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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

Teenage cancer survivor brings hope to Sharjah book fair

Sharifa Al Haqbani launches her second book at Sharjah International Book Fair

Sharifa Al Haqbani's books aims to bring hope to families affected by cancer.
Sharifa Al Haqbani's books aims to bring hope to families affected by cancer.

For Sharifa Al Haqbani, it started at the age of nine, when she started losing her appetite. Her mother’s variety of rice and meat dishes, which Sharifa was normally so fond of, were picked at as opposed to being wiped clean. Then came the stabs of pain in her legs followed by sporadic loss of sensation. Her parents’ concern grew when she felt nothing after being placed under a hot shower.

After a series of examinations at a Riyadh hospital, their worst fears came true when Sharifa was diagnosed with the early onset of leukaemia – a cancer of the blood and bone marrow.

“It was a big shock to the family and to me of course, because I was so young,” she says. “It was also very hard for my parents because we didn’t have much knowledge of the condition and because, generally, the idea in our societies is that cancer means death, which is not always the case.”

Indeed, Sharifa is a testament to survival and resilience, and, more importantly, hope.

It’s the latter message which is behind the Saudi author’s new book Bil Amel Al Hayat Ajmel (With hope, life is more beautiful) which she launched at Sharjah International Book Fair on Saturday. The book is a worthy companion piece to last year’s debut, Rag’mel Alem, Yabqa Al Al Amel (Despite the pain, there is hope), but where the first book is a collection of her diary entries undergoing treatment, the second is a collection of anecdotes sent to her from fellow young cancer survivors.

Complemented by her social media account which traces her cancer recovery, Sharifa has been hailed across Saudi society as an inspiration and has been dubbed “the ambassador of cancer survivors”.

Sharifa, who is now 14-years-old, explains that it just began through her trying to make sense of her situation.

“It was difficult because there were all these meetings with doctor and treatments,” she says. “So I just thought that I should write what I am feeling down, and when I did, I felt much better.

“I never thought that this would be a book. That came later, over a year ago, and then I introduced the idea to my dad who also agreed that it would be good.”

Watching his daughter sign autographs of her books, at the Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Knowledge Fund book stand, Mohammed Al Haqbani says: “I am very proud of course, because she achieved her goal despite what she went through.”

He says he sought to get Sharifa’s work published

immediately, in order to educate families across the region.

“Everybody needs to learn more about this because that way you can help those who are going through this disease,” he says. “Families in Saudi Arabia and the GCC are not knowledgeable when it comes to cancer in general.

“We just think that when someone has it, then their days are numbered, and we have to change that perception. There is lots of treatment but the most important is to have hope. I look at my daughter here and she is a daily reminder of hope to us.”

Sharifa has been given the all-clear for cancer, but she remains vigilant. Because of her interaction with the crowds at the Sharjah International Book Fair, she wears a face mask to avoid contracting any cold or flu viruses, or any other infections.

“I just feel happy and satisfied,” says the young writer.

“All praise to God for allowing me to be here. I am glad that my story is helping people. That is the best feeling.”

Bil Amel Al Hayat Ajmel and Rag’mel Alem, Yabqa Al Al Amel, both by Sharifa Al Haqbani, are published by Obeikon and are available to buy at the Sharjah International Book Fair

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