Arina Yaghoubi is obsessed with Drake. She reminisces about the days she watched Hannah Montana as a kid. She tweets about pizza and drinking too much coffee. She’s far from keen on Donald Trump’s presidency but has a certain respect for Ivanka Trump’s class and ambition. She’s 21 years old, and she has cancer, and even that, suddenly, is not her only concern, due to an order signed by the new president.
It’s leukemia she’s battling at St. Jude Hospital in Memphis. It’s the second time in two years that her cancer has come back. Last year she was in treatment at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.
She’s dreaming of living in New York, of going back to college. One year ago she was enrolled at university in Virginia, studying pharmacy, and plotting her future cosmetics line — specialized for cancer patients with skin weakened by chemotherapy treatments.
“I’m someone who wants to complete my education and do something for the world,” she told me. “I have been battling leukemia since I was 14, and I never gave up because I wanted to make a huge impact.”
This story could end there — a young woman is defying her odds, fighting a life-threatening illness with positivity and a stellar medical team.
But on Friday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning all immigrants and visa holders from seven majority-Muslim nations from entering the United States for 90 days. The executive order, titled “Protecting the Nation From Terrorist Attacks by Foreign Nationals,” applies to visitors from Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, and Iran, including dual citizens.
And Yaghoubi is an Iranian national who came to the United States in 2015 alone and healthy for university, and has since had to try to change her student visa to a medical visa. She is unsure of what her status is now. She is unsure of what it will be when she goes into remission.
“When you are going through treatment for something so serious, the last thing you want to think about is your status,” Yaghoubi said. “It’s heartbreaking.”
Yaghoubi’s father, who is in Iran with her brother and has a visa, is barred from visiting her. Her mother, who is staying with Yaghoubi in Memphis, is uncertain whether returning to visit her son in Iran or to check in on her job as an accountant would leave her daughter indefinitely alone. But her mom knows staying in the United States might risk her employment — and her family’s stability — altogether.
In 24 hours, it has become yet another unbelievable anxiety in their lives.
When Yaghoubi found herself in the hospital less than a month after arriving in the United States with cancer, it took her parents two months to get an appointment for a visa. It took three months before her father could come sit by his daughter’s bedside at NIH in Maryland. It’s never been an easy process.
Yaghoubi has gone into remission and relapsed again — now her doctors tell her she is on her way to being 100 percent cancer-free.
“After you get everything back on track and you are able to stand up on your feet all over again, you are just really encouraged, really excited to get back into life, feeling like you are one step closer to your goal,” Yaghoubi said.
“Then when you see something so absurd — racism and stereotyping— something like that can make it all fall down on the ground all over again. That’s just really disappointing.”