Nomina Akhtar continues to work for polio eradication while battling stage-3 breast cancer
Muhammad Shoaib, Communications Officer
When the news of cancer hit, Nomina Akhtar felt her world collapse. It was also discovered too late. By the time she knew, it was already stage-3 breast cancer.
Nomina had been a Community Health Worker for six years by then, which meant being surrounded by a network of friendship and camaraderie with other polio workers. This network has given her the support to carry on. And at age 43, Nomina, a mother of three, battles cancer while continuing to work for polio eradication.
“I gathered my courage and thought I will fight till the end and live for my children. All my family, colleagues and seniors were with me whenever I needed support. That gave me courage and made me believe that I could, in fact, beat cancer.”
Based in Peshawar, Nomina has been the sole breadwinner for her family since 2020 when the pandemic forced lockdowns in the city. Her husband, a motorcycle mechanic, had to close down his shop that has yet to reopen. Nomina’s husband and her three children, aged 18, seven and six, now completely rely on her income.
A life with cancer has been both physically and emotionally exhausting. She is undergoing both radiation and chemotherapy in Peshawar’s Hayatabad. This means a commute of almost 20 kilometers after a whole day’s work.
“When I have to go for chemotherapy after work, it becomes very draining. I have to take public transport and wait at the hospital for hours. There are times when I have to return without treatment because either the machine is faulty or something else comes up. This treatment regime along with the medicine will continue for at least five years. It’s excruciatingly painful,” she says.
The polio programme has been a source of great strength. “My colleagues are like my extended family, I’m like a sister to them. When I found out about my cancer, they wept with me. They have stood by my children and myself every step of the way.” Nomina added.
The supervisor of her area, Uzma Mansoor, says that when they first heard the news, they were devastated. “But it’s great to see that she hasn’t lost hope and is fighting the disease like a champion.”
The community she works in has also been incredibly supportive. “Some of the people in my target community came to know about my illness and appreciate the fact that despite fighting cancer, I come to their doorstep. Irrespective of extreme temperatures and illness, I’m there to vaccinate their children and protect them from this life-threatening disease. Their support has increased manifold after this, says Nomina.
Sahibullah, the Union Council Polio Officer of her area, says not only did Nomina not allow her work to suffer but she remains among the best workers. “She is a role model for all.”
“It was God’s will and we will face it with courage,” says her husband Aurangzeb Akhtar. “Despite being ill, Nomina is the one who keeps us going. She is working and earning for our family as well as motivating us to not lose hope. Both me and our children are so proud of her. Inshallah she will get well very soon.”
Nomina has strong conviction. She is fighting cancer and polio simultaneously, and is determined that she will defeat both very soon. “At least cancer has treatment,” she says. “Polio is incurable.”