When we deiced to have an issue about women empowerment, there was no better person to represent it more than Radwa Moussa-Youssef. Radwa is mostly known for being the mother of Zein, the young boy who has been battling with cancer since 2013. Radwa has been keeping up with a Facebook page to write about Zein’s journey, and recently published a book “Zein: The Story of Dark and Light” (Zein: Hekayet Atma w Nour).
Radwa Moussa-Youssef is a mother of three – two daughters and one son – but unlike most mothers, she is a cancer mom.
You would think that a mother who has been through all of that would be overwhelmed, depressed, or at least tired. Radwa was unlike how anyone would imagine; her known life is full of darkness, yet she was full of light.
Meeting Radwa, we asked ourselves so many questions. How does she keep going? How does she keep the faith? How does she keep up with the other two kids? More importantly, how is she doing?
“I’m doing really well,” said Radwa when I asked how she was. “This is a very good time in my life. Zein’s recent scans have been good, and I just launched my book. The book’s title is not a metaphor; I am truly in the “light” phase of my life. I’m grateful for where I am now, and I thank God for where I am now every day; I am blessed.”
I wanted to take a step back with Radwa before discussing her book and ask why she even started the “Zein” Facebook page.
“I believe in the power of prayer. I believe anyone who can pray or talk to God – no matter how they do it or what their religion is – will make a difference. That was the goal. I wanted people to pray for him. I wanted to reach out to a bigger community than my own.”
“I wasn’t invested in updating the page until 4 months into its launch when Zein had his treatment in San Francisco. It was very hard on me, because he was isolated for two weeks, and this was when I reached out to those on the page. I started reporting my feelings and writing updates on everything that was happening. It was very therapeutic for me.”
Social media has become an important part of our lives, and finding a story like Zein’s now on social media is not uncommon. We had to ask her if she ever felt pressured or obligated to post about Zein, or did she, in fact, want to update the page.
“It’s true; having the page for Zein was very uncommon. Many family members were confused by it and questioned why I am doing this publicly. But Zein’s page became bigger than me; it was a message that I had to keep delivering – for families going through similar situations, as well as my son.
Thankfully, however, I never felt pressured to update the page or anything similar. We always posted what we wanted, and that was it. Even when we did not feel like writing much – like when we’re just out of major surgery for instance – we would still want to update those who are praying for him, out of respect, and not because we’re obligated.”
We had to ask her about Zein and how he deals with the attention he gets. Radwa mentioned that at some point it got to is his head, but she makes sure to snap him back to reality.
“My family and I have a very strange sense of humor, and it helps us stay grounded. For instance, when Zein refuses to do his homework, we would laugh and say “Do you think because you have cancer, you’ll get away with not doing your homework?” We also make sure all the kids remain as far away as possible from social media. They are still kids, and they don’t need this in their lives. But I still make sure he sits and reads what people tell him on social media so he would appreciate what he has. He needs to understand that he has a whole army around him.”
Radwa is not the typical religious person, but she has a lot of faith. Her faith in God and belief in the power of prayer is what keeps her going. Ironically, some of us lose faith whenever we go through any inconvenience, yet she still keeps the faith during the most inconvenient situation one could be in. How does she do it?
“In the book, I share my life before Zein’s illness and you will know that this is not the first major inconvenience in my life. God showed me Himself in various ways, and every time I believe in Him more. If I learned anything, it’s that God will show me Himself in the way He sees right.
We’re all systemized to pray to God, and expect things to happen right away. For two years I kept praying, crying, doing everything I’m asked to do, yet Zein was not cancer free. I then realized that maybe God has another plan. Maybe Zein is not meant to be cured now, because his road to being cancer free is God’s plan for me. I realized that my relationship with my family grew, Zein grew, I had more friends, and my journey became an inspiring story that helped many people grow in their faith. More importantly, I still got what I wanted and Zein is now in remission. Everything I have been through is a blessing in disguise. I would have never signed up to go through it that way, but it’s still a blessing. The hard part, however, was keeping Zein’s faith. He is a kid and he doesn’t understand as much. Even we, as adults, had our questioning moments, imagine him? I discuss that in the book in details, but it was not easy for him.”
We might forget that aside from being “Zein’s mother” Radwa is a also woman with dreams and aspirations. One of her dreams was to become a published author. Radwa has always had an interest in writing, and we all saw that through her expressive posts on Facebook. It is no surprise to see her publish her first book now. We wanted to know how she decided to publish it, and learn all about her experience while writing it.
“I wrote the manuscript in English for myself. Through the years I kept updating it. I thought of publishing it but never had the time. Then I spoke with Al Dar Al Masriah Al Lubnaniah, the publishing house for the book, and they encouraged me to publish it. I, however, had to rewrite the whole book in Arabic, since they only publish in Arabic. Additionally, I felt like I needed to send this message in Arabic rather than in English.
In the States, people already have the know-how and guidance to dealing with similar situations. In Egypt, we don’t. I felt responsible for delivering the message for Egyptians and Middle Easterns.”