I met Tania Azizi for a minute a year ago. She was still undergoing chemotherapy and I had finished. I didn’t know her before then but from just her greeting I felt like I had known her forever. After we parted, I remember telling my husband, wow what a lady. Her energy was remarkable.
We finally managed to sit down for a coffee, around a year and a half later. What I thought would be a 1 or 2 hours-tops coffee meet, turned into a 4 hour non-stop chit chat. I could not look away or zone out for even a second as she was reminiscing on her journey with breast cancer. She refuses to call it “the time when I was sick” because she strongly believes she wasn’t. She was fine. She was healthy. She was happy. Even during her treatment period, she never let anyone treat her as though she was sick. She did not allow the cancer to enter her home, to touch her family. She allowed cancer 24 hours to be in control of her life. After that, she stole back control and made a firm decision to do everything in her power to defeat it.
2 years ago, she was at a radiology lab, performing a routine work audit. She briefly mentions to her friend, who works at the lab, that she’s overdue for her mammography and that she knows she shouldn’t postpone anymore because there is a tiny lump that she’s been feeling recently. Her friend urges her to just get one done at the moment since she’s there already. She felt guilty at first because her trip was for work, but was finally convinced to do it. The doctor told her that nothing abnormal showed up in the mammogram but Tania wanted to be sure of this lump. So she told the doctor about it and he then requested an ultrasound. During the ultrasound he saw the lump, and requested a biopsy to determine its nature. This whole time Tania was very calm and cooperative.
20 days later, the doctor calls her with the result. She was at work. Her tears flooded as soon as he told her she has breast cancer. She was 36 years old, has 2 daughters, no family history & lead a healthy lifestyle.
She spent the next 24 hours in oblivion. The moment she realized that just the thought of having cancer had already taken over her life, she woke up; She remember that day vividly: “I had promised to take my daughters to the beach the next day and so we went. As I was sitting there, my tears were rolling down behind my sunglasses for 3 hours. I was sitting there, but I wasn’t really there. Then I realized, what am I doing? It’s a beautiful day with my family and I’m not present. It cannot begin or continue this way.”
From that day on, she took charge. Her journey began - she consulted several doctors, did more tests and chose her oncologist; “I can refer you to 2 oncologists” said her doctor, “1 of them is crazy but excellent, “ - she cut him right there and told him “I can be crazy so I will go with the crazy one”.
In her first meeting with this oncologist, she told him why she chose him and he told her “…then let’s go crazy together & beat this cancer”. This was her energy & mindset throughout her entire cancer treatment.
When she started chemotherapy, she wanted to prepare her daughters, 12 and 10 years old, to the fact that she was going to lose her hair; She explained to them, and I thought this was beautiful: “When you are sick, we give you antibiotics so you can feel better right? Mommy has cancer, and to feel better she needs to take an antibiotic which is chemotherapy. What is the thinnest thing you have on your body?” They both answered “our hair”, she continues “This chemotherapy is so strong, because it should make me better, it will be too strong on my hair and will make it fall out.” They couldn’t really understand how, so she pulls out her phone and shows them my photo before I shaved my hair and then a photo of me after I shaved. They were amazed how little difference the hair makes when both photos are happy. They agreed that when she shaves her hair, she will apply red lipstick on both her daughters’ lips and they will kiss her bald head. When the time came, she took her daughters with her to cut her hair & as promised they kissed her newly shaved head with red lipstick.
Tania continued her course of treatment with a strong body and mind. She lives in a conservative town where simply speaking of cancer was hushed, so can you imagine what happened when she shows up around the town and at church with a bald head or a stylish headwrap? That was her biggest challenge; facing her community. She surpassed it, nonetheless. She did not allow the strange and pity looks that she received pull her down or lessen her self-confidence. She taught her daughters exactly what she was going through so they did not have to face the pity from their friends at school or from the community. Tania was invited on a very popular national TV Show and she decided to take her daughters with her on air. She encouraged her daughters to tell all their friends to watch the show, everyone in her community did and were in awe of what they saw; the confidence, the encouragement, the support and how proud these two young girls were of their mother.
One thing she said repeatedly, I did not let the cancer enter my house. Her family lived the journey with her but she did not let it take it a toll on them, on the contrary she let it become a learning experience for all of them. By doing so, she was able to reverse the “cancer” taboo that many young women encounter and normalize the cancer conversation bit by bit. Today, Tania remains proactive about breast cancer awareness.
My deepest gratitude to Tania Azizi who shared with me her beautiful story and allowed me to write it here for all of you to read & share with anyone you know who is passing through a similar experience. We are all here for each other, as fighters and survivors, to help you through this!