Syrian artist Reem Taki to Jawaher Al Shurooq: This is how I won over breast cancer and strengthened my relationship with art!

Suddenly and without any early signs, she found out she had breast cancer. She did not cry nor did she get depressed. On the contrary, her soul filled with hope and grace, thanking God because what she had was not worse than what other people have went through, and because it is not a chronic disease that will chase her for the rest of her life. It is the Syrian artist Reem Al Taki, who has visited Algeria to contribute to the miniature and illumination festival that was launched in Talmasan city. Jawaher Al Shurooq had a chance to meet Reem, the ideal mother, the good wife and the shining artist when it comes to miniatures, and so was this conversation that came at no better time -the pink breast cancer awareness month.

- How did you come to specialize in miniatures?
I was in love with painting nature, I used to paint Damascene houses and nature, but I did not follow this passion academically, in fact I studied French literature and I stayed home after that in order to raise my 3 children in Jordan for 20 years. But one day, and after nostalgic longing to painting, my little brush shined again to start painting a view of Jerusalem with some illumination, I recall watching on TV someone saying that women should take care of their skills and sharpen them, so I decided to grow my talent in miniatures, and that is when I found out I had breast cancer.

- You said you engaged in this art for a specific kind of miniatures that involves flowers and birds?
Yes, I had paintings that pulled me towards this theme, and it is known to be a standalone section of miniatures. My private teacher informed me that this part of miniatures needed almost a year to learn the basics, and so far I still feel the need to learn a lot more.

- How did you find out you had breast cancer?
I had no symptoms that could tell I had breast cancer, I was visiting my sister in USA, and while I was there she suggested that I go through a few tests and x-rays because my mom, my aunt and her three daughters had breast cancers, and I recalled my sister assuring my mom about her breast cancer after she went through chemotherapy and successfully won over cancer.

After going back to Jordan, the only thing my sister told me was that I had to re-do some tests in Amman because the x rays were not clear enough, I did the tests and the results were negative. Two years after that, my daughter was a senior student in medicine and after she randomly took a look at my reports, she found out that I had calcifications that were prone to mutate into cancer, she insisted that I re-do the tests and I did, the results came back negative again. Then we went to another cancer treatment center (Al Hussein) and I repeated the same tests with biopsy, and that is when the results came back positive.

-How did you receive the bad news?
At the time, my mother had come back from USA and I went with her to Syria where I stayed for 5 days, waiting in patience for my results. Finally in a phone call with my doctor she told me to keep the matter until I come back, but when I insisted, she told me I had cancer. I did not fear for myself, I actually had fear for my daughter for when she hears the news.

- How did your family react after finding out about the cancer?
I called my husband to inform him of the result, and my daughter was listening in on the line and she started crying. I came back to Jordan the following day to start receiving therapy, I recall hearing doctors saying that I had significant family history in terms of cancer, mentioning that all my family members who had cancer went through chemotherapy and successfully healed except a cousin of mine who got depressed and refused treatment, and later died.

-Can you tell us more about what you went through while doing chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy has numerous side effects that vary in terms of severity depending on the person, like vomiting, allergies, chronic exhaustion, shortness of breath, dry mouth, increased body temperature, mouth sores that result from lack of immunity, feeling bad in general, and hair loss, in addition to weight loss. I lost 9 Kilograms while doing therapy, but I regained them back after I healed.

-How were you able to live with the disease?
Since I love to draw, and I had a lot of time due to inability to do house work, I decided to spend my time painting. In this period I had passed my 3 months of chemotherapy, and I began radiotherapy, which despite being a lot easier than chemotherapy, still caused lack of sleep. I spent day and night painting. And I hired a private Persian art teacher to teach me miniatures at home, which helped me get past the disease, I had high spirits and felt in a way like no other.

- What do you advise other women who have breast cancer, or any other type of cancer?
I advise any woman who has cancer to know and receive this will of God well, and know that the result of what we go through today will reaped tomorrow. God does not test us unless he has hidden something beautiful that embellishes our selves, and satisfies our eyes. Sometimes when we hear meaningless conversations like "if that person was good, then why did they get this disease?" we should avoid focusing on them or we will surely despair. God does not oppress his creatures, every test that we go through has a wisdom that God knows behind it, and my relationship with art is my example, if I hadn't gone through cancer I would not have stayed up all those nights doing my paintings, where also socially my relationship with my husband has become stronger as he felt the warning once that he was going to lose me, so he came to encourage me to paint more than ever.

Women with cancer should fill their time with things they love to do, or hobbies they prefer. & it is very important that they become convinced that cancer is like many other diseases, in the term that it mainly needs therapy & follow-through. After that, the suffering ends and hair regrows and everything goes back into place! I remember when my hair used to fall because of chemotherapy, I was not sad, instead I put a hat on my head that looked cute. Everybody liked how I looked with the hat, and some of my relatives even started wearing ones just like it for me.

Sumayya Sa'aada
28th Oct 2014


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