Reham Fathy: The Butterfly of the Stage

Apr 15, 2021

“I held my medical test results and X-rays. My heart was racing. My life flashed before my eyes in mere seconds. Should I open the envelope and read it? Should I shred it? Or should I give it to my husband who was giving me a wholesome look of love and tenderness, trying to keep his thoughts to himself?

How many times had I stood on stage in front of thousands of people? How often did the camera lights shine in my eyes? These few seconds were indescribable and wouldn’t equate to anything I had experienced in my life until then – that moment would change everything. I took a deep breath, gathered my strength, and opened the envelope. It was God’s will that I was diagnosed with breast cancer, that malignant disease. At that moment, I felt that my life had stopped and that I could neither breathe nor stand on my feet. I broke down in tears, felt like my soul had been ripped apart, and thought of my children, my husband, and my loved ones. What would become of them if I crumbled? I decided to fight and not give in to the disease. That was the beginning of my long journey to beat cancer.”

Reham Fathy is a theater actress, born and raised in the Gaza Strip. She has a very strong personality, known for her beautiful, radiant smile and sense of humor. Since she was a child, she had a passion and strong desire for acting and theater. She had grown up in a highly conservative society that believed it was inappropriate for a girl to pursue a career in the performing arts. In addition to attending university, she joined several theater programs to hone her acting skills until she had the opportunity to host an event, during which she caught people’s attention. She was a natural. The energy and gravity of her public speaking style, in addition to the way she engaged the audience, demonstrated that she was born to be on stage. Her career took off after completing several workshops in theater, television, and film. She excelled on stage in solo roles and was able to portray up to five characters at the same time, earning herself great acclaim and acceptance from the audience. She became known as the “Cinderella of the Stage.” 

“Unfortunately, my father did not accompany me to any of my shows, but he did not stand in my way even though he wasn’t fully supportive of my career choice,” said Reham. “I still remember my first show when only my husband showed up to support me. That day, I shed tears of both joy and sadness. I felt the joy and happiness in the eyes of my audience but was heartbroken that my father wasn’t there. However, he kept encouraging me by saying that I did deserve this success and that I needed to maintain it. Sadly, my father passed away after my second theatrical performance. I felt as if my soul left my body and went with him.”

“In the Gaza Strip, we suffered from limited medical resources and lack of available treatments. I underwent surgery to remove the tumor and completed my chemotherapy treatment,” said Reham.

Throughout her journey toward healing, Reham remained positive and hopeful despite the pain she suffered after each chemotherapy session. Daunting thoughts came to her at night, but she hid her suffering from those close to her, particularly her children. She would come up with excuses for covering her head, telling her children and her close family members that she had changed her hair color or was in the process of having it dyed. She would also claim that she was really cold even when it was hot outside.

Reham said that being an actress in a place like Gaza is a miracle in and of itself, especially in a society that does not believe in women's right to express themselves creatively. “I was criticized and scrutinized, but I had tremendous support from my family that enabled me to flourish and enjoy my success,” she said.

Reham is strongly optimistic about her future and is keen on helping other women who are also struggling to fulfill their dreams. She wants to help them believe in themselves and follow their ambitions. She dreams of playing roles that address social issues. She would also love the opportunity to act in regional and international theaters.

It was not easy for her to balance her time between her duties as a mother and a wife while pursuing her passion and fighting cancer, but even as obstacles stood in her way, she remained hopeful and full of joy, drawing smiles from others.

Reham said: “I had apologized several times for not being able to attend events to avoid being asked about my health, but that did not prevent me from keeping on with my life as a mother, a wife, and a theater actress. I still wrote down how I felt to give myself strength that I could use in the future.” 

“Today, I am born again. I thank God for giving me another chance at life. Today I am cancer-free and can celebrate this victory when I go back on the stage, God willing,” she concluded. 

About the Author

Ameera Harouda is a freelance journalist in Gaza. She works closely with international journalists reporting from Gaza. She has worked with many world-renowned media agencies, including Al Jazeera international TV, The Washington Post, CNN, The Guardian, TRT World, Der Spiegel, and many more. She is very passionate about giving voice to the voiceless through storytelling and photography and promoting Palestinian creative Palestinian youth.