life-stories-series-Umaima-hissah-Abu Dhabi

Tell me a bit about yourself. What do you want the world to know about YOU?

My name is Umaima Tinwala. I am originally from India, but I have lived in Dubai for about 15 years now. I am a journalist by profession for close to over 17 years. I run my own consultancy, so I provide content for people. I am a single mother. I have a beautiful, wonderful 12-year-old daughter who is my pride and joy.

Describe a typical day in your life.

My day starts at around 6:30am. I wake up and prepare breakfast, pack a lunch for my daughter. I have my cup of tea which is extremely important for me! I can’t start my day without my tea. I organize all of that, wake up my daughter, we get ready and leave the house. Then I drop her to school and I go to the office. I work with a digital marketing agency so I stay there for about half the day. Then I pick up my daughter from school, come home, we have lunch and then I continue working from home. If I need to go out for some meetings or events I do that, otherwise I am at home on my computer. That’s how a normal routine day goes for me.

What was one of the biggest challenges you faced during your journey to where you are today?

I am a breast cancer survivor. I was diagnosed in early 2014 after I discovered a lump. I had surgery and then a year-long treatment with chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and many other things. I am still on hormonal medication. It has been very tough. A couple of years before being diagnosed, I had lost my own mother and aunt to cancer. It has been something in my family and we have suffered a lot due to it. Therefore, when I found out I had cancer it was very difficult and very scary. My concern was for my father and sister who had already been through the loss of my mother. I didn’t know what would happen to me. I missed my mother so much, and I was not ready to accept that my daughter, who was my priority, would lose me. I could not leave her. I had to stay very strong and I had to fight. I was very lucky that I discovered it at stage 1, so I could beat it with the right treatment protocol.

The biggest challenge I faced was trying to create an environment that somehow felt normal, especially for my daughter who was 9 at the time I was diagnosed. It is just the two of us and we are very close so, though she was very young, I wanted to take the approach in which she was aware and informed of what was going on. I wanted to make her a part of my journey rather than keeping her away or hiding things from her. I think that if she would hear things from other people, or read things about cancer that weren’t relevant to me, it would scare her even more. So, this was a big challenge for me, especially in moments of weakness during my treatment and the pain, I had to constantly remind myself to be strong and stay positive and smiling. Everything that happened to me affected her. On the flipside, this worked out well for me because her presence forced me to stay happy and positive. This went a long way in me getting better and recovering faster. I don’t think I would have managed otherwise, I would have broken down. She was my motivation and inspiration. She is the reason for everything.

Who would you describe as a role model and why?

In terms of role models, I would say it would be my father. He is someone I greatly love, admire and respect. He is a very progressive-minded person. I grew up in India, and amidst a very traditional and conservative environment. He had 2 daughters, my sister and myself and when people would tell him to have a son he would always respond by saying that we are enough for him. He educated us and always pushed us towards independence and to be capable to fend for ourselves. My sister has a PhD in clinical psychology and I am a journalist. He inspired us to do that.

What I admire most about him is his dedication towards his family. My mother battled cancer for 10 years and during that time he was with her throughout. She didn’t spend a single day in the hospital when he was not with her. His whole life revolved around her hospital visits, treatment, and just being there for her. He didn’t leave her side. It is something amazing and rare, not a lot of people can do that. I think that has really made him a hero for us. He was the same with me when I fell sick. He took charge of everything. He still maintains my medical files, does all the copying and organizing. He is just always, always there which I think is very rare in this day and age.

Tell us one thing about you that most people don’t know.

Going through my cancer journey, as a single mother with the responsibility of a little child – everyone always told me how strong I was. I have been told that so often I can’t even tell you. But probably what most people don’t know is that I’m not strong at all. I am very emotional and weak. The only thing that I did do was constantly remind myself that I just didn’t have a choice. Weakness was not a choice for me. People think I don’t cry, I don’t feel sad. I don’t feel defeated or dejected. That is not true. I do feel all that but those are very private moments for me – there are very few people who I do show that side to.

What is one piece of advice about how to cope with challenges/struggles you face in life that you would like to give to the world?

As I was telling you about my daughter, and how she became my motivation and inspiration – I think that is what I want to share with the world. We do have moments in our lives when we feel defeated but we need to reach out and find that motivation. We need to find that reason – why are we doing what we are doing? Why do we want what we want? Once that is clear in our head it automatically pushes us towards that and to do whatever is needed to achieve that.

I think we need to stop putting this pressure on us that we need to be the best and the strongest. Another thing I learned in my illness is that we place too many expectations on ourselves. I was this person who was so independent, doing everything for myself. When I got sick, I realized it is okay to ask for help. It is ok to let other people take care of you. Sometimes we have this ego issue about these things. We tend to think that taking help from someone will make them think that they are doing us a favor. But so what? Doing someone a favor makes them feel good that they are doing something nice for you, so what is the harm in that? It is all a matter of perspective!

What is ONE word that you feel defines you? (It could be your profession, a personality trait, or a quality you possess).

One word that I feel describes me is: survivor. I know there are people out there in this world who have been through much worse than what I have been through. But from a bad marriage, to losing my mother, to battling cancer, and to raising a small child on my own – it has been a journey that I feel that I survived. I turned 40 a few months ago, and I felt like I have crossed a milestone. I have survived and made it through these obstacles Allah has placed in my life. I have survived all the positives and all the negatives.