When Wassila Khattab learned she had Hodgkin lymphoma, her two biggest fears were needles and losing her long hair.
In May 2016, she was visiting her family in Egypt while on summer break from Monroe Community College. At a party, a friend noticed a lump on her neck, and by early July, Wassila began treatment.
Within a month, she knew she wanted to return to Rochester for her care. She was 20 years old. She wanted to have children some day, and she wanted to continue her studies in interior design.
“I just wanted to prove to myself that if I put something in my mind, I’ll do it,” she says.
When she left Egypt in August, she began preparing for chemotherapy at Wilmot. She cut 22 inches of her hair and worked out a treatment schedule with her team, led by Carla Casulo, M.D., that would allow her to continue her classes and her three jobs on the MCC campus.
“It was important to see myself doing things and not just being in bed,” Wassila recalls. “If I had 20 minutes of energy and wanted to do something, I would do it.”
She also warned her nurses about her fear of needles.
“They were great,” Wassila says. Whenever needles were involved, they would shield her from seeing them. “They also really understood the emotional side of treatment and would give you time to get through it.”
After four months of chemotherapy and 30 days of radiation, Wassila finished her treatment in January. She earned a scholarship for her spring semester, and she graduated from MCC in May.
Wassila still has her chemo-brain moments and doesn’t always have a lot of energy, but she’s glad for the lessons she learned along the way. Now, instead of being the one who plans every detail, she’s more spontaneous. Looking back, she’s learned how strong she can be and is determined to shape her future. She’s also growing her hair long again.
“I wouldn’t change being a cancer survivor for anything else.”