‘I got cancer twice from the stress of my parents staying together,’ says Dubai expat.

Should parents get divorced for the kids?

Kathrine Hamdan 5 Min Read

It’s no secret that parents often stay together for the kids, but should they be getting divorced for the kids instead? 

Sarah thinks so.

The twenty-eight-year-old Syrian Dubai resident believes the stress she endured from her parent’s toxic marriage and the unhealthy environment it created is the reason why she developed throat cancer twice.

“I got cancer twice from the stress of my parents staying together… I grew up in a very unstable, toxic home where divorce was always a dangling carrot. It was something of an exit tragedy or a threat, but obviously that never happened with us,” she says.

“I can’t remember a day where it was a peaceful, stable day growing up with my parents. It was always if something bad happened at home, and if I was the one who got yelled at or I saw the fight, if I saw the argument or the violence, it would be swept under the rug. Then my dad would say ‘let’s go to the mall, let’s buy you this, let’s get you that.’ It could be from a young age where you’re buying candy and chocolates to an older age where your dad is taking you shopping or paying for your bag or your car…” Sarah adds.

While doctors said the main cause for Sarah’s type of cancer is typically related to radiation exposure, it wasn’t applicable to her case as she hadn’t been exposed. When she sought an explanation from holistic experts, they related her cancer to stress.

“So, I had my cancer in my throat, and a lot of people [in holistic medicine] that I spoke to said ‘this is because you don’t speak and you don’t speak your mind. You don’t let things out, you bottle things in, and that’s why the stress happens in a specific area,’” she says.

In the MENA region, the UAE ranked 16th for highest number of cancer prevalence from 2020 onwards, according to Cancer Today, with cases on the rise in young adults aged 20 to 49, according to a study by cancer specialist Dr. Humaid Al Shamsi, who is looking to explore stress as one of the factors.

Despite having been cleared from cancer, Sarah will have to remain on medication for the rest of her life.

“It’s fine,” she says. “I’m very lucky, because if I didn’t know about it, it would’ve spread and been very chaotic. I’m really thankful for it, honestly because, although it’s f*cked up to say, and it’s very sad to say, this happening to me was a major reason for my family life at home to become more relaxed and chilled. It was like a blessing in disguise. It’s very hard for any parent to know their child got sick. So, when it happened, everyone was way more chilled about everything. My dad’s very cautious, now. Now he’s like ‘I don’t want to say anything to make you upset.’”

“See, this is what’s sad. When I finally got to talk, I always choked on my words in front of my dad, specifically. I don’t why I just could never confront him and say what I wanted to say because he’ll always flip it and be the victim – he’s the victim in everything and no one else is,” she says.

“Even when I got sick, he would downsize the situation enormously, which I understand, as a parent, why he would do that. But at the same time, it’s like, don’t make it sound like it’s nothing, because it is something. I’ve had to do surgeries, I’ve had a pipe coming out of my throat while sitting there [in the hospital] for three days. So, it is uncomfortable,” she adds.

Moreover, Sarah was diagnosed with borderline anxiety disorder after a series of panic attacks.

“I’ve had episodes of anxiety my whole life, which I didn’t know [about] until I had a major panic attack and ended up in the hospital because of my dad, because of the stress at home,” she says. 

“My mom is very stubborn and my dad’s super crazy so, it’s not a good combo. Then, I ended up in the hospital and I was diagnosed with borderline anxiety disorder. Which is honestly years and years and years of anxiety. I never knew what anxiety was until the panic attack,” she adds.

Sarah admits her parents staying together has also affected her relationships and views on dating and marriage. 

“It has made me feel so guarded that I just genuinely don’t believe men in general. I’ve barely dated men, I’ve barely had any relationships. And, the one guy I actually had a serious relationship with that was almost going somewhere, I later figured I was attracted to this person because he had that toxic personality like my father, which was so strange to me because he was controlling, he didn’t trust me, he had major issues,” she says.

“I thank God for my self-awareness because I was aware. I was like, ‘okay, this is not the right person for me.’ Obviously, something attracted me to this person because he was using the same tactics that I was raised on – being controlled and being told what to do and what not to do which I had from my brother and my dad. So, it felt very familiar,” she adds. 

While her parents remain married, it’s not a typical union, with Sarah’s father spending half a year in Syria and the other half in Dubai, where he sleeps in a separate bedroom. 

“It’s more like they’ve been separated for a while,” she says. “In that sense, my dad for the past five years has been between here and Syria. He’s not based here all the time, which has been great. I feel bad saying it, but it’s been great because it gives both parties room to breathe because it’s very obvious that they just don’t like being around each other all the time, each one gets on each other’s nerves, which is not a way to live when you’re in your sixties. It’s very sad to be honest, because you want to grow old and be happy with your partner even if you’re alone, you don’t want someone in your space that you’re just like, ‘ugh, I’m so not bothered for this person, I don’t want to be around this person.’ So, they keep it civil, but they’re very formal with each other. They might as well be divorced because it’s not a marriage at all. It’s like they are friends who don’t like each other and are roommates.”

Despite the UAE seeing its shortest marriage last year, when a couple filed for divorce after just 24 hours of being married, divorce is generally declining in the Emirates rates, according to Statista.