How 'differently-abled' youth worker overcame rare childhood cancer

A young woman sitting in a restaurant

Newham youth worker Suhaila Khamis, 20. - Credit: Newham Year of the Young Person

This article, taking a look at an inspirational youth worker and the obstacles she has overcome, is being published as part of Newham Council's Year of the Young Person. 

A young youth worker who considers herself “differently abled” has opened up about how positivity helps her achieve her goals.

At eight months old, Suhaila Khamis was diagnosed with a rare stomach cancer neuroblastoma, which affects 100 children in the UK each year. 

The treatments affected her spine and muscles, resulting in her inability to walk. 

Suhaila was then diagnosed with scoliosis - curvature of the spine - and again found herself caught up in a world of medical interventions. 

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Newham born and bred Suhaila, now 20, said: “My strength is getting through obstacles. 

“I know I haven’t had the same opportunities as others, but I just keep striving, and somehow I find my way.” 

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Suhaila’s unwavering determination saw her complete her education despite missing so much because of her illnesses and having to drop out of college. 

While keeping up with her education was a challenge, Suhaila said: “The greatest obstacle was negative people who lacked belief in me. 

“They saw my disability first and not my strengths.” 

Her positive mindset prevailed and, with the support of family and friends, Suhaila gave college another go. 

She achieved qualifications in health and social care and child development, which have led to her current role. 

Suhaila brought natural empathy and understanding to her youth work as well as her volunteer mentoring practice she delivers in a secondary school. 

“I have worked with young people who appear unfocussed or are getting into trouble at school," she said.

“Often they are misunderstood and then negativity towards them starts and then hurdles are placed in their way.” 

When mentoring young people, Suhaila helps develop positive mind-sets, which, she says, is like a map to finding a good path. 

"If I was giving a message to young people facing challenges it would be, and please excuse the cliché, if you keep going you will see light at the end of the tunnel.” 

Suhaila hopes to do more motivational talks and mentoring in schools.

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