Resilience is a quality people learn along life's bumpy journey, some learn to bounce back quicker than others while some take time to discover their fighting spirit.
Ahmad Barghouti, 23, however, serves as a true example of the strength of the human soul. The American University of Sharjah (AUS) graduate was diagnosed with lymphoma — or cancer of the lymph nodes — aged 12 and has since triumphed over the disease not once or twice but four times.
"It's against all medical chances that I'm alive today and this has not been said to me but written about in medical reports," he says. "My whole experience has taught me resilience — that no matter what the obstacle, you can get through, with God's will of course."
The Jordanian national recently graduated from AUS with a bachelor's degree in finance after six years at university during which he battled three bouts of cancer. He now works as an external auditor for one of the world's Big Four accountancy firms.
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"I was at university for six years because I was in and out due to therapy," he said. "I've had three transplants in my life because the cancer came to me four times — of different kinds."
Lymphoma is a type of cancer of the lymphocytes, which are cells that form part of the immune system. It typically manifests as a tumour of the lymphoid cells.
"I had a big lump on my neck and doctors thought it was a virus and treated it with injections and antibiotics until one doctor decided to surgically remove it and test the lump," he said. "It took the doctors so long to figure out I actually had cancer that it'd spread everywhere in my body but fortunately it hadn't reached the bone marrow," Barghouti recalls.
His first brush with cancer while in the seventh grade saw him spend months undergoing chemotherapy and radiotherapy sessions. Eventually doctors at Tawam Hospital in Al Ain, where the only boy among three siblings had virtually become a resident in the paediatric ward, gave him the all-clear.
Then, aged 19, while in the second term of his first year at university, he came down with the flu. This led to the diagnosis of another rarer kind of lymphoma, which was treated with a bone marrow transplant in Austria. However, upon Barghouti and his family's return, his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and while she was being treated in Jordan, Barghouti found out his cancer was back in 2008. So he underwent another bone marrow transplant in Jordan with his sister as the donor.
Then, during the summer of 2009, while Barghouti was in summer school at university, a lump on his back signalled a fourth bout of cancer.
"We went to the cancer hospital in Jordan and after a biopsy we found it was lymphoma-leukaemia," he said. "The chemotherapist told us that my body is [a] cancer factory and it should stop trying to cure itself as we'd exhausted all types of defence."
The doctor gave him a medical prognosis of six months to live. "I don't know why, maybe because I'd just become numb to it, but in the doctor's office I was telling my mother who was crying to chill out," he said. "But on the car ride back it hit me like, what am I going to do now?"
Within hours his mother had found a new kind of treatment in Austria and had booked flights, hospital appointments and applied for visas. "In less than four days from that day in the hospital I was in Vienna," he said.
After his treatment during that phase, Barghouti decided to go for Umrah. The pilgrimage helped solidify his belief that he was cured once and for all.
‘Higher power energy'
"I went to Umrah and felt an energy I've never felt in my life," he said. "I don't know what to call it, but higher power energy was put into me and I knew that I was totally cured," he recalls.
It has been two years now since Barghouti got the all-clear from his doctors.
However, during his struggle, he has managed to graduate, having also accumulated 18 months of work experience while at university.
"Whether consciously or subconsciously, it [studies and work] gave me a purpose and a sense of, OK I'm continuing this because I'm going back to it," he said. "This is just a phase; I'm not going to stop anything because of this obstacle [cancer]."