"Kuna M'aan" book cover.
CAIRO – 19 February 2019: Cancer is something that people avoid talking about at all cost, believing that they will be inviting the disease if they mention it. People feel awkward talking about a subject that is deemed of a negative nature.
But Noha Aser's debut novel "Kuna M'aan" (We Were Together) is set to change and challenge the way people think about cancer, giving support and hope to families who don't get emotional and psychological support during and after their experience with cancer
Aser's book tells the story of Karim (Aser's first-born son) who was diagnosed with cancer at the tender age of 11 years and left our world when he was merely 15 years old.
The book is divided into three parts; the first being the tale of Karim's short life journey from when he was a baby right to his last days and subsequent funeral; the second part focuses on Karim's own writing, thoughts and notes he had written during his illness and the third part is the collection of letters and notes written by Karim's friends.
It is quite rare for people to address the topic of cancer in a positive light especially when they have lost a loved one to it. So we met with her to learn more about her book, her experience and this puzzling, yet admirable positivity.
Aser graduated from the faculty of Commerce, accounting department. She describes herself as “a wife, a mother of three children and now an aspiring writer."
After eight years of employment, she decided to dedicate her time to her home and children and enjoy what she loves most; reading, writing, music and math.
We asked Aser how her life changed after this experience and she replied that her priorities and view of life as a whole changed as she began to focus on the important aspects of life which are faith, trust and belief in God's will and that there is no "complete or perfect life".
She goes on to add that one should always be grateful for every blessing God bestows upon us, regardless of how big or small these blessings are.
She also learnt that there are no guarantees in life and that nothing should be taken for granted as things can suddenly change. "I realized that I have to live each day as it comes and enjoy every part of it as I don't know what tomorrow will bring. I learnt that humanity has no gender, faith or social status. I learnt that having people around you is an invaluable treasure."
Karim's journey was both influential and inspiring to many people, especially those who knew him, therefore after his death, Aser created a page dedicated to Karim on Facebook, where she shared posts with her friends and Karim's friends.
Many of the followers began to ask about the stories of Karim from when he was a child. “I narrated the story of Karim from birth to his last days with illness," Aser responded.
"Many people who follow the page suggested that I collect these tales and put them in a book which might help others. I did not fully respond to the idea at first," Aser said.
But after two years, one of the followers brought the idea up again and told Aser that she can begin her quest through an organized event in a cultural venue which will bring together some of the new writers.
"I was inspired and motivated by the idea and began to review what I had previously written as I deleted and added other things; I then wrote the dedication and summary," Aser recalled.
Aser searched tirelessly for a publishing house that will agree to publish the book, and the fact that she does not have an established name as a writer made things all the more difficult and complicated.
Nonetheless, she did not give up hope and by coincidence she met with a friend who put her in contact with another friend who knew a publishing house that would accept the book and so this is how the book got to see the light.
"Kuna M'aan" participated at the Cairo International Book Fair alongside all the other publications of the aforementioned publishing house.
"Karim is in peace now. God's mercy relieved him from all his pain. God was able to heal him, but it did not happen and there must be a reason behind it that only God knows."
This belief that Karim is now in eternal rest makes his loss more bearable, as she explains "He is now in a better state where he is not tired, where there is no pain. He is in paradise with all the prophets which was his last request just weeks before his death. He told me 'Mama, I long to see God and the prophets.' Not seeing him is what hurts me the most but what eases this pain is all our memories, our laughter and tears together. His image never leaves my mind."
Aser's wishes now are for God to guide her children and reunite them all with Karim in paradise. She wishes that Arab leaders make health and education their top priorities as they reflect societies' progress and development.
She also wants anyone who is related to someone with cancer to always be thankful to God and to try and live their lives in a natural way.
During her son's journey with cancer, Aser was motivated by stories of the prophets and was really influenced by how they dealt with hardship and difficulties, in particular the story of Prophet Ayyub (Job), peace be upon him.
"We need to challenge the impossible, who knows, maybe we can achieve it. With every difficulty and turmoil, God gives us inner strength that is why we need to constantly thank God for the little blessings before the bigger ones," Aser said.
Aser wants to pursue writing professionally as it is a field that she found herself in. "Personally I want to enjoy my hobbies and bring my children up." She also envisages herself as a good will ambassador or working for a non-profit organization that helps people around the world.