Sameer Ali Ahmed: Conquering Cancer and Mountains

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AngelPolacco

Written by: Umanga Perera

The whole concept of Climb Over Cancer Qatar is to be able to overcome your difficulties by ‘climbing over them’. It doesn't have to be a mountain, it could also be something as simple as riding a bike.

We recently met up with Sameer Ali Ahmed, founder of Climb Over Cancer Qatar, an organization set up to prove to the world that people who have, or had, cancer can do incredible things, like climb Mount Aconcagua over a 15 day summit for example.

Ahmed is a normal person just like us. You couldn’t tell that he had suffered from 2 bouts of cancer and had just climbed up a 23,000ft mountain last year. 

Ahmed was first diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma when he was in his last semester at University of Ontario Institute of Technology in Canada (UOIT) at the young age of 24. As most cancers start out as a fever along with flu-like symptoms, he didn't think much of it when the cancer started to show itself in the beginning, casting it aside as a regular old flu that everyone gets once in awhile. The fever went away quickly but it kept coming back, again and again. 

Ahmed had lost a lot of weight along with most of his appetite, his energy was drained, he was constantly tired and was simultaneously suffering from night sweats. All this happened gradually so he had started getting used to the symptoms even though it was getting progressively worse. 

He thought it was normal to wake up in the middle of the night covered in cold sweat. Ahmed went to the doctor to ask about what was happening to him but he was asked to wait a couple of days and come back later if he still had the fever, and only then would the doctors perform the necessary tests. This is common practice with visiting clinics in Canada, particularly if you have flu-like symptoms. It would’ve been a long and tedious process overall.

Ahmed’s parents were working here in Qatar so when he came to visit for the summer they were shocked at his state of health. They took him to several private and public clinics here in Qatar, but Hamad hospital was the only institution with the proper facilities to execute a biopsy in order to diagnose him. However, the wait list was over a month long and time was of essence to Ahmed as his situation only worsened, so he and his parents flew to India (as it was closer than Canada) to get the procedure done. 

Within a week of continuous tests, he was diagnosed with Stage 4 B Hodgkin's Lymphoma which was, according to his doctor, the best type of cancer you could be diagnosed with because the likelihood of survival was very high, even though it was at such an advanced stage.

During the course of treatment Ahmed felt like he was isolated. Sessions and sessions of chemotherapy made him put his life on hold for six months and that was the hardest part for him. 

He returned to Canada and everything seemed fine at first. Ahmed resumed school to study whatever he missed out on, and got sick again with the same kind of symptoms but fortunately this time they were able to diagnose him much quicker.

With Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, the standard treatment is a stem cell transplant, which is legal in Canada. The transplant was a stunning success and he recently celebrated his fifth anniversary of beating cancer. 

After the surgery Ahmed was also determined to get his strength back. 

“Ever since my recovery I’ve been working on my body. When I was little I loved playing basketball so when I got out the first thing I want to do was get my body fit enough so I could go play again,” Ahmed said. He said he tried playing basketball but would get tired after 30 seconds. It took Ahmed four or five years to get back to his normal strength.

Right now he’s at a point where he seizes life’s opportunities and gives advice to people going through what he experienced and helps them to be more positive in their lives.

“Your life is all you have. Even though my illness wasn’t terminal I could still die tomorrow from a car accident so you can't say how long your life is going to be,” Ahmed said. “You can't keep prolonging what you want to do and what you have to do. If you have the chance to do it now you should.”

Most people assume that Ahmed is just a cancer survivor. However he doesn’t think that the fact that he had cancer should be how people identify him.

 “Yes, the cancer part was only two years of my life. It doesn't define me in any way. What I am doing now is what defines me,” Ahmed said.

Ahmed’s cousin, who has climbed mountains in the past, had invited Ahmed to climb with him to raise cancer awareness when Ahmed felt that he was able to. This was the birth of Climb Over Cancer Qatar. His cousin suggested Mount Aconcagua the highest mountain in South America, which takes approximately 15-20 days to climb. 

“It was a really good experience, even though I went through a serious illness twice I was still able to do something so physically challenging” Ahmed recalled. “It’s mind over matter.” 

Unfortunately Ahmed and his cousin weren’t able to complete the climb as the weather was extreme. 

“We got to 5700m and stayed there for four days waiting for the weather to clear up, but it didn’t show any signs of improvement,” Ahmed said. “But reaching the summit didn’t matter. The journey was the most amazing thing,” he added.

Ahmed said that he kept pushing himself during the climb, because he felt as though he’d reached his limit several times. 

“I felt like I got to the summit mentally. In my head I was replaying the last five years of my life and realized that I have finally conquered my cancer,” Ahmed said. “Once you’re on the mountain it's a whole different world! You realize how small everything is. It puts everything into perspective.” 

Ahmed is planning to have another summit next year, hoping to take a team of people from Qatar to Mount Kilimanjaro, which is the highest peak in Africa. If you are interested feel free to drop an email at climbovercancerqa@gmail.com  

Check out Sameer and his future adventures by following him on Instagram and Twitter @sameeraliahmed9