The death of a Lebanese American University (LAU) student to cancer on Sept. 5 provoked an outpouring of grief online.
Twenty-two-year-old Sara Khatib was a fourth year pharmacy student at LAU. Two weeks before her death, she had given a TEDxLAU talk entitled “4 lessons I learned while battling cancer” in which she spoke about her story of being a person defined by cancer to becoming a more empowered one transcending the disease.
Halfway through the talk, she received a standing ovation for overcoming her fear of cancer by saying:
I chose not to be Sara Khatib, the cancer patient and amputee, but to continue being Sara Khatib, the fourth-year pharmacy student who is clumsy, loves Nutella, and just happens to have cancer and a missing arm.
In an official statement, LAU mourned Khatib:
She turned a bright face to the world and decided to enjoy life no matter what it brought on. That was Sara Khatib’s gift to all those who knew her, and she will remain an inspiration to many, long after her passing on.
Noura Andrea Nassar from Humans of LAU, who had covered TEDxLAU, recalled Khatib in the following way:
I woke up this morning to terrible news: Sara El Khatib, a speaker at TEDxLAU's event on August 23, had passed away. I met Sara at TEDxLAU a couple of weeks ago. She was a fighter, an inspiration and a very a kind person. I am sure that those of you who knew her or at least saw her Talk agree.
American University of Beirut student Kareem Zreik agreed and recalled his story with her:
I remember meeting her outside the audition room for the first time. Had no idea who she was. She was looking around, I think unsure which door to open or whether she could (possibly because an audition was taking place inside). I just smiled at her and said, pardon me are you here for TEDxLAU? She of course nodded and smiled, and I gestured toward the door and leaned forward to open it for her. Again, I had no idea who she was. The position she standing in concealed any evidence of previous surgical history. Yet, in that brief moment, and at the risk of sounding melodramatic, one could tell that she was a very special human being with a great deal of love and kindness inside her. She was the sort of person who if you spent even a minute talking to her, you'd feel at ease and happy. And again, my first interaction with her was prior to knowing anything about her, or even being able to recognize any signs of who she is (since I knew we had an individual who was to audition that day with a particular story). She was right after all. She isn't her disease. She's, simply, Sara. And I am glad that this is the person I got to know, however briefly and fleetingly.
I've dealt with a lot of death, and so I wouldn't pretend to know what would be best for others in this tragedy. But what common thread with all the loss I have seen is to continue to make something positive and meaningful out of the person's life. And with Sara, if we do anything at all, I think it should be to remember her strength, her hope, her smile and most importantly her message. For those of us struggling with sickness or injury, and for our loved ones who have struggle along side us, let us take Sara's message to heart it and apply it.
We are not our disease. We may feel pain, but the suffering that can come with it is optional.
May this wonderful human being rest easy now. We are all grateful to have been touched by her mind and soul.
Khatib had started a support group for amputees in Lebanon. To honor her memory, her friends, colleagues and loved ones decided to pick up her cause.