To understand Fayruz Benyousef’s cancer journey, you have to go back to 1980.
Benyousef was living with her family in Pennsylvania when her dad was diagnosed with acute leukemia. Both her mother, Dr. Nuria Treki, and father, Sharif Benyousef, had no history of cancer.
For the Libyan family, the diagnosis was particularly devastating.
“Culturally, getting cancer was a death sentence,” Benyousef said.
After extreme challenges with his chemo treatment, Sharif went into remission and began a job as a civil engineer. But eight years later, the family was devastated once more.
“I went to take a shower and saw swelling on my collar bone,” Benyousef said. “It didn’t hurt and I didn’t feel bad, but I showed it to my mom and she went white.”
After going through a painful cycle with cancer, the family was hit again. Benyousef had stage 2B Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
“I went through a horrible summer at age 16,” Benyousef said. I went through radiation, and I was so worried about my hair – I had beautiful, Diana Ross-like hair. I remember telling my parents, ‘If I don’t have hair, I’m not going to school. You’ll have to homeschool me!’”
While Benyousef worked to pick up the pieces after exhausting treatment during the summer before her junior year of high school, Sharif relapsed. The Leukemia came back and it was much more aggressive. At the time, the family’s blood relatives were all in North Africa – so Sharif had to use his own bone marrow for treatment.
About six weeks into her senior year of high school, Benyousef got the call to drop everything and fly to Pittsburgh so she could say goodbye to her father. Tragically, she did not make it in time.
“I thought I’d get to say goodbye, but there was a miscommunication,” she said. “Instead, I walked into a dead body. I was talking to him and touching his feet, and when the nurse walked by, I asked why the monitor wasn’t there.”
After so much pain in such a short time, Benyousef and her mother needed each other more than ever.
“My sweet mom, she has been through so much. Her best friend – her soulmate – passed away at 44 in 1989.”
The hits keep coming
More than 20 years later, the two were thrust back into the unthinkable.
“She just looked not well, complaining about pain,” Benyousef said about her mother. “I was like ‘Please let me take you to urgent care, and if nothing’s wrong, we can just move on.’”
Memorial weekend 2018 was just underway and when Benyousef and her mother went to urgent care, they immediately sent them to the hospital.
Dr. Treki had stage 4 metastatic breast cancer.
“She probably has known for 10 years that something was not right,” Benyousef said. “But because of her fear and trauma from my father’s experience, she did not want to go to the doctor.”
Being a food scientist and nutritionist, Dr.Treki understood the importance of utilizing food as a form of medicine and practiced what she preached in daily life. was able to slow tumor growth and respond well to treatment throughout her journey, which is still continuing with ongoing immunotherapy treatments.
Benyousef focused on caring for her mother, as well as a successful career, loving marriage and beautiful child. One day, she noticed she had chest pain accompanied by a hardness. She thought it was a cyst, but her husband encouraged her to get it checked immediately. Cancer was back – six months after her mother was diagnosed.
The road to healing
Benyousef’s treatment included five surgeries and six months of chemo – an experience that changes the body and mind forever.
“The aftermath can be just as taxing, from learning how to move your arms, dealing with reconstruction, nerve pain all day in some form,” Benyousef said. “I try to do holistic things from getting in the pool, body brushing, essential oils.”
After doctors took out seven lymph nodes, they cleared Benyousef. As of this writing, she has no evidence of disease.
“Now it’s surviving after going through it,” Benyousef said. “There is a lot of residual stuff – emotionally and physically. I’m very grateful, though. Now I feel like I have more strength, physically and emotionally.”
Part of that emotional strength has come from being part of the Twist Out Cancer community. Beyousef and Dr. Treki are 2020 Brushes with Cancer Austin inspirations, and their experience together has only deepened their relationship.
“I’m learning things about her through this that I didn’t know,” Beyousef said. She’ll share stories and I don’t know certain parts. It’s fascinating hearing the memories coming back to her.”
Dr. Treki – an accomplished singer – was paired with artist Kenzie Slottow, a flutist who asked Beyousef and Dr. Treki to sing in the piece. The three have had a few Zoom meetings with her and both Beyousef and her mother are enjoying reconnecting with their passion for music.
“That’s been part of the joy – reconnecting with the past,” Beyousef said. “I grew up in a house where music was always playing – mom and dad were always singing together. It was a beautifully romantic era. It was a happy life and music and art were core and central to it.”
As for Benyousef’s personal experience with her artist, Tony, she loves how it has opened her own creativity back up.
It’s been fascinating to think what may come of Tony and Kenzie’s work,” she said. “I’ve always been a creative person. I love to draw, I love music and all genres of creativity. I need to make time for unleashing creativity. I used to do it when I was younger, but life gets busy and you have responsibilities.”
Through Twist Out Cancer and the power of the arts, Beyousef and Dr. Treki are focusing on beautiful memories to help heal the difficult ones.
“This experience is reigniting those passions and bringing a joy we’d never have without Twist Out Cancer,” Benyousef said. “It’s so heartwarming and a way to help heal by bringing back things that are happy memories, like being with dad.”
To purchase tickets to the Brushes with Cancer Virtual Art Exhibition and Celebration on October 25th, please check out our website for details.