then COVID-19 hit and made hospital visits even more difficult. Only one parent was able to be at the hospital at one time. This was the hardest part of our journey, not being together as a family. There wasn’t a single day for several months when we were all together at the same time as a family. But the silver lining was that this difficult experience made us stronger as a family.
3. How can the community (friends and family) support the journey of a loved one going through cancer?
A cancer diagnosis of a loved one brings endless difficult moments where the patient and the family need both physical and emotional support. Support and kindness from friends and family make this journey easy and bearable. Our close friends and family were there when we needed them, whether we needed a shoulder to cry on or needed some physical help with things. Most of all it’s important for them to show up and help out in any way they can.
Kudos to these brave mothers who shared the vulnerable details of their journey of surviving cancer to bring hope to other families going through similar situations, and to raise awareness of how loved ones can support them in such moments.
Photos Courtesy: Hina Haq, Midhat Tariq and Rakhee Mirchandani
Holi is a Hindu festival that celebrates the coming of spring and is observed near the end of winter. It’s also referred to as the festival of colors or the festival of love. Although my daughters and I are not Hindus, (we are Sikhs) we still celebrate Holi. Our Holi celebrations always include reading about this festival, making colorful art, playing with the colorful powders, and making some delicious, traditional sweets. This is always such a great occasion to discuss the diversity of Indian culture with my daughters. I use this opportunity to teach them about inclusivity and respect for different cultures around the world. All across India, different states celebrate this festival in their own meaningful ways.
My first experience celebrating this beautiful festival was in university. My roommates, friends and international students put together a lovely day of Holi celebrations outside. We were completely covered in variety of colors — pinks, purples, and blues. There was music, laughter, dancing, and an overall joyous atmosphere (including bhang, which is essentially a cannabis milkshake). It was particularly heartwarming to see so many Indian students coming together as a community, so far from home, to connect with such a beloved tradition.
For those of us, brought up in Canada, such celebrations were amazing opportunities to genuinely experience the true spirit of Holi. Similar to how it is done in India, everyone became one – there were no small groups or cliques doing their own thing; class lines and caste systems, predominant across India, disappeared. Everyone joined together; our skin tones hidden under the bright colours of the Holi powders. It surely was an unforgettable time.
As a child, I got to experience Holi only through Indian Cinema. Bollywood films like “Silsila,” “Darr,” and “Mohabbatein” stand out in my memory. The actors are dressed completely in white at the beginning of the song, enjoying Holi celebrations, and are then painted from head to toe, in various bright colours, by the end of the song. Since then, I’ve learned that certain colours hold meaning and significance. Red symbolizes love, fertility, and matrimony; blue represents the Lord Krishna; and green stands for new beginnings.
Now, as a mother, I don’t want my children to experience our culture through a screen. So we bring these Holi traditions into our home in our own creative ways. We certainly tend to get creative since around March there is still ample snow on the ground outside and a chill in the air!
The activities we have fun doing are:
Making rangoli designs using coloured powders (this is a helpful site we’ve used)
Making paper flowers to decorate the house with (like the ones here)
Making tie-dye shirts (we’ve got a kit for this because the girls love it)
Baking a traditional Indian snack, like gujiya (we bake them because I get paranoid about the girls being around hot oil).
“Let’s Celebrate Holi!” by Ajanta Chakraborty and Vivek Kumar (for three to seven-year-olds)
“Festival of Colors” by Surishtha Seghal and Kabir Seghal (for two to eight-year-olds)
“Why Do We Celebrate Holi” by Anitha Rathod (for eight years old and above)
This year, Holi falls on the same date as International Women’s Day! To combine the two celebrations, my daughters and I plan on sketching South Asian females we look up to the most, and then adding bright colours using different types of paint. For another element of texture, we might add the paper flowers to these as well. I’m thinking these are going to be frame-worthy pieces of art!
Eid-ul-Fitr is a special holiday that marks the end of Ramadan — the month of fasting — for Muslims worldwide. Ramadan is a time of gratitude, spiritual focus, forgiveness, celebrating community and helping the needy. Eid-ul-Fitr celebrations mark the conclusion of the holy month of Ramadan.
Rubab Bukhari is a busy mom of five based in Calgary, Canada. She shared that Eid, for her family, is a day of gathering with loved ones and sharing a delicious meal together as a symbol for breaking fast. “Eid is celebrated as the most joyous occasion where we put up Eid decorations and exchange gifts with everyone in the house. New clothes are made for everyone; the girls get excited about getting henna on their hands and the boys get more excited about receiving their Eidi (gifts/money).”
A published author, spoken word artist and dance fitness instructor, Nazhah Khawaja shares how she’s built new traditions with her two children and husband in Illinois, Chicago despite not being exposed to the “Eid flavor” herself while growing up.
“My sister suggested decorating the house for Eid with the goal of getting the kids in the holiday mood,” she said. Regardless of the exhaustion that followed due to decorating while fasting, Khawaja realized that her sister “was onto something.” She added that “kids are very visual learners and interpreters — the visual display of decorations helps them to feel the festivity more. Forever grateful to my sister for encouraging this tradition that our family has embraced.”
Another new tradition that she has embraced is celebrating Eid festivities with her husband’s family who are non-Muslim. Furthermore, she insists on taking photographs during Eid-ul-Fitr to keep memories alive because one never really knows if the people in the photos will be there next time around. She also includes that the “Eid nap is a must — which means adults are dozing off while the kids are running wild; ample heavenly chaos and beautiful noise.”
