My name is Rabi Qureshi. I am 33 years old and I am a three-time cancer survivor who feels as though I’ve fallen through the cracks.
I was 15 when I was diagnosed and treated for thyroid cancer. By all accounts, my life should have returned to normal. Instead, I gained 40 pounds in just two months, developed cystic acne and my grades plummeted.
At 21, I finally lost the weight but was still struggling with depression when the thyroid cancer came back. It had spread to my lymph nodes. The surgeries that followed left me with chronic pain in my head and neck that had me stuck in bed for the better part of three years, contemplating suicide daily. I promise that is not an exaggeration.
Rewiring my Brain Came Years after Treatment
By 2012, at 24 years old, I was feeling better. Nearly all the weight was gone. I had found a new passion and returned to college to pursue my dream of becoming an events specialist. And though everything seemed to take triple the effort or more than it used to, life seemed livable again. So I ignored the small bump under my skin that was slowly getting harder and bigger, and delayed the biopsy until the summer of 2013. What caught me off guard was that this time it was breast cancer. After five surgeries and some aggressive chemotherapy, I felt like a fraction of the person I once was. Mostly, I was living in a haze of foggy thoughts and fractured logic. It took several years out of treatment for me to rewire my brain so that I could articulate my thoughts and speak my mind confidently.
I can’t summarize all that cancer took from me, but I can tell you peace of mind was definitely among the body count. Turns out PTSD among cancer survivors is a more common issue than it is common knowledge.
It’s 2021 and I have a very limited number of functional hours in the week. I am still struggling to take care of my body and brain. I have been ping-ponged from one doctor to another who seem not to know what programs, resources and next steps are available. I work hard every day to teach myself ways of healing on my own but I can’t help but feel that the system is fractured and I am the collateral damage; I don’t believe I should have had to face this alone.
Up to this point, I experienced a severe disconnect between programs and services and my healthcare specialists. I believe the result is an unassembled Mr. Potato Head model and that interdisciplinary coordination and cooperation among fields of medicine should be at the centre of a more efficient patient care model.
Discovering POGO AfterCare
I recently spoke about my health struggles and lack of support from the healthcare system at the 2021 POGO AfterCare Education Day. I was encouraged by how receptive the doctors, nurses and psychologists were to what I had to say and how supportive everyone was. A friend of mine, another survivor who also spoke at the POGO event, convinced me to make an appointment at the POGO AfterCare Clinic in Toronto, something I had only recently become aware of and had yet to explore. It has only been a couple of weeks since that first intake call, but already there seems to be a plan in place for an integrated approach to treating the variety of issues that my cancers have left me with; I will have to keep you posted. I am cautiously optimistic, in spite of myself.
Modern Health Care Should Aim for Quality of Life
Class, ability, gender, a safe home, pre-existing conditions and race/culture can all contribute to unique challenges in survivorship. My story, only one of many, is evidence that it is more important than ever to create holistic systems designed with compassion at their roots, as a complete and comprehensive patient care model, systems that take the whole person into account—mind, body and circumstance. Modern health care, after all, shouldn’t stop at quantity of life; it’s well past time to prioritize quality of life.
Rabi Qureshi is an author, advocate and three-time cancer survivor. She is also a special events manager and an artist who is outspoken in matters of mental health care and holistic and preventative medicine.
POGO AfterCare Clinics promote health and health education, and monitor survivors regularly for late effects of cancer treatment, identifying these effects as early as possible. Ultimately, POGO AfterCare Clinics contribute to advances in cancer care; if a particular form of treatment is found to cause a certain long-term effect in cancer survivors, current treatment practices can be modified, ultimately improving outcomes of future survivors.