MarySmith’sPlace ~ #Decision #CancerUpdate43

Those of you who follow this blog will know I had an appointment with the oncologist immediately after my Islay holiday.

There wasn’t really anything new to hear about my cancer. I’d read the information on the chemotherapy drugs and their potential side-effucks: nausea; fatigue; loss of appetite and weight loss; peripheral neuropathy; blood clots; breathlessness and a serious impact on my immune system. One drug would be given every three weeks at the cancer centre, the other would be a capsule taken twice a day in between the three-weekly cycle.

The chemotherapy would be four, possibly six cycles – so 12 to 18 weeks – of feeling rubbish, not being able to go out much. I’d have a CT scan after the first two cycles to see what, if any, impact the drugs were having.

The treatment is in no way curative and if it is successful could extend my life by two months. Of course, I could be the outlier who survives for a few years, but it’s not very likely. And how would I feel during those extra eight weeks? Not bouncing with health, that’s for sure.

I asked how long I might have if I didn’t take any treatment (knowing it’s not possible to give an accurate prediction) and was told ‘definitely three months’ and possibly as much as six months. Mind you, this is from the person who said at the end of May I could expect two or three years. I wouldn’t put my money on her predictions.

I think I’d probably made my decision when I was on Islay and the week after seeing the oncologist I turned down the option of further chemotherapy. It’s a relief not to have to keep thinking about it, weighing up the options and wondering if I’m making the right decision.

I’ll let you know how things go.

MarySmith’sPlace – #Afghanistan #Friendship # Family

In my last post I said my next one would be about the discussion with the oncologist. I’ve changed my mind. I’ll put up a cancer update soon, but in the meantime, I want to introduce you to a special person who is part of my extended Afghan family. In fact, I’m going to let her do the introduction herself but before she does, I’ll fill in a bit of our shared family history.

I met Sausan’s grandfather, Jawad in the Jaghori district of Ghazni province in 1989, the year the Soviets left Afghanistan, when he came to work as a driver for the leprosy/tuberculosis NGO (non-government organisation) for which I was joint co-ordinator. Later, he moved to an administrative role in Quetta, Pakistan, which was, at the time, our operational base.

His family joined him in Quetta. They were among the first visitors when my son was born. I remember looking at Jawad’s wife as she held him and seeing the longing in her eyes. I was pretty sure another addition to their growing family would be coming along. Jawad didn’t think so – I was right!

Shahnaz, Jawad’s daughter, holding David soon after he came home from the maternity hospital – 30 years ago!
David’s birthday – 21st March – is also the Afghan New Year. This embroidered cloth was a gift to him from Jawad’s wife on his first birthday.
Exquisite embroidery in each corner of the cloth.

It became clear we had to move operations to Afghanistan or risk being robbed every time we shipped medicines and supplies across the border. In 1993, Jawad went ahead, finding a suitable building in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif and I followed with David/Daud, who was then two years old.

The children playing together on a picnic in Balkh, described by Marco Polo as a ‘noble and great city’.
Jawad being used as a climbing frame! The noble and great city was renowned, in our time, for its delicious kebabs.

You can read about the following three years in Mazar-i-Sharif and my work teaching health volunteers in rural Hazara Jat, or Hazaristan, in Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni: Real Stories of Afghan Women.

When I returned to Scotland, there was no Facebook – very few people even emailed – and keeping in touch wasn’t easy but we always managed. Taliban came to power and the family escaped to Pakistan. The DH, David and I went to Pakistan several times to meet up.

After Taliban was pushed out (temporarily as it turned out) Jawad and family moved back to Afghanistan, to Kabul. Mustafa and his sister Shahnaz won scholarships to India and we visited Mustafa there (regretting we didn’t have enough time to visit Shahnaz as well). We also returned to Afghanistan for an all-too-brief reunion.

Time together in a recreation park near Kabul when we visited in 2006.
Farid, Mustafa and David in Kabul, opposite the museum.

Mustafa later did his Masters in the UK. His parents looked forward to seeing him graduate and we looked forward to a grand reunion over here. However, when the hoops the British government made his parents jump through for a visa became unsurmountable we went to Bristol to be there for him.

Mustafa’s Graduation day in Bristol

Jawad’s son Murtaza was the first to be married and he moved to America where he and his wife Soraya live in Connecticut. It is their daughter who adds the next link in the family chain. She and I ‘met’ when she visited Kabul earlier this year for her aunt’s wedding and we chatted on a video call after she’d read my book and had some questions for me.

Here she is:

“I am Sausan Farhnaz Jawad. I was born in Hartford, Connecticut USA, July 2nd 2010. Originally I am from Afghanistan, Jahgori District where my father, Murtaza Ahmadi, was born.

My grandfather, Jawad Ahmadi, was running an international NGO (LEPCO) to treat leprosy and tuberculosis in the very remote area in central highlands of Afghanistan.

I live in Simsbury, CT. I have gone to Afghanistan two times, already. Kabul the capital of Afghanistan is surrounded by high mountains. My last visit to Kabul was in May 2021 to attend the wedding of my aunt which was held in a very nice wedding hall.

Unfortunately, I could not attend the wedding of my uncle which was held on August 8th. It was celebrated in Kabul’s famous garden, Bagh-i Babur (a very old and famous garden, where the Mogul Emperor Babur, one of the Genghis Khan’s descendants, is buried.) The reason I could not attend my uncle’s wedding was because Afghanistan was having trouble with the Taliban and the flights were cancelled. If I went to his wedding I would be stuck In Afghanistan. Luckily, my grandparents and the newlyweds left the country. But sadly, some of my grandparents’ relatives are still stuck in Afghanistan.

My family nation is Hazara. This is a tribe mixed with Mongol and Turkish which is living in the centre of Afghanistan.”

You may be wondering, why this post now? Since Taliban once again took control of Afghanistan earlier this year I’ve turned down several invitations to speak in public about the situation and I’ve not written about it on my blog. I couldn’t. I was too angry and heartbroken to find a way to talk about it. Taliban’s takeover and the plight of those desperate to leave the country were on the front pages of our newspapers until the day the last soldier left Afghanistan. After that Afghanistan stories were found half way through the paper – scarcely newsworthy.

Jawad’s family and mine have been friends over many years and across many miles. I really hope people reading this will see individual people not a faceless mass of ‘refugees’ or ‘asylum seekers’ – real people.

Our friendship will last as long as I do and be remembered for even longer and I look forward to more conversations with the youngest (for now) in the family – the delightful Sausan.

And I hope with all my heart that one day Jawad’s family will reunite in Afghanistan, an Afghanistan free from Taliban.