Book Review: An A-Z of dealing with breast cancer

This book is for anyone who has been diagnosed with breast cancer and needs a companion.
Updated 17 October 2017
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Book Review: An A-Z of dealing with breast cancer

Veteran broadcast journalist Madhulika Sikka was preparing for an interview with Barack Obama with her team at NPR News when she was told she had breast cancer. She was immediately inundated with literature about mastectomies, chemotherapy, nutrition and drugs.
However, “none of this information really helped me — me the woman; me the mother; me the wife. Me. Nothing prepared me for the emotional loss of my hair…Nothing clued me in to the fact that I would be so exhausted, I would flop on my couch like a rag doll…Women with breast cancer are expected to be upbeat…We are constantly told that we can beat the cancer, but when you are actually going through the treatment, you often feel helpless as the true effects take hold,” Sikka wrote.
So, she decided to deal with this problem as any journalist would — by expressing her feelings and reactions through the written word. Her friends thought it was something worth sharing and encouraged her to continue writing. The resulting book, “A Breast Cancer Alphabet,” is “for anyone who has been diagnosed with breast cancer and needs a companion,” she wrote.
Sikka opted for a blunt and truthful style. During an interview, Sikka said: “In my book, I use the word ‘amputation’ to describe the removal of my breast. We all seem comfortable with using the medical term ‘mastectomy’ but if you use the word ‘amputation,’ people are shocked. Yet to me, that is exactly what it felt like. It’s funny that, in this case, the medical term is the less challenging one for folks to deal with.”
This A-to-Z guide to living with breast cancer is a practical and informative aid that will help sufferers cope, from diagnosis to treatment. Despite the seriousness of the topic, the tone is light and tinged with humor.
The first letter stands for anxiety. It comes in the form of nausea, a thumping heartbeat and an upset stomach. Anxiety management is a difficult challenge and one should get all the help one needs. The problem with anxiety is that it does not go away because once you have cancer, you are always wondering whether it will come back. Whenever you feel pain, you believe that it could be your cancer returning
C is for “Cancerland.” In Cancerland, anyone can be your fellow traveler. Cancer strikes the young, old, rich, poor, male, female, white and black — anyone, anywhere at anytime. “Even the most experienced health care professionals don’t know what it is like to feel as tired as you will during chemotherapy or how bloated you will feel on steroids or the extent to which a mastectomy really hurts.
“This is precisely why it is worth seeking out the counsel of others who have been to Cancerland, so that they can share some of their experiences with you,” she wrote.
D is for drugs. Right from the beginning, Sikka drills this mantra into our heads: “Drugs are our friend.” Chemotherapy offers our best chance of survival, she says. A toxic cocktail of drugs is pumped into the patient’s body, but she believes it is one of the blessings of modern-day medicine.
Breast cancer is the top cancer in women worldwide and is increasing, particularly in developing countries where the majority of cases are diagnosed in the late stages. According to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, advancements in breast cancer screening and treatment have contributed to a 38 percent decline in breast cancer-related deaths in the US. Getting the right treatment at the right dose and at the right time not only improves a patient’s chance of survival, but can also reduce the side effects of chemotherapy.
When Sikka was asked if she found it difficult to limit herself to 26 topics, she answered: “You know, it was actually hard to come up with all 26. When I first had the idea of an alphabet, I wrote some sample essays and they made perfect sense. It was when I was faced with the prospect of going through the whole alphabet that I realized how hard that was going to be.”
Readers may wonder why Sikka chose to dedicate her chapter on the letter P to a pillow. It all started when she received an unusual delivery — a giant foam wedge pillow from her friend Jennifer, herself a double-mastectomy patient. This pillow is shaped like a giant wedge of cheese and was so useful to the author on the day she returned home after her mastectomy that she included it in the book. This pillow, thanks to its shape, helped her lie in bed with her torso elevated at an angle.
“Really, in a million years, I never would have thought this. It has been a lifesaver, the anchor pillow in a group of pillows that contributed to my comfort during the worst periods after surgery and during recovery...In a time of enormous discomfort, pillows are an indulgence that you can afford and they actually make a difference. Who knew?”
T is for therapy, but not the sort of therapy readers may have expected. The author watched episode after episode of British costume drama “Downton Abbey” to escape from her everyday life.
W is for warrior. In this section, Sikka criticizes the way cancer victims are expected to be upbeat during their treatment. Women diagnosed with cancer are pressured to fight this disease. “I find this attitude troubling because it implies that if you do not survive that somehow you didn’t fight hard enough — as if it were your fault,” she wrote.
This book tells you that it is okay to cry without stopping, okay to be angry and okay to say aloud that you feel awful. This book tells you what you should know about breast cancer from a woman who has been through it all.
“Everyone’s cancer is unique, but my hope is that this book has provided a little something for each of you,” Sikka concluded.


