About Being Authentic: A Memoir
Our existence is fragile. I learned that in many intricate ways, so I do not take today for granted. I do not know what tomorrow will bring. I do not even know if tomorrow will come.
On the eve of Thanksgiving 2016, I received the diagnosis of stage 4 lung cancer. Next to dying, I fear the spread of cancer to my brain and losing my ability to think, speak, or write. This loss would be devastating to me.
The fragility of our life made me want to be authentic. Therefore, I am writing this memoir to be authentic—we become our true selves when we author who we are.
I am afraid of being forgotten. Death does frighten me. But more than dying, I am scared of having no one remember me or, even worse, of being recognized differently from who I was. At the same time, I have never thought that I was entitled to ask others not to forget me. But, not to be forgotten is precisely what I yearn for.
While I am writing for the other, I am simultaneously writing for myself. I am one of the readers and will test the subject as it gets written. My criteria are stricter. I want to say, “This is my narrative.”
I need to be able to say, “This is my narrative.”
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I am a Syrian immigrant.
My name is Morhaf Al Achkar. I was born in Aleppo-Syria in 1983. I migrated to the United States in 2006 after finishing medical school. I also obtained a Ph.D. in Education from Indiana University. Currently, I am a practicing family physician and associate professor at the University of Washington.
In 2016, I was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. Since then, my research has focused on the experience of patients living with cancers. My first book is based on interviews I did with 39 patients who live, like me, with advanced illness. I explored how these patients find meaning, cope, and build resilience
Writing my memoir was my attempt to reconstruct my narrative. I did not want to be defined as a cancer patient nor as someone living with resilience despite cancer. I wanted to be me again: A Syrian Immigrant.