Passing down familial customs from her mother, Khawaja remembers a story she had told her of how as soon as the dawn of Eid arrived, the villagers in Pakistan walked down unpaved streets welcoming Eid with a tune: “Mubarak Eid Mubarak/ Mubarak Khair Mubarak/ Saheliyon Eid Mubarak!” Khawaja’s mother used to sing it every time. “Growing up, my siblings and I would sing this tune in our not-so-refined Urdu, giggle at one another, create our own, often goofy lyrics, and even dance silly moves,” she shared.
Meanwhile, Bengali shemai, Kashmiri kheer and ma’amoul are the favorite Eid desserts in Janan’s household! She is the founder and CEO of the publishing company, Global Bookshelves Intl., a pharmacist by profession and a mother of three young girls, based in Louisville, Kentucky. They look forward to dressing up their best for Eid prayers the most.
Likewise, Ursula Sarah Khan who is a mom influencer and an accountant by trade, said that they fill their Eid-themed gift bags with all sorts of goodies like candy, bubbles and pencils. On Eid-ul-Fitr, her eight-year-old son, Ibrahim, distributes these bags amongst the boys after Eid prayers, while her five-year-old daughter, Eliyah, hands them to the girls.
They also bake Eid cookies together in addition to swapping their Ramadan decor with Eid decor, while still in their Eid pajamas in their Northern Virginia home!
Blending older traditions with some newer ones, Sarah carries on her mother’s age-old tradition of making sheer khorma — a Pakistani dessert made with vermicelli, milk, dates and nuts — in the morning.
She also explains to her children the importance of Zakat or charity, which is what her mother taught her: “I now take this same approach with my children to ensure they have a deep understanding of the generosity Islam teaches.”
Speaking of home and family, Haffsa Rizwani — a Canadian, currently residing in Stockholm, Sweden, as a PhD candidate — said: “Living away from home, Canada, where my immediate family resides, we have a tradition of traveling from Stockholm to my aunt’s house in Oslo, Norway, every Eid. Especially to mark the celebration as a family event for my children.” Together with her aunt, Haffsa’s daughter gets her henna done and goes shopping for bangles! She goes on to explain how Eid-ul-Fitr is an opportunity to not only dress up, but also regain that morning ritual of chai and evenings with games like carrom board; “a game played till my uncle wins.”
As Rizwani so eloquently puts it, “While my children are still quite small, my daughter is now of age to appreciate and understand the meaning of gratitude, blessings, and giving back. She now has the empathy to comprehend the inequalities and injustices in the world. Ramadan is therefore a month of being thankful and making extra duas. Eid is a day of celebration with gratitude and blessings.”
As we enter the holy month for Muslims around the world, Ramadan — a month of fasting, reflection, community, charity and celebration — I aim to foster long-lasting Ramadan memories and traditions for my children while also showing them the beauty of our faith.
The rich tapestry of my life has been intricately woven by the threads of my Pakistani ancestry, an Indian-Kashmiri partner, and the multiculturalism we have passed on to our children. As I navigate the current journey of my life while being a mother to two children, I aim to provide my kids with a life enriched by different cultures which will ultimately help them to become compassionate and empathetic human beings in the future.
Through education, conversation, and exploration, I hope to help set a strong foundation of values that will serve them well in their journey as Muslim Americans and make Ramadan a holiday that they look forward to every year.
Before we explain the importance of Ramadan to children, it’s helpful to holistically explain the importance of the five pillars of Islam.
Declaration of Faith (Shahada)
Giving Alms/Charity (Zakat)
Fasting During the Month of Ramadan (Sawm)
Pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj)
When it comes to Ramadan for young children like mine, there is no better way to teach them than implementing practices of both fun and learning. Engaging them in activities that feed their interests means that they are much more likely to retain information.
It’s amazing to see the assortment of Ramadan decor available at national retailers such as Target and Amazon. I purchased Ramadan lanterns for the kids, and we decorated our home with majestic lights, crescent moons, and other arts and crafts the kids and their friends enjoyed. Noah and Liyana also look forward to the ‘Countdown to Eid Calendar,‘ and put a star sticker on, each day before bed.
Charity and Gifts
Charity supports building a strong foundation for children and demonstrates to them that their actions, no matter how big or small, can make a difference. I strongly believe that good habits instilled during childhood go a long way. The kids have been packing gift bags filled with toys and food packages for local orphanages. I have partnered with other Muslim families to create Ramadan cards for the victims of the Syrian and Turkish earthquakes.
Songs and videos
Another form of educational content that we have introduced to our kids is singing and watching animated videos — after all, we are in a tech generation! Below are some options for child-friendly and lyrical songs to teach your children about Ramadan.
Community is an integral part of a Muslim’s life and even more so important during Ramadan. It shows the profound significance of relationships to humanity. As a Muslim parent, it is important for me to make my kids excited about community-based traditions such as Eid-ul-Fitr. This year we will be taking the kids to the Washington Square Park Eid Event where there will be many family-friendly activities.
Whether it’s decorating our home during this blessed month, Ramadan-themed coloring books, bedtime stories or our ‘Countdown-to-Eid’ calendar, the best part of it is that we do it all together, as a family.