Creating a real brew-haha: The trendsetting Jeddah coffee shop

Brew92°: A perfect place to hang out for the day. (AN photo by Ziyad Alarfaj )
Updated 19 July 2018
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Creating a real brew-haha: The trendsetting Jeddah coffee shop

  • Brew92° has been generating a lot of buzz since its soft opening in July 2016
  • The team at the cafe sources beans from some of the best growers and suppliers in the world, then roasts them in their own private roastery

JEDDAH: Coffee aficionados in Jeddah have probably heard the name Brew92° whispered in reverent tones as a suggestion for the perfect place to hang out for the day, or just to pop into for a quick caffeine fix.

The specialty cafe has also introduced Saudi Arabia to the world of coffee bean auctions. In June 2018 it paid $105 for a pound of Gori Gesha beans at the annual Gesha Village Coffee Estate auction in Ethiopia, the highest price ever paid for African beans.

Brew92° has been generating a lot of buzz since its soft opening in July 2016, attracting coffee drinkers of all ages to try its consistent and powerful blends. The team at the cafe sources beans from some of the best growers and suppliers in the world, then roasts them in their own private roastery. 

Arab News was given a special behind-the-scenes glimpse of the process to see how the beans are prepared and processed to make the perfect cup of coffee. All of the roasts they create are tasted blind, for example, without the tasters knowing the origin of the beans, to avoid any bias in their opinions on the taste and quality. “There’s no absolute, there are only guidelines,” is the motto the team behind Brew92° live by.

The idea for the place came from co-founder Abdul Aziz Al-Musbahi, who often frequented a coffee shop when he spent a few years in London studying and decided he would like to open a branch in Saudi Arabia. The owner declined to do so but instead offered to teach him all he knew about coffee beans and roasting.

Later, Al-Musbahi met business partner Hussain Ibrahim and suggested opening a roastery. Instead of immediately finding premises and starting work, Al-Musbahi set about finding and recruiting the best talents, before starting to develop the brand. He built and invested in a solid, capable team, the members of which trained with coffee consultants.

“I’ve been in this field since 2005,” said Ibrahim. “What I learned in the two years with Brew92° beats what I learned in the 10 years before it and the 10 years ahead.”

The name of the place, he added, was decided during a trip he and Al-Musbahi took to Dubai.

“The perfect water temperature for brewing is between 90 and 96 degrees Celsius; 92 is kind of in the middle — and it is the year in which Abdul Aziz was born.”

The team’s creative mastermind, Mohamed Bamahriz, has a theory about why the cafe is proving so popular.

“It’s because we’re addressing our customer’s five senses,” he said. 

Bamahriz noted: “We have our customized music playlist based on the time of the day and what sort of ambiance the customer is looking for whenever they come here, be it early in the morning or with slumped shoulders after working hours.”

“We also tailored our decor to be visually friendly and cozy,” he said and added: “Our visitors not only enjoy the coffee, they get to smell it and be completely submerged within the experience.”

“A month from now, we will also be introducing fashionable merchandise, which is something they can touch. We want to create a brand but we don’t want it to be niche and exclusive. Just like (our intention for) specialty coffee when we first introduced it, we want it to be for everyone; we want to create a sense of community and we want to prove that we can all coexist.”

He said that something he loves about Brew92° is that he can look around and see a man wearing a thobe sitting next to another in shorts and a third in a suit, while girls in niqabs sit side by side with others wearing the hijab and those who not — and it does not matter at all because everyone is equal.

The cafe also aims to be a trendsetter, rather than just following them.

“We’ve created quite a bit of hype with our salted caramel drink,” said marketing director Nidal Taha. It is called Halawa Bagara in Arabic, named after the popular caramel fudge that has a special place in the childhood memories of millennials. “We invented it by mixing coffee with it — after all, we’re not a juice shop,” added Taha.

“Many cafes are now trying to recreate it,” said Ibrahim. “Suppliers are bringing caramel sauces from all over the place. Our aim is to make it a signature drink everywhere, just like the Spanish introduced the Spanish latte — we want our drinks to reach the rest of the world.”