A Father's Tale: Q&A Navigating Fatherhood Through Illness

Fathers from GOSH International

At Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH), we have many families from the Middle East. This Middle Eastern Father's Day, it's time to shine a spotlight not only on the fathers but also on the families who come together to support their children during their toughest battles with illness.  


Many of our fathers from the region stay at our hospital with their children alone for many months, but there are also many cases where both parents join forces to provide dedicated care and love. Their journey is one of collective strength and the utmost devotion to their children's well-being. 


Today, we speak with David, father of Zara, and Samy, father of Lulu, both residing in the United Arab Emirates with their families. Zara and Lulu, both former cancer patients at GOSH, have inspiring stories of resilience and recovery. We hear from David and Samy about their families' experiences supporting their daughters through illness. Their words shed light on the profound lessons learned, the memorable moments cherished, and the transformative impact these experiences have had on their perspectives on fatherhood. 

Q&A with GOSH International Alumni Parents - David and Samy

Question 1: Reflecting on your experience, what has been the most significant lesson you've learned as a father while supporting your child through their journey in the hospital?


David: There are so many things I learned from our experience that it is very difficult to hold one up as the most significant. Firstly, it's incredible how our children demonstrate resilience beyond what we imagine, especially when they're unwell. They cling to their childlike joy, teaching us to embrace life fully, no matter the circumstances, and remind us of the importance of radiating love and positivity. Additionally, regardless of how we might be feeling, our children draw from our emotions. However, if I had to reduce it down to one lesson, it would be the importance of cherishing our time together.


Samy: Be patient, think through the challenges one step at a time, and do not get overwhelmed by the many challenges you will face during the treatment journey.


Question 2: Can you share a memorable moment or interaction with your child during your time in the hospital that has stayed with you?


David: Zara was only just a year old when she was diagnosed, and she spent most of the time up to her 2nd birthday as an inpatient. When she wasn’t, we would try to take her out to parks as much as possible, as she loves being outside, especially then. Due to her chemotherapy, her appetite and tastes were badly affected. One of the only things she would always eat was soft serve vanilla ice cream. On one of her outpatient periods, we walked to St James's Park with Zara in the pushchair. We found a spot on the grass, laid a blanket down, and set her on it. As we were enjoying the park, I spotted an ice cream seller, which was unexpected because it was still quite cold in spring. I went over to get her an ice cream, and Dana (mum) took a video of Zara while I was doing that. In the video, she is clearly looking for me, saying 'Papa?' The moment she sees me, she slaps her legs with excitement and says 'Papa' again. When I walked back with an ice cream in hand, I initially thought her excitement was for the treat. However, upon later viewing the video, I realised her joy was for me, and it melted my heart. It’s one of my favourite videos, and I revisit it from time to time because her emotion and what it triggers for me are so beautifully pure.


Samy: There are many, but the most memorable one is when she came back from the operating room crying and looking around for me. She goes quiet once I hug her despite what she has been through. Her feeling safe once I'm around her, despite all that she was going through, was a big thing for me to keep going and not fall apart.


David and Zara ringing the bell at the end of her treatment

Question 3: How has this experience shaped your perspective on fatherhood and your relationship with your child?


David: Zara’s illness fundamentally changed our lives. It put things into perspective, making me more 'zen.' A promise I made at the time was to tell Zara and now her younger sister that I love them every chance I get. Every night when I kiss Zara goodnight, I tell her that I am the proudest Daddy in the world, proud of how strong she is, how brave she is, how caring she is, and how sweet she is. I tell her she makes my heart sing. It makes her smile every time, and I hope to do this for the rest of our lives.


Samy: This was a shaking experience for me; it changed me completely. All the time of uncertainty, all the difficulties, and how we were able to find our way through it made me a completely different person. It sounds like easy talk now, but it was tough. Today, she came out of the treatment with a lot of complexities that still live with her, but I'm blessed she is here, and I'm more focused on what I can help her with rather than crying over the complexities she has.

Lulu and Samy whilst in London

What values or insights do you hope to carry forward from this journey?


David: Being a parent to a seriously ill child is one of the most exclusive and probably the most painful clubs in the world. There is a particular pain to being a father as a traditional (and probably dated) upbringing has taught us that we are supposed to be the ones to make sure the big picture is fine, yet nothing compares to the powerlessness you feel when your child is battling for their life and there is nothing you can do. You pray to take the suffering yourself, to be able to donate any organ as it would mean that you are practically doing something for them. I pray for and admire all the mothers and fathers in that situation.


Samy: For everyone in such a journey, I can say I feel what you are going through—the pain and suffering of your little ones. It is something that will keep you having mixed feelings about everything around you, starting with questioning why me, why my little one? But now, after all we have been through, I have a different perspective on life. Tolerance and understanding of my surroundings have completely changed for the better.

Celebrating Fatherhood

A heartfelt thank you to David and Samy for their honest, invaluable, and touching insights. Let's celebrate the fathers who, amidst struggles, stand strong beside their children in hospital wards. Whether alone or sharing the responsibility, their love knows no bounds. Let's honour their sacrifices, resilience, and commitment to their children's well-being. Happy Father's Day. 

If you want to know more about Zara and Lulu’s cancer journeys, you can read more about Zara’s story here and Lulu’s story here. 

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