Mohammed Ahsan, who was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer in 2022, has found the healing power of nature, the outdoors and flowers, have helped him overcome his ‘patient mentality’.
"It opened up a whole new world for me. The walks gave me a reason to get out of bed each day."
Mohammed started feeling ill with shivers, sickness and a pain in his stomach while he was travelling in Pakistan in March 2022. He thought he may have tapeworm or a hole in his stomach, but after being referred for tests in November 2022, he was shocked to be told he had stage 4 pancreatic cancer.
Watch Mohammed's story
Following the diagnosis and initial rounds of chemotherapy, Mohammed found he was in a lot of pain, experiencing confusion, lack of focus and was spending most of the day in bed at his home in Bottisham, Cambridge. The consultant couldn’t say how long he had to live, but estimated maybe six months.
Mohammed’s five children and wife were supporting him by bringing him food and tea every day, but he still felt depressed. He had no motivation to get out of bed, or do anything for himself.
But one day, in what he describes as a ‘Eureka moment’, Mohammed decided he must find a way out of his ‘patient mentality’ and start doing things for himself.
"That day changed everything. I realised that was not the way to live and I needed to make every day enjoyable and make it beautiful for me. I needed to generate endorphins which I knew would make me feel better."
Mohammed started getting out of bed, getting dressed and would take short walks each day to build up strength in his legs.
He wanted to see beautiful flowers, so started daily walks with his brother, which the pair are still doing today. They often visit Cambridge University Colleges and their private gardens, which gives Mohammed time and space to talk about how he is feeling, as well as recalling happy memories with his brother. He says walking into the college gardens makes “his whole heart and chest open up” because of the beautiful world in front of him.
“It opened up a whole new world for me. The walks gave me a reason to get out of bed each day.”
Mohammed believes a change of environment has had a major psychological difference to him.
"Going out into a garden changes your mind and your mood completely. Your brain starts creating endorphins, so your mind is flooded with a happy drug. Flowers and nature have changed my life completely."
The new Cambridge Cancer Research Hospital is designed with nature and the outdoors at its heart, with an open air courtyard, gardens and outdoor space for patients and staff to enjoy.
“It’s a great idea to have an outside-in approach, and bring nature into the hospital and the grounds. There’s lots of lessons to be learnt from wildlife and flowers, they’re critical to support wellbeing, mental and physical health.”
In July 2023, Mohammed walked his daughter down the aisle at her wedding - a day Mohammed thought he would never see.
"It was an amazing day. I didn’t think I would make her wedding and that was one of the main things that worried me. But with the amazing treatment and fantastic team that I have at Addenbrooke’s, I could stand up, greet 200 guests, walk, and walk her down the aisle. I had full energy for the whole day."
Mohammed’s cancer is now stable which he says is incredible, and for his type of cancer is “the best news you can possibly have.”
"Find things that bring you pleasure and happiness and spend time doing that – whatever your passion is, do it. Every day is valuable and you need to fill it with fantastic, happy things. Tomorrow is another day. Day by day you need to enjoy it, don’t look too far ahead. Live for today. Tackle cancer in day-by-day pleasures.”
Mohammed has recently overcome his 'patient mentality' once more and flown to Malaga, followed by a 1.5 hour drive to Salobrena on the Andalusian coast for a family holiday, something he had put off doing for the previous seven months during treatment, through fear that the journey was too far or would be too difficult. He believes patients can still travel and enjoy life.