Headteacher Assistant and English teacher at Forest Gate Community School, Ms Uddin was diagnosed with cancer in 2015 and passed away on Monday 14th August.

Her commitment to her school, passion for teaching and continuous struggle to push her students to meet their full potential, even when her health was speedily deteriorating, cries out a thousand lessons about the practical meaning of Ihsan- excellence in performing a trusted responsibility (Amanah).

She was a living interpretation of this Hadeeth reported by Anas bin Malik , that the Prophet peace be upon him said:

“If the Final Hour comes while you have a palm-cutting in your hands and it is possible to plant it before the Hour comes, you should plant it.” 

[Sahih Adab Al-Mufrad]

Ms Uddin wanted to plant a seed in all her students- a seed called knowledge; handed over with love, sincerity and care.

Through her struggle, she may have planted a seed in the hearts of all teachers who learn about her story- a seed called teach with excellence, with love and despite all odds.

Ms Uddin was not only an outstanding teacher and leader, but she was also a student of knowledge, striving to seek knowledge of Arabic and Islamic Studies.

Below is a blog post written by Ms Uddin about her journey since she became diagnosed with cancer.

My Blessed Journey 

Shamimara (Sham’s) Rafique Uddin

September 30th 2015: My battle with cancer started. The irony of it? It was the 5th year anniversary of my dad’s death after his own battle with leukaemia ended.

October 6th 2015: Doctors said “you are likely to die in the operating theatre” – the cancerous tumours that had grown on my ovaries had intertwined with my intestines and possibly other organs and arteries. “We will have two medical teams ready as you will likely bleed to death,” they told me. “The operation will take 6 – 8 hours: the longer it takes, the worst it means for you.” They asked me to sign under the word DEATH on the consent form, but all I could think was ‘if God hasn’t signed me off then nobody can!’ I left my life in His hands and trusted His plans for me. My life and death was always in His hands and will always be.

I made it through the operation and was told that considering what my MRI had shown, they were shocked because the tumours just ‘wobbled’ away. They were further surprised at how rapid the entire operation was – it took just two hours; in fact they said it was one of the easiest operations they had done and there was hardly any blood loss. “It was like a miracle had happened!” I felt blessed.

After a couple of weeks of recovery I met with an Oncologist who said “you have 6-8 months to live so don’t bother thinking about work, just enjoy what time you have left.” My initial cancer diagnosis hadn’t left me nearly as saddened as the way she seemed to just strike me off. I also wondered why they would operate on me if they didn’t think I had a chance of fighting this. My family, friends, Headteacher and I were all appalled and disheartened by her words. But what bothered me the most was that I was told to forget about work – teaching is my life, I was not ready to give that up.

My brother took me to Harley Street whilst my family, friends, Headteacher and GP all fought together to get me into a different hospital to try and help me fight this battle. Luckily with everyone’s prayers and support I am at now receiving treatment at one of the best hospitals for cancer support in London – one where they immediately displayed an attitude of positivity and a willingness to fight, but more importantly showed me that they will always be my side no matter what! I felt so lucky to be receiving this support, which was in stark contrast to what the initial Oncologist had said.

December 2015: I started chemotherapy and had 12 sessions of aggressive chemotherapy every other week for 6 months and by…

June 2016: I was back to school and teaching! ‘Love it! Blessed!’ Teaching makes me feel alive, it’s the one thing that motivates me to get up in the morning no matter how I am feeling. My school is the best school because of the students, staff and parents and they all are part of my fight – I am forever grateful to them all. My school is my world! I will never be able to have my own children but when you are surrounded by the amazing students like those at FGCS it’s not something that ever crosses my mind or worries me. I am the lucky one who gets to teach and work with the amazing students and staff at the school. Blessed!

Now we get closer to the present…

May 2017: My current Oncologist told me my recent scan shows that my cancer has now spread to the lining of my brain and part of my spine. Doctors did not know that my type of stomach cancer could spread in this way to the upper body as people with my initial diagnosis have not lived as long and so they failed to see the cancer spreading.

He explained how I survived the operation which helped me live longer and the chemotherapy also controlled the cancer for a period of time – I should have on average lived for 12-14 months. He added that I had exceeded the expectations and continued to live now (going onto 20 months) which is unique for my type of cancer considering I am terminal and have late stage stomach cancer. My Oncologist said “you came to us as a unique case and you still are….I am sorry to say you have maybe 3 months to live, maybe at a push 6 months. You are also likely to lose your eyesight, facial expressions and paralysis is likely.” My response: a big smile! My Oncologist looked at me in surprise: “you are so calm?” I replied that I was meant to be dead on October 7th 2015 and I am ready to fight again to live, to teach, to keep carrying on! God is with me and to Him I’ll return when He is ready for me.

Even with my most recent prognosis, my family, friends, work colleagues, Oncologist Team, students at FGCS, students who I taught years ago from my previous school and my lovely year group from when I was a Head of Year – ALL – continue to fight with me. How lucky am I? I have now had 10 sessions of radiotherapy to try and slow down the onset of blindness and paralysis. I have every faith that I will be fine. If I lose my eyesight then I have all of my other senses, so life is still great! If I lose my facial expressions then I still have my hands and if I spread my thumb and index finger to make it look like I am smiling, then I will smile that way! Or I could learn sign language….always did want to learn another language! If I become paralysed then I still have my heart beating: I’m living and I can hear, smell, taste…life is still great!

I believe that my cancer is my greatest gift from God: it’s brought me closer to Him, my faith, my Prophet (PBUH) and I’d like to think made me a better person. I want to live so I can continue to do more good in the world, teach again, be a Deputy Headteacher and help FGCS Trust to become the best school in the world! Anything is impossible – God can make the impossible possible.

Ultimately all of mankind is looking for the same thing: happiness – contentment of the heart; fulfilment. We attach ourselves to worldly things: houses, cars, wealth, status, marriage, children, job promotions – always chasing the next dream to feed our hearts and yet we often are never satisfied. We should all keep having these dreams (I still do!) and it is important that we strive to better our lives but not to the point where we become consumed by them and drown in them.

Dream, live, connect with the world – but don’t let the world disconnect you from your heart – take back your heart – it’s yours not the world’s.

Before my cancer diagnosis I was someone who struggled to find that contentment but now, ironically, my cancer has made me feel more alive than ever before. My heart is content; I am at peace and filled with love for everybody and everything. I am glad I got cancer when I did as I needed to find a way back up from the bottom of a dark lake I was in and my cancer was like an umbilical cord that pulled me up and gave me a new life – a life where I appreciate the world a lot more. It is like God has showered His mercy upon me and given me a new and better life through my cancer.

Life has never been sweeter so please, I encourage you all to take back your heart and feel the beauty of life. Blessed!

Ms Uddin passed away on 14th August 2017. May Allah have mercy on her and make her among the inhabitants of Paradise. Ameen and my the peace and blessings be upon Muhammad the Messenger of Allah.

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