Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Time To Say Goodbye

A lot of people have been asking around in regards to my previous post. It touches my heart to witness the concern of the people around me, and the sacrifices they are willing to make. If there is one thing I have really learnt in life, it is the beauty of friendship, one that transcends any differences, be it your skin colour or creed.

I have tried to keep it low ever since the news came out, but I knew eventually I can't keep it to myself for too long. Solely because I believe that there are so many people out there, be it openly or silently, who have been praying and supporting me throughout my battle since December 2008. People who deserve to know my story, through its thick and thin.

My life is indeed, not a primrose path.

After successfully completing my high dose chemotherapy and autologous transplant back in November, I had a scan and a neck biopsy to monitor my progress from treatment. The results of my scan and biopsy came out last week, and it was obviously not what I'd hoped for.

My cancer has relapsed, yet again. And it is still the same type of cancer, ie Hodgkin's lymphoma. Not only was it found on my neck, the cancer is also detected at the liver and my pelvic bone, suggesting the aggressive nature of the disease. The prognosis, is really not good.

My doctor felt that the cancer is almost non responsive to the chemotherapy and transplant. He believes that we are reaching a dead end in terms of further curative treatment options.

Having consulted my parents and close relatives, I have therefore decided that it's best that I return home to Malaysia, for good. To seek for a fresh breath of air, a new environment. To seek for that tiny ray of hope, wherever it might be.

Believing that at least, whatever the outcome of this battle might be, I will be next to my family, my loved ones, the people I want to be with.

It is indeed time to bid farewell to this long but rewarding 6 years journey in the land of the UK. On Sunday the 31st January 2010, I'll be leaving the country for probably the last time ever.

When people asked me how am I taking the news, I'd be a complete liar to claim that I am unperturbed. Natural it is for a mere mortal, blessed with heart and emotions to feel sad with such a difficult predicament. What I currently feel inside can probably be best described by what was said by our Beloved Prophet on the day he mourned for the loss of his son, Ibrahim;

The Eyes Tear,
The Heart is in Pain,
But (with my tongue) I will only say that which is pleasing to Allah.

O Allah, to you I leave all matters.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Accepting fate

There is a boy who wishes to accomplish many things in his life. He worked his socks off in school, strived for excellence and eventually garnered top grades in his studies. He wanted to fulfill his lifelong ambition of becoming a good doctor, and his wishes came true when he was offered a scholarship to pursue medicine.

Until this point of time, life has always gone by his wishes. What he aspired in life all came true. Growing from a little child into adulthood has been a rewarding experience for him, one filled with joy and happiness. Even though there were bumps along the way, he felt that nothing could stop his march towards achieving great things in life.

He wanted to become a successful doctor, treating people to his best ability so that by the will of Allah, he can save lives, just as how he imagined it to be when he was a child. He dreamt of building his own family and raise beautiful children to bring joys into his life.

But this is when his life took a turn for the worst, as he is afflicted with a test he has never thought could jeopardize all his plans. He might not be able to live up to his dreams of being the best doctor possible. He possibly has to forget his plans of having his own ideal family and his very own beautiful children. The so many great things he aspire in life might just in the end, be dreams.

Oh, how cruel can a twist in life be. A minute you're on top of the world, but by the next blink of the eye, here you are, as low as you can get.

The boy could have easily felt shattered and despise his luck. But before emotions run over him, he is reminded that this is what life is all about.

He knew that he can only make so many plans in life, but the ultimate end is in the hands of His God. Things might just not go by his plan, but he must teach his heart to accept fate. He must tell himself to believe in the wisdom of the things that have been decreed upon him, by his Almighty Creator.

No affliction befalls in the earth, by way of drought [for example], or in yourselves, such as illness, or the loss of a child, but it is in a Book, meaning, the Preserved Tablet (al-lawh al-mahfūz), before We bring it about, [before] We create it — the same is said [to be true] of [God’s] graces — that is indeed easy for God. [57:22]

No matter how hard things can be, the boy knew he must try to swallow it. Bitter it might taste, trials and tribulations are part and parcel of life. He knew that life in this world is only temporary, a transition point, before he embarks on an eternal journey in a different place. A place he hopes to be in, where he knows there will only be joy and happiness therein, with no pains and sufferings. A place where whatever the boy wishes, will come true. A place that boy knows as Jannah, or heaven.

