Photo by: Naji Abi Nader
Civil engineer Lucie Youssef Sassine had dreams of returning HOME to Lebanon to build towers and raise her children. An unexpected diagnosis stirred a strength in her to overcome the challenges she faced and to thrive once again.
Lucie Sassine shared her experience of coming HOME to build towers in Downtown Beirut and finding herself facing the daunting challenge of aggressive leukemia.
You lived abroad and had your own career. Tell us about your life abroad.
I met my husband when I was studying civil engineering at the University of Saint Joseph in Lebanon. A few years later, we married and moved to Burkina Faso in Africa. Working in Africa was an adventure every day. Our work was to build large scale projects; we used to go miles away from where we stayed to supervise the work.
What brought you back to Lebanon?
In Africa, I met a lot of people from all over the world. They’d tell me I didn’t belong there and always asked me what would I love to do and where would I love to be? My answer was always, “I want to go HOME to Lebanon and build towers in Solidere,” without having any clue how to make it happen. One day I received a call from a friend, back in June 2005, telling me about a job vacancy in a project in Beirut. That was my chance.
I came back with my 2-year-old son during the time when the Lebanese were dreaming of a better future. The project was a great success, followed by several other successes. I got promoted year after year. My dream became a reality at last.
Meanwhile, I had my twin girls, who are now 7 years old. It was a tough time; after their birth, as I couldn’t sleep. I was a project coordinator by day and a mom by night.
When did you learn you had cancer?
In 2015, I noticed red dots appearing on my skin and joint pain that got misdiagnosed as rheumatism. After having few tests, without the doctor revealing it to me, I guessed I had leukemia. And here the story of my new, challenging life began. I had plans for travel and my twins’ 5th birthday preparations, but all had to be cancelled as I had to start chemotherapy immediately.
How did your family handle this tough situation?
I had huge support from all my family members, especially my brother, who didn’t leave me for a second. My husband, for almost 18 months, raised the kids by himself, without letting them feel that their mom’s life was in danger. Sometimes families extend beyond blood. People in the company I work for were always here for support.
How were you able to maintain your strength through this hard phase?
The cancer diagnosis wasn’t as shocking to me as the news that I had an AML FLT3 type of leukemia, a very aggressive type that has a 90 percent potential to relapse. I had to have a bone marrow transplant immediately.
Out of nowhere through these tough times I had full strength. My mind was in a state of peace. The more I was in danger, the more I was surrounded by a peaceful feeling. With each leap of faith, I felt a kind of sad happiness and gained more power.
After the bone marrow transplant was successful, all my hair was gone. Seeing myself in the mirror was like seeing an alien. Those were the most depressing times of my life.
The hardships went on until I had a revelation — this disease will not kill me. I was able to hold on until the last minute, and I am still surviving. From there, the new Lucie came to life. I was aware that this cancer has attacked my body physically and took my external beauty, but it couldn’t reach my spirit and my mind. I was able to defeat it!
“The more I was in danger, the more I was surrounded by a peaceful feeling.”
Could you give us a brief about Revive Association?
Doctor Jean El-Cheikh was the one who grouped us five cancer survivors: Marwan Mahmoud, Bassam Ismail, Cherif Kaiss, Najwa Harkous and I, and a thalassemia (an inherited blood disease) survivor, Diana Abou Hamia. Together we created this association.
Its purpose is to support cancer patients and create awareness that cancer is no longer a taboo; it happens, but eventually it can be cured. People should know cancer is no longer a one-way ticket.
What were you searching for in terms of support that you did not find?
I was searching for people going through the same life experience as me; that’s what I have found in Revive. There’s a common point between us cancer Revivers that no one else will understand.
“People should know cancer is no longer a one-way ticket.”
What advice would you give to cancer patients facing this battle?
My advice to them goes like this: Trust your doctors, have strength and hold on to your faith. Believe in God and know that you are never alone.
What do you consider as your greatest achievement so far?
My kids — Romain, Andrea, Sasha.
If you could change one thing in your life, what would it be?
Nothing. I have accepted my life, with all its hardships, without questioning, because it gave me all the strength I have today.
When living abroad you wanted to come back to Lebanon, your HOME country. What is HOME for you?
Lebanon is my HOME. Beirut city lights are my HOME. You can never find this light anywhere else in the world; it is such a welcoming and passionate light.
For more info: https://facebook.com/reviveassoc