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Dr. Rana Jacob: A Look into the Dual Life of a Practitioner and Published Author
Dr. Rana Jacob, a physician at Upstate Hematology Oncology, holds many accolades as an Oncologist and Hematologist, but she can now add published author to that list! Her 2019 work "A Loaf of Bread," features a collection of poetry detailing the adversity and humanity of those affected by the Syrian Civil War and the motivation of those pursuing a new life in the United States.
All About Dr. Rana Jacob & “A Loaf of Bread”
What inspired you to write "A Loaf of Bread"?
The piece was motivated by watching the War and hearing the stories of so many who were affected by the Syrian conflict. Their afflictions naturally triggered the compelling emotions to give a voice to the voiceless and is a compilation based on my personal experiences and those surrounded by me. For example, I write about my house being bombed in Damascus, while another focuses on a friend who took a rubber boat to Greece and then to Germany to escape the devastation. It represents individuals from different backgrounds representing their truth, persona, and story.
How did you initially get into poetry?
I've been writing poetry since I was nine years old - I think it runs in my blood! Naturally, I began writing in Arabic (my first language), and then eventually started practicing in English. I'd like to think I didn't go to poetry; it came to me.
What inspired the name of the book?
"A Loaf of Bread" is based on a story a friend had told me of a bomb going off at a nearby bakery where locals, including children, were waiting in line for bread. It is a haunting reality that many individuals in Syria and refugees still face today.
What was your experience living in Syria?
It was a long time ago, actually. I left in 1990, so there was no tension or religious animosity at that time; in fact, it was very beautiful and peaceful, neighbors lived amongst each other like family, and people were content. But that was a long time ago. When the Civil War began in 2013, I started to hear stories from relatives and friends of what was going on in Syria, and how it affected them. My house in Damascus was bombed, and unfortunately, my aunt passed away during the conflict, which I included in the book. Those poems where the hardest to write and were naturally the closest to me.
How has your experience with the Syrian War changed you as a person?
You come to have more understanding and empathy. When you treat patients with cancer, you witness the struggle of the individual and how they manage to cope. Similarly, in Syria, you see hundreds of thousands on the street holding on to life from death and destruction. These experiences have made me realize how precious everything we do here (at our practice) is, and even though I can't be there (in Syria), I can help patients win their own personal War with cancer.
How about as a writer and author?
It introduces a different side of myself to those I care for and treat. Before I didn't really share my work on a professional level, many times, I felt like I had two lives! This is the first- time patients have gotten to know me as a poet as opposed to their practitioner, and it was interesting for me because I think it opened my eyes to a side of my patients that I didn't see before. I discovered people who read my book and heard of my experience became more personable and understanding towards me. When patients see a provider, they view them through a clinical lens, much less on a personal level. But when a provider touches their humanity, it changes the relationship. It brings them closer. Patients began sharing more of their own personal struggles with me, aside from their medical concerns, which was truly eye-opening.
Can you elaborate more on what the patient's response has been?
A lot of them ask to sign my book, which is funny because I don't even bring up my poetry, they discover it themselves! I did a reading at Caffe Lena earlier this year on January 8th and noticed some of the patients came to support me, which was amazing. Here I am, going into this café, and I see all these wonderful faces of people I recognize - what a moment! Especially because these are patients are sick, they could've had a chemo treatment yesterday and be exhausted, yet they made it all the way to Saratoga to hear my poetry. That was immensely heartwarming and humbling for me to see how gracious they were.
What has your family's response been now you are a published author?
My kids have always been involved from the very beginning. They correct my grammar in my pieces, and I consult them with my English. I think my experience has taught my kids you don't have to choose between your passions, you should follow what you love. They saw me do both artistry and medicine, and combine my interests, so I encourage them to follow their own path. My son Jad visited Germany when he was 16 to interview refugees and their experiences in his documentary "I am Syria," which is available on Amazon. He graduated from NYU Tisch School of the Arts. My daughter, Enana, is currently a junior in high school and loves writing poetry, so I think I've taught them to pursue what you love truly!
What poem do you make sure to include in all your readings? Why?
Each poem has a certain trigger for the reader, but of all the readings I've done, a patient favorite has been Life and Death. It's only five lines, and the last one says, "the opposite of death is not life, the opposite of death is love," which I think summarizes the spirit of the whole book. It's just not enough to live; you must also love.
What would you like the reader to take away from this book?
When you give a voice to the people who suffer in silence, that is what promotes empathy, understanding, and a willingness to change. I think when people see the news, they are desensitized to what is actually going on. When you can put a face to a story and realize those struggling have humanity, it can be a catalyst for change. I don't think you write with the intention to make people do something; you write because you have the urge to give a voice and the story of that individual, motivating that change.
Can you give us any details on your upcoming projects?
I'm working on a non-fiction manuscript that will soon be published! The piece is centered around being an Oncologist based on patient's stories and experiences called "The Long Tale of Smiles and Tears," which is currently finished and with my agent. I'm also in the beginning stages of a new project translating poetry from Arabic with another poet, so stay tuned!
Are there any more upcoming readings scheduled?
Most of my readings are held in New York City, typically as a fundraiser for Syrian children refugees where proceeds are donated to UNICEF. I have read at Northshire Library, Caffe Lena, and the Saratoga Public Library in terms of the local area.
Where is “A Loaf of Bread” available?
You can order it via Amazon or Barnes and Noble through their online store!
To learn more about Dr. Jacob's pieces and events, check out her website at www.ranabitar.com
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