Suleika’s dreams of becoming a war correspondent were cut short by a devastating diagnosis. Instead, she decided to report from the front lines of her hospital bed on a different kind of story.
Excerpts from Suleika's New York Times "Life, Interrupted" Column
Originally published March 16, 2015 in the New York Times
It took me a long time to be able to say I was a cancer patient. Then, for a long time, I was only that: A cancer patient. Now that I’m done with my treatment, I’m struggling to figure out who I am. On paper, I am better: I no longer have cancer, and with every passing day I’m getting stronger. The constant flood of doctor’s appointments, blood tests and phone calls from concerned family and friends have trickled to a slow drip. But off paper, I feel far from being a healthy 26-year-old woman.
Ever since a therapy dog visited me in the hospital during my first cycle of chemotherapy in May 2011, I became fixated on the idea of having a dog of my own one day.
Just a few years ago, when I received a diagnosis of leukemia, the notion of professional achievement — let alone wining a News Emmy — was simply not in my realm of possibilities.
It had never occurred to me that, with all of the progress that has been made in cancer research, none of the standard treatments would work for me. That's when I learned about something called a clinical trial.
When I learned I had cancer at the age of 22, my life and my resolution-making were interrupted. There was no time or space to stress over something as small as a three-day juice cleanse or a daily exercise program. Surviving my next cycle of chemotherapy became my singular concern.
When I blow out my birthday candles next month, I’ll celebrate being alive. But my 25th birthday will also mark a countdown to the date when I will no longer be eligible to stay on my parents’ insurance.
One of the hardest parts about developing leukemia at age 22 was how restrictive it was: My treatments left me highly susceptible to infection, airplanes were strictly off limits and even a trip to my neighborhood bodega required a protective face mask.
Dozens of chemotherapy treatments and one bone marrow transplant later, I wish I could say that I’ve mastered the art of not working.
We were different in almost every way, but forged a friendship around the fact that we shared the same type of cancer. Then one day, life changed dramatically for both of us.
Every few weeks I host a “girls’ night” at my apartment in Lower Manhattan with a group of friends who are at various stages in their cancer treatments. But one topic that doesn’t come up as often as you might think — particularly at a gathering of women in their early 20s and 30s — is sex.
One of the strangest moments of having cancer in my 20s was when I found myself calling my brother Adam on Skype while he was studying abroad in Argentina to tell him that I had just been diagnosed with leukemia and that — no pressure — he was my only hope for a cure.
My mother's cooking has always given me comfort. But cancer treatment not only confuses my taste buds, but the memory and emotions associated with my favorite childhood foods.
I am never happy to be in the oncology waiting room. But when I first saw Kristen Howard sitting across from me at Mount Sinai Hospital, I could barely contain my excitement. Since my diagnosis with leukemia two years ago at age 22, I’ve learned that it is a rare sight to see young people in the hallways of an adult oncology unit.
For cancer patients like me, and for others who suffer from chronic or life-threatening illnesses, natural disasters don't put health on the back burner. In fact, disasters like this one only add another layer of concern.
Cancer is not a gift. But it can change you, prompting you to learn a few things along the way.
I used to resent the battle metaphors associated with cancer because most of the time I’m just lying in bed, and I don’t feel like battling at all.
I’m always being prescribed medicine, but I never thought I’d get a prescription for a puppy.
Every month, I go to the hospital to receive outpatient chemotherapy injections for five days in a row. My doctors say this will be my routine for the next year.
It’s been 16 months since my diagnosis and four months since my bone marrow transplant, and now I want to share what I’ve learned along the way.
Although I have learned a lot since my diagnosis — and I am trying to be hopeful for the future — living with cancer is also just really, really hard. We don’t always talk about those times. We self-censor many parts of the journey.
If you have a chronic illness in America, there’s a good chance you also hold a degree in Health Insurance 101 – whether you wanted to or not.
In the cancer world, the term “survivor” is as ubiquitous as it is hard to define.
Tied to tubes and beeping monitors, I have often felt like an inmate shackled to the schedule of the outside world. To a cancer patient, the lexicon of the prisoner seems to scream out from everywhere.
Cancer is a tricky balancing act. You have to be proactive about your medical condition, while simultaneously accepting the fact that you can’t change your reality.
I’m aware that feeling guilty about having cancer is more than a little irrational. But when it comes to cancer, guilt is a mercurial, equal-opportunity burden that affects both patients and caretakers.
While much of what a cancer patient experiences is deeply personal, losing your hair is an undeniably public affair
Cancer is always lurking in my ZIP code, whether I’m in Manhattan or in upstate New York.
Oncology wards, more than anywhere else I know, are musicless places. But on one special day, my friends in the Stay Human Band brought music to my hospital room.
I opened my eyes to find doctors peering over my hospital bed. They had some welcome news. I had for a month been living in isolation in the bone marrow transplant unit of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, my only option after my diagnosis with acute myeloid leukemia last year.
When I learned I had an aggressive form of leukemia 12 months ago, updating my Facebook profile was not a top priority. After all, in the land of Facebook, I didn’t have cancer yet.
Cancer can catch even the best of us off guard. Sometimes the emotions come pouring out. Sometimes they stay locked inside. Either way, cancer can be awkward.
This week, my boyfriend, Seamus, is helping me write from my room in the bone marrow transplant unit.
Last spring, I found out I had leukemia. Before the horror of the news even had time to sink in, I had to absorb a second shock: The chemotherapy treatments that could save my life would also make me infertile.
Living with a life-threatening disease can make you feel like a second-class citizen in the land of time. Disease infects not only your body but your relationship to the past, present and future.
After my diagnosis of cancer, I moved back into my childhood bedroom so my parents could take care of me. At the same time, I’ve had no choice but to grow up fast.