Rinad Bsharat

Diagnosis

Hodgkin’s Lymphoma

Physician

Alexander I Spira, MD, PhD, FACP

Getting through law school is hard enough. Now do it with cancer.

Diagnosed as a Young Adult

I had already put down my deposit for law school when I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I was only 23, and at the time, others assured me that since I had one of the most curable forms of cancer, I should expect six months of treatment before I could put it all behind me. Although a shocking diagnosis, I knew I could handle six months.

Rather than change my plans, I showed up to my law program the following week, undergoing chemo while also participating in a full class schedule. Unfortunately, at my six-month checkup, the cancer was still there. I’d already worked too hard to get where I was, so I continued with school while getting radiation five days a week. And again, at the next checkup, the cancer was still there.

At one point in 2005, I was told that I only had three months to live. But I still had plans for my future. I wasn’t going to let cancer derail me.

Nothing Can Stop Me

In the last 16 years, I’ve undergone nine different treatment protocols and spent most of my 20s and 30s wearing wigs. I also got my law degree, passed the bar exam, got married, created an app, and wrote a book.

When I met Dr. Spira at Virginia Cancer Specialists, one of my first questions to him was to ask how much time I had left. Without missing a beat, he explained that there were many factors involved in a person’s cancer journey. There was no timeline. He said, “Work with me and when we get to a bridge, we’ll make a decision and cross it together.” It was exactly what I needed to hear.

Understanding Survival

I’ve often wondered how I survived, both physically and emotionally. Well, I believe I’m a miracle. As a spiritual person, my faith and prayers are important to me. They gave me strength when I needed it most.

When it came to my emotional survival, I leaned on my family and my community. There is strength in asking for help. Strength in vulnerability. I’m cognizant that I had the right people and organizations surrounding me throughout treatment. From professors who would hold me accountable while also understanding my challenges, to the jobs that allowed me time off when I was sick – I know how blessed I was for that support. I’ve also been active in various support groups, volunteering for Make-A-Wish and other community programs.

My cancer journey has been difficult, and I worked through some of those feelings in my book TAKE ME OR HEAL ME. I think when it comes to big life trauma, we all share some of the same emotions, whether that be fear, anxiety, sadness, or questioning. Writing this book helped me process my emotions, and I hoped others could find that same healing while reading it. For me, writing was cathartic and aided my healing journey.

Finding My Purpose

For years, my parents had me keep my cancer a secret, worried that the stigma might be a roadblock to accomplishing my goals. However, I think hiding it away impeded my progress toward recovery. And now, I understand that communication and openness is key to true healing.

I’ve accomplished a lot over the years, but there is still more I want to do. One of my goals is to create a support group for young adults dealing with cancer. I want them to know that I’ve been there, too. I’ve felt the exhaustion and the despair. My advice?  Give yourself permission to feel and process the grief and worry, but don’t live in that space. You still have so much more to accomplish.