I like to think my writing brings together filaments of ideas, thoughts, and feelings into an unexpected delightful whole. That wouldn’t happen without a rich interior life. That’s hard to describe, but the exterior life is a bit easier. Flip through these chapters or check out this more standard bio.
Departures and New Roots: 0-12
When I was a baby, my parents left Egypt and its warm climate to settle in snowy Canada. They wanted a country where their little girl could have a full life with no limitations. I was both the joy of their life and an extremely fussy baby. That sort of paradox has followed me ever since. I grew up in an immigrant household with little money as my father completed his medical training to become a child psychiatrist. Mom worked as a teacher and would later pursue her own dreams.
I learned French in Montréal and English when we moved for a year to the US for my father’s job. When we returned to Canada, I settled into an all-girl, Catholic school and stayed in my scratchy uniform until graduation from high school.
Personality Declares Itself: 13-18
High school was a bit lonely, as life at home was different for me than for my friends. Mom was in university fulltime studying speech therapy and Dad had long hours, so my brother and sister and I were on our own a lot and became very close. At school, my favorite subject was French literature and I started to write short stories with surprise twists. Leaving high school, I encountered boys for the first time, and I’d take up any dare they put to me. Parachute jumping is not for girls. Not a chance! I was first out of that plane.
Big Decisions: 19-23
Dad wanted me to study medicine. The problem was I hated the sight of blood. So, of course I pitched French literature. Mom said, "Oh dear, you can do that later as a hobby. You need a degree that gets you a job." That’s the immigrant mindset, with a dash of common sense. [Mom, look. It’s later and I’m writing!!!]
So, pure math it was at McGill University. All Greek letters and theorems, it took me until my last year to see how it all fit together. And more of those pesky boys with their dares – I kept up the bravado.
It was hard for me to see how you could make a living on pure math, so I diverted to statistics for graduate school at Canada’s Waterloo University. I declined staying on to work on a PhD. I was ready for the real world.
Pivot Point: 34-37
The initial treatments were difficult and not effective. My team at work rallied around me, so did my mother, sister, the rest of the family and my dear friends.
I developed the ‘area under the curve’ theory of life: since we don’t know how long we’re going live (X-axis), why not enhance every moment of life (Y-axis)? Without the math: if something gave me ‘good energy’, it was in. If not, it was out. Paradox time again: I became happier and more content than ever before. Few people knew of my diagnosis, but everyone could tell there was something different.
A wonderful man came knocking on my door and asked to be part of my life. Somewhere in there, a medicine was developed that gave me the gift of remission. When I look back on this period, I know the true gift was the universe’s slap in the face to stop, rethink and change gears.
Into the World: 24-33
First job! Canadian Federal Government! Agricultural Research! Wait, what? Let me explain that last one. Statistics is all about figuring out science. We help researchers design their experiments, then analyse the data and ultimately interpret the results. I learned a ton in those 3 years after grad school. New statistical techniques, how to work with others, and mainly…that I was not cut out for the rural life.
Soon enough, I was in Philadelphia, on my own, in a new industry. Drug development. I put all my energy into work. I became a recognized expert in my field and was successful by any measure. Was I happy? No. But I kept rising, taking on new challenges, nothing could stop me.
Well. Something did. At 33 I learned I had leukemia. A few days later, I turned 34. There was no celebration that year.
Double Down: 38-53
If I’d been saved by a new medicine, then I was certainly going to double-down and do the same for others. I was more attuned to my colleagues, who knew what they might be tackling on the home front? This extended to the wider world. Someone was abrupt, inconsiderate, or daydreaming? Maybe there was a story to explain that.
I took a year off and with my husband’s support, I sat down to write. Sisters Pieced Together was written during this period. (And another book too, though it’s not quite done.)
But work called again, a big, big job that I absolutely loved, in a company that was pressing on all fronts for patients. I brought all of me this time, not just my brain – and I did it my way. I was now successful on my terms and achieved all I could have hoped for professionally.
My lovely husband had retired, and I chose to end the high-intensity executive life to be with him more fully, and start a new chapter.
This Is What’s Next: 54-now
Even now that I’ve retired, I still work for patients through my consulting firm, NMD Group. The projects I choose involve data and analytics to address some of the more vexing healthcare questions. I’ve worked with US FDA, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Friends of Cancer Research to name a few. I gravitate to like-minded experts working on transformative initiatives. I’m amazed by the people I meet, there is hope with so many bright minds shining a light for us…
I never spoke broadly of my diagnosis or what I was going through until, well, just now. I imagine everyone has a story of their own. I am absolutely convinced this is how we make the world better, each one of us reflecting, thinking, opening our minds and spirits to each other’s stories.
Life is messy. How we move through it is almost always a surprise to ourselves, but perhaps not to those who know us best.