Beating the Odds

Zein and his family

Children's Cancer Research Fund Stories

When we say “against all odds”, what do we really mean? Does it mean that we defeated a concept? Won a battle against some well-studied mathematical perimeters and statistics? That we were part of an unexpected miracle (if you are like me and still believe in miracles)? Or, all the above?

Lately, the idea of numbers and statistics has been surfacing in my life more than usual. Twenty percent chance of survival is not a small percent, it is the only percent that we grasped onto as the definition of hope. The number 38 is not just the scary number of kids exposed to a limited clinical trial, but instead the silver lining at the end of a really dark tunnel.

A few weeks ago, I sat down through a full day of detailed analysis to assess my son’s abilities after fighting stage 4 cancer twice and dealing with a set of disabilities.

 It was intense and mentally exhausting, but in my book, a piece of cake! After all, what is an 8-hour day of questions and answers versus living in the hospital surrounded by IVs and chemo?

Results came in a couple of weeks later, and I had to sit down to listen details that didn’t surprise me, yet shook me!  I knew the struggles he had after cancer, I knew the disabilities he was left with, I knew the areas that he had to push extra hard, more than any other normal kid his age.  Hearing all of it labeled in scientific terms wasn’t the easiest, nor the happiest moment of my life.

So, after breaking down, getting the ugly cry out in the hospital bathroom, feeling defeated like heck… I washed my face, thanked God for the person who invented concealer, saved some of my face with makeup and went out like nothing happened.

On my drive back home, the words kept ringing in my ears: Words like “percentage of acceleration, numbers of progress, statistical delay, expected struggle,” and I couldn’t help but wonder, who dictates that certain parameters define a successful person more than another?

I understand there are studies and science and all. But what if one person can only excel in one area and another person can multitask? What makes person #2 more successful than person #1?  And why is it that we always think of areas of weakness as disabilities instead of empowering those same exact weaknesses to become strengths and develop more self-confidence?

Based on the typical book of life, my son beat the odds! My family beat the odds! I beat the odds! We together fought stage 4 cancer not once but twice, and he is a living, breathing, talking and walking miracle. But the odds are endless in this life, and it all comes down to the power of our mind to either use it in our favor or against us.

Radwa and Zein

In the picture above, we celebrated him reaching the final level of BOB (Battle of the Books). He managed to read the books, test and fail and test again probably a hundred times, make the deadline and finally compete with his peers. Because, of course, the regular AR (accelerated reading program) was not enough to increase my stress level this school year, my achievement seeker son had to sign up for yet another academic challenge . Yet, what I thought was just a kid who didn’t like reading, is actually a kid whose brain works one thousand times harder than any average kid his age to recall the details, test and pass.

Yes, it did take sweat, blood and tears to reach that deadline and take this happy picture. I may or may not have prayed to God, crossed my fingers and tossed some wishing coins that he never wants to join this competition again.  But at the end of the day, he did it! We did it! We beat the odds!

The odds were completely against us, seriously something as simple as reading books is now added to the list of things cancer stole from us.

Yet, by the grace of God, Zein’s persistence, my husband’s support that I wouldn’t quit and completely go insane… we made a choice.

We figured ways around the challenge, we read the books while acting them out, we did role playing and took our time (our sweet old time) in each book, we wrote notes, we googled quiz questions and reviewed each chapter as we went. Even his grades showed tremendous improvement, and he is graduating fourth grade as an honor roll kid with a report card of As and Bs.

Driving from the hospital that day, feeling defeated and overwhelmed, my mind kept drifting in two  directions. The darkest side of the “what ifs” and “how will he survive the odds,” and the other side wondering “What odds? We create the freakin’ odds!” We utilize them, work with them, embrace them and accept them.

So, after the dust settled, and I had a clear moment to reflect and think, I wrote the following on my vision board to serve as a fresh reminder every day: may it bring peace and determination to you, as I hope it brings to me.

“Occasionally, and in different phases, life can conspire to break and beat us. The odds are for others to study and create, the results, however, are for us to achieve and enjoy!”

Written by Radwa Moussa-Youssef
Radwa is busy being a full-time mom for three kids, one of which is a childhood cancer survivor, Zein. She is also a business owner, a co-founder and program director for a nonprofit organization and she is proud to say, “I wear many hats daily! One hat needed some love in order to come out of my personal comfort zone which is…writing!”

Share your story for Giving Tuesday

The #MyGivingStory contest encourages individuals to share their stories (written or video) in an online gallery. Stories could be about giving money, time, skills, or goods. Your story could mean a grant of up to $10,000 for Children’s Cancer Research Fund.

Share your story