Student cancer survivor aims to raise awareness of the disease in south Asian communities
Following a series of tests, Faaiza Bashir was diagnosed with primary mediastinal large B-cell lymphoma (PMBCL), a type of cancer, at the age of 18
Faaiza Bashir in hospital – Image Credit: Teenage Cancer Trust
Faaiza Bashir, a 22-year-old student from Barking, has shared her journey of battling cancer at 18 to mark World Cancer Day on February 4. Her collaboration with the Teenage Cancer Trust aims to spotlight the critical signs of cancer in adolescents and young adults, particularly in the south Asian communities where discussing the disease remains a cultural taboo.
With a Pakistani background, Faaiza’s mission extends to fostering dialogue about cancer in communities where it is often avoided, a press release from the Teenage Cancer Trust said.
A survey by the Teenage Cancer Trust reveals just 17% individuals aged 13-24 are aware of all five of the main warning signs of cancer in young people, which are lumps, bumps and swellings, unexplained tiredness, mole changes, persistent pain, significant weight change.
Faaiza recalls the onset of her symptoms in 2020, initially dismissing her shoulder pain and subsequent weight loss and exhaustion as minor issues.
“During lockdown, I started losing a lot of weight but didn’t realise this was a symptom at first because I was taking part in Ramadan, where I was fasting every day,” she explains.
She added, “I realised I was very fatigued because I was sleeping most of the day, but it wasn’t normal for me, even though it was lockdown. I also started feeling breathless and struggled going up the stairs at home.”
Her situation worsened, leading to breathlessness, and overwhelming fatigue, signalling something far more serious.
Due to the Covid pandemic, her only option was a phone consultation with a GP, who concluded she had a chest infection and recommended antibiotics and steroids.
Subsequently, an asthma diagnosis was given, but her asthmatic mother doubted this and reached out to her own doctor, leading to Faaiza securing a face-to-face consultation, and emergency hospitalisation.
“The GP listened to my chest and said she couldn’t hear anything coming in or out of my right lung. She called for an ambulance to take me to the hospital, as she thought I had sepsis” Faaiza said.
Following a series of tests, Faaiza was diagnosed with primary mediastinal large B-cell lymphoma (PMBCL), a type of cancer, at the age of 18.
The diagnosis was a shock to Faaiza, who had little knowledge of cancer and its prevalence among her age group. “I couldn’t believe it… I had no idea that the symptoms I had like pain, weight loss, and fatigue could be signs of cancer,” she said, underscoring the importance of raising awareness.
Faazia added, “Within south Asian communities, cancer is taboo, so it’s not talked about and isn’t visible. I hope being open and sharing that I’ve been through cancer can help with that, and encourages people to seek support if they are worried about their health.”
Transferred to University College Hospital London for specialised treatment, Faaiza underwent chemotherapy at a Teenage Cancer Trust unit, which offered a supportive environment, despite the isolation imposed by the pandemic.
It was through the charity’s online event, Find Your Sense of Humour, that Faaiza connected with other young cancer patients, finding solace, and understanding in shared experiences, she said.
March 2021 brought the news that Faaiza was cancer-free, a milestone she joyfully shared with her family.
Now a Geography student at Cambridge University, she reflects on her journey with a renewed zest for life and a commitment to cancer awareness.
Teenage Cancer Trust emphasises the importance of recognising cancer symptoms, as according to the charity, seven young individuals between the ages of 13 and 24 in the UK are diagnosed with cancer daily.