Exile and Healing
At 16, most girls are preoccupied with friends, dating, their Facebook status, and their grades… University life beckons.
For Anika Haroon, her 16th birthday was especially memorable as she was showered with excessive gifts, treated to a grand celebration, then delivered the startling news that she had Stage 4 Osteosarcoma (aka bone cancer) with a lung metastasis.
Events that followed, as told by Anika:
Four days after my birthday I left my home in Bangladesh and was in India getting chemotherapy. Over the next nine months I had nine cycles of chemo and knee replacement surgery. It was hard. I felt scared. And though my family was with me I felt alone and exiled.
As soon I finished treatment my parents sent me to Canada – the country where I was born. They wanted me to have access to good and affordable medicine. They wanted me to be strong and well. They wanted me to blossom into the strong independent woman they hoped I’d become.
The transition to a new home and country was extremely hard for me. I was staying with my uncle and it was difficult for me to settle in their family. This launched me into a long period of immense struggle. I felt alone and exiled again…
Four years later, during my Grade 12 final exams, cancer came back. I underwent surgery to remove tumours. Determined to rise above my health problems I forged ahead with my University plans. I needed a lot of help but I didn’t know how to ask for it. I was trying to find my way through school and life but it just wasn’t working.
Three years later I took a break from school and went in search of myself. I found myself in the sky, in the trees, on mountaintops, and in sunsets. I found myself at peace in grassy meadows and alive on cliffs high above the ocean. I had an awakening.
I found myself at Wellspring Calgary where I was immersed in friendship, support and genuine love and compassion. I took programs and began to feel strong and secure. At Wellspring I saw people my age with cancer and I was able to fit, able to feel, able to tell my story… I was not alone. Wellspring opened up a new world of possibilities and showed me a path I had been searching for.
Now I am back in University and excelling. I am working two jobs and volunteering. I have been cancer-free for five years. I feel strong, confident and alive. I know I will be okay no matter what happens next. I am at home deep down inside… no longer alone, no longer in exile.