Inspiring Stroies

Keeping physically active and observing Ramadan with a cancer diagnosis: A Personal Journey

As a Muslim navigating life with a cancer diagnosis, I’ve found the intersection of physical activity and observing Ramadan to be both challenging and deeply meaningful. I’d like to share my personal journey with you, as well as some insights and reflections that I hope will resonate with others facing similar circumstances.

Physical activity has always been an important part of my well being, even more so since my cancer diagnosis. Research shows the importance of staying physically active, as it not only improves physical and mental health but also reduces the side effects of cancer treatment and enhances overall quality of life.

Ramadan is important to Muslims like myself. It’s a time of reflection, of kindness, of strengthening your faith and of worship. What it means practically is that you fast between dawn and sunset. Therefore you conserve your energy for these important parts of Ramadan.

I absolutely love it when Ramadan comes around because it helps me strengthen my connection to God and helps me connect with other muslims. I look forward to seeing my family, friends and neighbours more as we share food, prayers and time with each other.

I was diagnosed with a rare blood cancer two and a half years ago. I prayed and hoped for better days and found them in being outdoors, moving, jogging and then eventually running. For the last two years I have been too ill to fast at the time when my muslim family and friends were. That was really hard to see. At my worst I wanted to be closer to God and closer to my family and friends but wasn’t able to connect in the obvious way while I was ill. It’s very isolating but I completely understood why it was safer to not fast at the time. My consultant said to me ‘Naz, You’ll have plenty more Ramadans where you can fast’. Every muslim teacher also says it is completely acceptable for someone with cancer to not fast during the month of Ramadan. However, I wanted to feel the connection more than ever. So, after I finished my treatment in July last year I promised myself I would have everything, I would fast, I would pray, I would connect with those that mattered to me, and I would keep the physical health I had gathered throughout the year.

The first fast of 2024 came, I took it easy, I did not go for a walk, had a big breakfast, but I still struggled, I felt more fatigued than if I had not eaten and had gone for a walk; I could not get through the fast. I was disappointed, but more with the pressure that only I had put on myself. Even though I knew that my body was still recovering from a year of chemo and immunotherapy I thought I could have done more, but I was annoyed for thinking I should have done more! I did not want to miss out on the best month of the year so I made a decision to make the intention to fast but take sips of water when I needed them throughout the day. I know that this was not the done thing but I needed to feel connected and feel well at the same time. I also took part in the prayers. I used my legs more than I would normally, as I did Sajdah (prostration during worship) and I made myself go for a short walk, both of these things just lifted my spirits and did not fatigue me at all.

I made my intention to fast each day. Some days I fasted without any liquid, others, interestingly on days when I was in the house all day, I struggled more. Some days I could not do my prayers but understood I needed to rest as they felt like work outs in themselves. My brother said something that had shifted my mentality ‘Your fasting intentions will be accepted by God, God willing. Don’t’ worry boss!’. Having someone reassure me was such a relief. Having an open conversation about not being able to do them in the conventional way with another muslim and he be accepting was a relief and the permission I needed to try my best, be healthy and feel connected to my religion. Hearing him call me a boss, like I was in control had made a big impact on me!

Walking and praying have kept me feeling physically well during the month of Ramadan, which in turn have helped my mental health and I am incredibly grateful for it. I listened to my body, I listened to my consultant and I listened to my brother. I get to open the fast with my family, I get to pray with them and thats the thing that I craved most through my cancer journey.

By Naz Wardle-Bi