GET SUPPORT GET CONNECTED Your Voices Laiqa What cancer were you diagnosed with? Hodgkin's Lymphoma What age were you diagnosed? 10 Laiqa's Story 10 has been a reoccurring number in my life, it’s the number of year between my older brother and me, and subsequently my younger one too. I was also 10 years old when I was diagnosed with cancer. I am now in my 10th year of remission, and it’s about time that I discuss it more openly. Typically I have only discussed it with close friends, however seeing the bravery of numerous WoC (women of colour) discussing their experiences on social media has inspired to open up to about my own story, both as a way to come to terms with something I have kept hushed for so many years, but also to normalise these experiences within our BAME community. It began when I was in year 6, preparing to apply for secondary school was my main focus, as well as my mum who was pregnant with my baby brother. I began getting ill during the fall term, my mum actually surprised me with my first trip to Paris, a life long dream, to cheer me up. I progressively got worse, even after numerous GP appointments, where I was dismissed for a viral infection. Come the following January, my aunty came to surprise my mum the day of her giving birth, I had not seen her in ages, as she and my cousins were living in Pakistan. Of course, my aunty stayed in my room during her stay, and it was her sleeping at night with me that she noticed I could barely breath through the night. I also remember waking up every morning to my top being soaked through from night sweats. At the time we assumed it was flu, not realising how similar the symptoms are to cancer. Again, my mum, aunt and I visited my South Indian GP, who bless her, had been constantly recommending I just drink ‘dooh haldi,’ turmeric milk to get rid of the ‘viral infection’... This time however, we managed to get an appointment for a CT scan at Queen’s hospital, which upon doing we were rushed in an ambulance across the city to GOSH. They found a mysterious lump, the size of a grapefruit, resting on my heart and lungs... It was here that I became a resident of GOSH, where I spent the large majority of my day cycling between resting, reading the Harry Potter series or drawing... If you have got 1000 hours to fill, harry potter is a great way to go. My life was complete unrooted, and the only thing I kept asking was when can I go back to school? It was a massive shock to the system, I had grown up never getting ill, and being petrified of needles, and now I was on a constant cycle of pill testing, blood tests and IV drips. The issue with my diagnosis was that it was not simple, the fact it was over vital organs meant any diagnosis, could not be actually tested until they had some of the tumour mass. Consequently, we spiralled through so many potential diseases, even tuberculosis at one point, which had been how my maternal grandma passed away. I cannot even begin to imagine what my family was going through at the time, yes I remember everything but as a 10 year old my capacity of understanding death and the concept of life was of course limited. I remember in the times that I was alone, I would constantly make little goals in my head, and almost mentally chant by will that I will get there. I will go back to school. I will get into high school. I will be 18. I will graduate from university. I had this fixation on getting to 10 years of remission. Willing into the universe that I will live to 21. My asian upbringing is evident because every goal coincides with something academic! I have now reached the goals my 10 year old self could never of dreamed of. I am set to graduate in the forthcoming month; my thesis discusses the obstacle BAME women and other Intersectional people face in the creative industry. Through open chest surgery amongst others, steroid therapy and chemotherapy, I have still managed to achieve what was unimaginable during my cancer journey. Having cancer is a process that affects you long after the actual treatment, and it’s so necessary the people living with cancer, and cancer survivors vocalise their story. I have always stayed hushed about my experience, as I did not want people’s pity, and have only wanted to achieve my goals based on my merit not sympathy. Now I realise these two things do not actually interrelate. Instead because I come from a BAME background, as well as being a woman means that my experiences are inherently intersectional, and they are just are not represented in mainstream media. When is the health of Women of Colour ever discussed? It is neglected, and often pushed away under the rug. Now is the time to normalise these experiences, to talk about both the physical and mental health of WoC openly, and to be the role models we never had growing up.