After planning to visit Makkah in Saudi Arabia with her brother and daughter, Nahida found that the symptoms of her cancer were making everyday life difficult to manage. In January 2023, Nahida came to stay at the Michael Sobell Hospice where she was able to work with the Hospice team to bring these distressing symptoms under control. Her pilgrimage to Makkah with her family was in sight once again, and she was able to leave for Saudi Arabia on this spiritual journey on Sunday 29th January, directly from the Hospice.
Makkah is regarded as the holiest city in Islam. Nahida has visited Makkah twice before, but visiting at this point in the Islamic calendar means that this trip is particularly special. Nahida explained, “As a Muslim, it really means a lot to me to be able to go to Makkah this time. I’ve been in Makkah two times before, but never in this holy month, one of the three holy months before Ramadan. My brother arranged this pilgrimage after he came to the UK to visit me in hospital and I can’t wait to go. My wish is to go. I’ve felt supported by the hospice when planning this trip, one hundred percent.”
“I just feel she’s so much better than how she was before she came in.”
Before coming to stay at the Hospice, Nahida and her family had been managing the symptoms of her cancer at home. Her daughter, Zaynib, shared, “Over three years, we were dealing with the symptoms of Mum’s cancer which was quite difficult because there was so much going on. When we were caring for Mum at home, she was on heaps and heaps of different medications because of the chemo. They offered us the Hospice as a temporary place to stay to get a hold on all the medications and get Mum to better health, especially so that she can go to Makkah which is what she really wants to do. To be honest, this stay at the Hospice is a godsend. I just feel she’s so much better than how she was before she came in.”
Once Nahida told the team at the Hospice of her plans for this really important journey, they were able to focus her treatment plan around supporting her to reach this goal. This included ensuring that Nahida’s haemoglobin levels and infection levels were stable before her trip by giving blood transfusions and intravenous antibiotics, supporting her emotional wellbeing, and ensuring that she had back-up medicines to take with her. The team wrote letters for Nahida which explained her different medications to ensure that she had a smooth crossing at the Saudi Arabian border. The Hospice’s Medical Director, Dr Ros Taylor MBE, also set up a WhatsApp chat with Zaynib so that she could quickly gain advice whilst supporting Nahida on the trip.
Zaynib said, “They’ve thought of everything. When Dr Ros told me that we’re going to be WhatsApping throughout the whole trip, I was so relieved because I had my own nerves about going with Mum. Although there’s Doctors and so on in Saudi Arabia, it’s not the same as getting that continuous care from people that you know, is it? So, to actually be able to communicate with them while I’m there is so brilliant. That takes so much anxiety off of me.”
Rituals on the pilgrimage
As part of the pilgrimage, Muslims visiting the holy city perform certain rites, including Sa’i which involves the ritual of walking back and forth seven times between the mountains Safa and Marwa, regarded as the site of a miracle in Islam. Other rituals include circling the House of God (also known as the Kabah) seven times, situated in the main mosque. Taking into account the physical demands of these important rituals has been central to the work of the Hospice team when supporting Nahida. Zaynib commented, “All of this is showing how much physical strength Mum is going to need to do this. It’s not just about getting there. It’s about being physically well enough to actually do the pilgrimage. All of that has been considered whilst she has been at the Hospice.”
Nahida described that in Makkah, “There is no ‘rich’, no ‘poor’. Everyone is all the same. You shouldn’t fight, you shouldn’t argue, you shouldn’t tell a lie because you’re in the holy place of God.” Zaynib added, “Makkah is kind of viewed as the main mosque, like the Home of God where His presence is most felt. There are different sects within Islam but the one thing they all have in common is that this is the holiest place to visit. Everyone dresses the same, everyone is literally coming together on the same level. It’s my first time going so I’m really excited, it’s going to be amazing.”
Spending time with family
“Our pilgrimage will finish in three or four days,” Nahida explained. “After this, my brother wants me to have a rest, he doesn’t want me to rush the trip. He wants to take me to places in Saudi Arabia.” Zaynib added, “He does visit the UK regularly but it’s actually the first time we’re going to stay with him in Saudi, so that’ll be nice!”
Nahida completed her pilgrimage (also known as Umrah) and on 8th February, returned safely to the UK. She was then welcomed back once more to stay at the Michael Sobell Hospice and receive support from their specialist team.
Learn more about travelling by plane when you are receiving palliative care on the HPAL website.