My Mother’s Cancer

“Oh, I am not fasting, I am still too young to fast,” said Abida.Abida and I were chatting about Ramadan. Although we both competed with each other by trying to get better grades we had been good friends for four years and always sat next to each other in class.

“I see.  I think I might fast tomorrow because it’s the first day of Ramadan,” I replied. Abida and I finished our conversation about Ramadan and both of us left the school to walk home.

On the way home, I was thinking about Ramadan and its first day. I was very excited. When I reached home, I saw my aunts and their kids running towards me shouting,

“Hurry up, your mom is here!”

I was shocked that she came from Kandahar to see me in Quetta, Pakistan.  I thought, “Maybe Nilo Khala is just kidding.  Why would Mom leave her job and come this time of the year?  She had planned to save her leave and come for Eid.  Why did she come so early?” As I rushed toward the hall I heard her voice.  She couldn’t stand. I was shocked, very shocked!  I kept asking what was wrong.  She didn’t say anything, but she hugged and kissed me.

At fourteen, I was too young to understand everything. I still wanted to go out and play with my friends.  I did not realize how sick my mom was.   Everyone looked so sad.  My mom was helped to stand and said she was leaving to go to the doctor.

I was so confused why she came from Kandahar to visit a doctor here in Quetta.  I giggled and asked her if she missed the doctors of Quetta. She smiled back and didn’t say anything, although everyone seemed angry at my stupid question.  My brother had brought a rickshaw outside the house and took my mom to the doctor. I heard my aunts calling out different names of doctors to visit.

I asked my brother’s wife about my mom’s health. She said, “A doctor has given the wrong medicine to her in Kandahar, so she came here to find out what is really wrong with her.” Later she told me that my mom was having pain in her leg and she went to an orthopedist in Kandahar.  They did a blood test but mixed up the blood samples, so my mom was given someone else’s results.  The doctor accidentally gave her the wrong medicine.  She took the medicine and got worse.  The doctor told her that he gave her the wrong medicine and she should go to Quetta to see a doctor.

The doctor in Quetta told her that she had leukemia!  She was shocked and went to see other doctors to see if they were wrong.  Finally, the health care center at her office, United Nations Missions in Afghanistan (UNAMA), suggested that she should go see a doctor in India.

She went to India and was lucky that the cancer had not spread.  The doctors said it could be treated.  Her cancer is in remission, but since 2004 she visits Tata Memorial Hospital in Mumbai, India once a year for check-ups.

Health care is an important issue in Afghanistan. Most doctors in Afghanistan are not licensed and many have fake diplomas.  There are a few doctors that have graduated from the university, but they will not work in remote areas like Kandahar, Zabul, Uruzgan, or Helmand because of security issues.  In many cities and villages nurses have opened clinics and are treating people.

Since my mother first got sick, she has gotten weaker.  Her heart is broken and she looks like a grandmother, although she used to be a very stylish woman.  She worries about her two youngest sons who are not married yet and, of course, her only daughter, me.  She gave me the gift of allowing me to study in America.  She needs me the most, but she is willing to sacrifice her needs for me.  I love her for being such a caring and generous mother who wants her only daughter to be educated and independent.

In order to pay for her medical treatments and visits to India, my mother must keep working as an engineer, even though she should be resting at home.  Her boss is not a very understanding person and gets angry with her when she takes time off.

My mother is a great inspiration to me and I hope one day I will be able to work so I can support her.

by Yagana


  1. Yagana,
    A very heartfelt hug for your Mum. How privileged are those of us who have state health care as a near human right. Once again, an Afghan Woman understands the huge value of Education, transmitting to her only daughter the urgent need to acquire this gift. Despite…………..or indeed due to…………..the very fact of the difficulties she herself……….as a very sick woman…………is going through. Thankyou.

  2. Our thoughts are with your mother, and you, Yagana! And thanks for shining a light on some of the health care struggles faced in Afghanistan.

  3. Dear Yagana..I feel for you…Mother’s are most precious blessings in our life..I will pray so that your mother gets better..Tata Memorial Hospital is a good facility, the doctors there are good and will provide your mother with great care. I am from India but live in Sydney, I wish I could help from here. Be strong and everything will be fine. Take inspiration from your mum..People say women are weak, but I say women are strongest of human beings. They can tolerate and withstand far more physical, emotional and mental anguish then men can ever hope to. Sometimes I feel men try to repress women to feel adequate because they know that women are more stronger than them.

  4. Thank you, Yagana, for telling your story and that of your mother. These essays I’m reading, including yours, are teaching me more than I ever knew about life in Afghanistan and what it’s like to be a girl or woman there. Thank you for taking time to share. I wish health and opportunities for you and your mother.

  5. I really hope everything turned out well with your mother. Thank you for sharing, it takes a lot of guts to do that. Stay Strong

  6. Kristen says:

    Dear Yagana,
    I loved the story you shared regarding your mothers cancer. I’m a student in San Francisco, CA in America pursuing a degree in nursing. I have learned an incredible amount, not only in the sciences, but about how important global healthcare is. What happened to your mother was unacceptable from a healthcare professional and that inspires me to take pride in my education and pay attention to the details so people aren’t forced to suffer from mistakes. I hope you continue your education so you are able to take care of your mother and provide her with appropriate treatment, but more importantly for yourself. I’m sure your mother is very proud of you for becoming an independent and educated young woman that has the power to do whatever she wants in life. I hope your mother is doing well and you keep pushing through in your education.
    Best of Luck,

  7. shahira says:

    Dear Aunt,

    I am really happy to read your story I am really proud of you keep it up. It was showing your gread feeling about your Mom. Love you Grand Ma

    Thank you,
    Shahira Hafid

  8. Dear Yagana,
    I am Asma, Shahira’s friend from SOLA,
    I know it is very hard for you and I can feel you because my uncle and aunt have the same problem and I hope Allah cure them, Allah is great and he’ll cure them.
    Thank you for sharing your story about your mother
    Asma Miakhel

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