Wardah isn’t the type of woman that leaves you indifferent. In fact, immediately after I found her on Instagram, I knew I had to get in touch. When I met her in person, I realized she had the aura of a Goddess. That can be fascinating to many, intimidating to some, and awaken envy in others. She hasn’t told me this, but I’m pretty sure her appearance tends to lead people to assume that everything about her life is, indeed, as perfect as she looks. Because let’s be honest, that’s certainly the biggest misconception about beauty.
I had to scroll over so many posts full of poetry and beautiful photos to finally find out she was a cancer survivor. Given how reserved she is, she wouldn’t have gone into full detail about her story if it wasn’t because I asked her about it. I am so honored that she felt ready to share her warrior journey with the Sturdy Girls community.
Before getting sick, Wardah’s life was nothing short of a rollercoaster. As a professional model, a big part of her job required her to travel very often, and she sure enjoyed that. She ferociously believed in love and was in a relationship that made her happy. Unfortunately, she was also thinking constantly about the future, stressing out for no reason, and… having way too much sugar. She still didn’t know by then, but chronic anxiety and sugar overconsumption were slowly feeding her cancer cells.
It was 2017 and Wardah was 29 years old. She was enjoying a holiday in Mumbai, which she recalls as a rather awakening trip, when she got the bad news. She had a biopsy done during the holiday due to an overgrown lump on her neck, which turned out it had to be removed immediately. The doctor decided to avoid any unnecessary stress and played it rather cool. He told her that what she had was curable, and was advised to go back to the UK to start chemotherapy right away.
As she hadn’t been given any in-depth details about her disease, she decided to do her own research online. While she was typing the words Hodgkin Lymphoma, she couldn’t help but think that it was such a classy yet deadly name. She learned that it was, indeed, one of the most aggressive forms of cancer that affect the lymphatic system. Only then, she truly knew what she was facing. The words we hope we’ll never hear, read, or have to say, were now rumbling loudly in her head. She soon realized it was time to put her big girl hat on and start a new chapter. The scariest chapter of her life.
Growing up in a pretty conservative and emotionally reserved household, she never felt free to express her emotions, not even to herself. As a result, she kept suppressing her feelings until adulthood hit her with its waves, and she wasn’t able to navigate them in a healthy way. She only felt safe and powerful when she kept things to herself. When she didn’t speak up. When she didn’t trust. Storing all that energy inside felt like a superpower, but instead, it turned out to be a self-destructive unpredictable bomb. A bomb fuelled by anger. But then, when she needed it the most, she found poetry. It helped her not only to channel her emotions but also made her realize what her mind was truly capable of. She finally learned how to find the moral in every painful situation. In her own words:
“What I learned from my past going through anxiety, is that I was really angry because of how men had treated me. I was blaming God because I didn’t understand what did I do to deserve this. Going through such heartbreaks, bullies at school, sexual abuse as a kid, abusive relationships… I forgot to see that this is all a lesson. I realized that I shouldn’t wait for someone to make me happy. I understood that I had to love myself, that finding someone to love or to be loved by someone isn’t the most important thing in life. I have a caring family who is everything to me, and I was taking that for granted. I started counting my blessings and learning my lessons.”
She went through 6 months of harsh chemotherapy during which she felt almost like a vampire who liked to live in darkness. Her bedroom curtains were always down and her soul felt both dead and overwhelmed with all sorts of emotions. She decided to try her best to keep herself busy and continued attending casting calls while no-one knew she was battling cancer (she made sure her wig hid any sign of her baldness). She preferred not to make it public and tell her friends only after beating the beast. Somehow, she felt it would be more empowering that way.
Even though she experienced the most debilitating symptoms, Wardah wasn’t allowed to crumble during her chemotherapy treatment because her mom and little brother needed her. During her cancer journey, her mom got severely ill and had to undergo a womb removal surgery. Wardah had to look after her while also taking care of herself. I ask her how she was able to find the strength to deal with such a challenging situation and she reveals to me that she truly found it the day she had to shave her hair. That moment felt like a turning point in her life. After the last hair disappeared, a new her was born.
“I looked at the mirror with a deep breath and saw a strong soldier who needs to finish this war. I found my strength within myself, it was there always”
Having to fight for her life taught her that she needed to destroy all her bad habits, both physically and emotionally. She discovered crystal healing, meditation, and learned about Reiki. She even got a level 1 diploma which helped her to continue the healing process on her own.
After her journey, she realized how much woman power there is in the world. The way her mom took care of her and how she took care of her mom too, showed her that women can do anything even in the toughest situations.
When I ask her how she lives her life differently now, she tells me that cancer changed her for the better. She is now able to express her feelings to the world, to her loved ones, and lives a much healthier lifestyle. She is calmer, stronger, and happier than she ever was.
Photography & text by Lorena Sturlese
Follow Wardah @wardah_slays