Cancer turned Chahla Maksour’s life upside down in November 2020. She was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer. And she was told her cancer would be terminal on 8 August 2022 after it had spread to her bones, liver and chest wall.
Before she died in early 2023, Chahla would say that she had the ‘perfect cancer’. It came into her life at the right time, when her life was perfect – full of love and beauty.
Chahla faced the end of her life feeling at peace, triumphant and liberated; she was proud of the life she lived and of her loved ones around her.
Chahla’s family has given their blessing for her story to be shared here in her memory.
Calling the shots
After Chahla received her first cancer diagnosis, her friends and family rallied around her. Together, they marked each of her first 16 rounds of chemotherapy by finding or creating photos of each round’s number. From potatoes to pens, pomegranates to paintings, they let their imaginations run wild.
“In our Lebanese culture, people usually cannot utter the word and instead refer to it as ‘the ugly disease’. But as time passed, cancer became less of a feared taboo word. I was living it.”, Chahla reflects.
And if Chahla was going to live with cancer, she wanted to call the shots. Before she would lose her hair due to chemotherapy, she shaved it off. And before she had a double mastectomy, she prepared by hitting the gym and went through the operation with minimal discomfort.
“It was a big celebration, with food and scarves, and everything from head, chest, leg shaves – everyone I knew wore a scarf and sent me a photo. This welcoming response is what made this journey and this cancer so perfect”, Chahla remembers.
Celebrating love and beauty
Chahla’s nickname is ‘the Shark’, and you can tell that she adores it. It first came about from her son’s friend who pronounced her name as ‘Sharkla’, but it stuck because of how well it fit her. As Chahla puts it, “I am the Shark. I am a fighter with a very big toothy smile”.
After her first 16 rounds of chemotherapy, Chahla learnt that there were still some cancer cells active. So, she agreed to another 5 months of chemo, which she finished on Boxing Day 2021.
As 2021 became 2022, Chahla was excited to go back to work as a teacher – first part-time, then full-time. But come July, it became clear that Chahla would have to stop working again. After experiencing months of lingering tiredness, she started feeling really unwell. Then on 8 August, after scans and biopsies, Chahla received a terminal diagnosis. The cancer had spread to her bones, liver and chest wall.
Some things came naturally to Chahla after this. She continued sharing her story openly and found support from strangers such as her hairdresser and physiotherapist. She didn’t want to fixate on ‘what could have been’; instead, Chahla focused on what she has.
“I took every opportunity to celebrate the love I have in my life. I celebrated my favourite colour by having blue-themed parties. In my culture, royal blue means trust and loyalty. I wanted my loved ones to remember me through this colour, to give them something to hold on to.”, Chahla says.
The Shark and Shave
When Chahla wanted to shave her head again, it started something unexpected – everyone wanted to be a part of it. Her husband George and sons Jeremy and Simon joined in first. Then uncles, aunts, cousins, friends and co-workers started putting their hands up.
Before long, they were planning a big celebration and Jeremy set up a fundraising page on Do It For Cancer called “The Shark and Shave”.
It ended up being a two-day event, with different people volunteering to shave their heads, legs or chests. As Jeremy recalls, “it was a celebration. We made a point of giving each other the worst possible haircuts, making it even worse, then eventually getting rid of it all”.
Jeremy also remembers being overwhelmed by the support: “I was messaging everyone who donated to thank them, but I could barely keep up. Every time I looked, there was another 5 or 10. At first, I thought it would be pretty cool to raise $500, so when we got over $1000 within a few hours, my mind was blown.”
In the end, the extended Maksour family raised over $16,000 towards a cancer free future – a phenomenal amount.
Chahla’s perfect cancer
As Chahla faces her terminal cancer diagnosis, she is philosophical and, again, determined to focus on what she has.
“Life has it’s own agenda”, she reflects, “my time was limited but that did not change my views. I face the end of my life in peace. My two boys are young adults finding their own paths in life, ready to face the world on their own. I have the perfect husband, the perfect family, the perfect friends.
“I’ve had the choice in how to spend my last days – so many people never get this opportunity. So, I am lucky. This is why I say I have the perfect cancer.”
We would like to thank Chahla and her family for generously sharing their story and raising a staggering amount of money to tackle cancer. We are so honoured to have you in the Cancer Council Community.