In her book, “My Journey of Defiance,” Maha Naim Kalaji presents her story as one of resilience and persistence in the face of cancer – one of the deadliest chronic diseases known to the world today. Maha Kalaji was “born in Amman on January 2, 1958 to her Jordanian parents Naim Mustafa Kalaji and Ilham Said Khalifeh.” After receiving her elementary training in Jordan, she moved to England to pursue her middle and high school education, and received her BA in Psychology thereafter, returning to Jordan in 1979. Both of her parents had passed away due to cancer. Her father was diagnosed with cancer of the kidney in 1984 and passed away ten days later, while her mother was diagnosed with lung cancer in December 1991 and passed away shortly after.
Indeed, it is with this background that Maha Naim Kalaji was herself diagnosed with breast cancer in April of 1993, at only 35 years of age. As she relates in her book, after returning from a business trip in England and France, she noticed a lump in her breast and immediately called her doctor the next morning blurting on the phone, “I have cancer.” Unlike many cancer patients, Maha had expected cancer – both of her parents had died of it, and four of her cousins were diagnosed with it. Yet, throughout her book, one learns of the importance of facing up to life’s challenges.
Maha says it best when she relates, “Life has taught me to believe that we are born with our illnesses, and the legacy of every successful life is how effectively we rise to meet the challenges of that illness.” Rather than give in to our fears, Maha teaches us how to control them, a skill that gave her the courage and ability to survive years of chemotherapy.
The book outlines, in detail, Maha’s experiences with cancer and her fight against the disease, touching patients and non-patients alike. What makes her journey all the more admirable is the social context within which the book is written and that within which Maha lives. Cancer, in some social circles in Jordan, is still taboo, and in her book, readers learn of a cancer patient who was receiving treatment at the King Hussein Cancer Center without even knowing she had cancer – all she knew was that she needed treatment. Needless to say, Maha felt that reading about all aspects of cancer and being aware of her health status led her to make more informed decisions and take better care of her body.
After making an appearance about her journey with cancer across three continents (she was receiving treatment in all of Jordan, England and the States), Maha became a source of support to many cancer patients and a haven for those who had unanswered questions. Volunteering at the King Hussein Cancer Center, which she describes as a state-of-the-art educational and training center, Maha became a source of inspiration to many of Jordan’s cancer patients, helping break social barriers to confront and battle the disease together.
Although Maha’s journey is far from over, seventeen years after having been diagnosed with cancer three different times, she continues to battle this disease with a positive outlook on life and more courage and resilience than one could fathom. Her experiences are a mix of emotional drawbacks and physical and mental endurance.
Undoubtedly, each one of us could learn from this inspirational book. If anything, this book teaches us to treasure every moment we have, every day we wake up alive and all the relationships we have with the people around us.