But until that time comes, the boy knows that he has to keep on fighting. Life is indeed a struggle, and what has transpired over the last year or so has taught him a lot about fortitude.

The boy is not going to let the things he experienced over the last week to deter him from BELIEVING. No matter how far the boy falls down, he will get up again. And again. And he will do so until His Creator tells him that it is TIME.

Do remember this boy in your prayers.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Nothing Can Stop You But Yourself

For the university students, it is the time of the year yet again for examinations and assessments. After what had been for most of them an enjoyable winter break, with all the traveling and snow fights, most of my Malaysian peers in Sheffield are currently isolating themselves in their rooms or in the library. All being infected with the 'revision-mood' virus, which only spreads when examinations are around the corner and is virtually non-existent at any other time of the year.

The examination fever

Ideally, when it comes to the examination season, you want to put aside all other commitments and give your utmost attention to revising. Nothing should be bothering you from your revision and you want to spend as much time as possible preparing for the exams.

But be aware that things don't necessarily go as how you have planned them to be.

Sometimes you are down for a few days with a nasty cold and had to abandon revision for a while.

Or maybe someone close to you in Malaysia is poorly ill or has died, and you had to make an emergency return back home even if it is just for a few days, to provide your support for the bereaved family.

It reminded about my own circumstances, a year ago, when I was preparing for my examination as a final year medical student. I was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma on the 5th December 2008 and my exams were scheduled on the 15th and 16th January 2009. Within the 6 weeks gap I had between the date of my diagnosis and examination, I had to include regular visits to the hospital for PET scan, bone marrow biopsy and two chemotherapy sessions on top of my revision plan.

I thought I was running out of time...

The chemotherapy made me very lethargic and I remembered having to take at least a week off my revision time recovering from each treatment. Overall, I only had less than 3 weeks of solid revision to prepare myself for the big exams. Alhamdulillah, by the will of Allah, I successfully passed the exams, in what I probably thought was one of the most testing period in my life.

What I'd like to highlight was not my personal feat, but some important lessons I've learned from my experience.

Lesson 1 : Be consistent with your studies.
I understand that it's not easy to be hardworking 24-7, what more as a university student. But being consistent just means devoting that extra 30 minutes-1 hour per day to keep on top of what you've learnt. So that when the examination season looms near, you'll actually reap the benefit by having to spend less time revising compared to others.

Lesson 2 : Stick to revision plans, always allow time for non-revision activities!
Even though I only had roughly 6 weeks before my big exam, I promised myself that I'll not touch my medical books during the period I've allocated for recuperating from the chemotherapy. I'd certainly look at those 'rest' periods as fulfilling my body's rights. But when it is time to revise, I made sure I didn't procrastinate by spending unnecessary times browsing the internet or doing other things that can distract me from studying. So there is absolutely nothing wrong with allocating some time off studying to enjoy yourself, be it playing sports, 'shopping therapy', etc. It is all about discipline!

Lesson 3 : Make sure you put as much effort into praying to Allah as u do with revising.

At the end of the day, we should always turn to Allah for guidance and assistance. Without the will of Allah, I would have never been able to pass my exams no matter how much effort I put in. I genuinely believed that even though I felt slightly unprepared coming to the exams due to my circumstances, Allah gave me the strength to remain calm throughout so that my mind would not be affected by stress and anxiety. Having said that, the concept of tawakkal to Allah should be preceded by making as much effort as possible (read:revision), thus I don't think last minute revision with a half-hearted commitment comes under this concept!

Me revising during my first chemotherapy session. As others were resting whilst having the drugs infused in their body, I couldn't afford to waste my revision times.

All the best to my fellow friends who are battling with their respective examinations, I hope all of you shall pass with flying colours. Do not take any shortcomings as an excuse to stop you from excelling in your studies.

Really, nothing can stop you, but yourself.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Family and life

Assalamu'alaikum wbt

In life, you choose who becomes your friend. You determine the type of person you want around you, be it a good or a bad friend. A friend you'd hope will remain by your side through the thick and thin. But try as you might, you always feel that friends can only help you to a certain limit before you know you're on your own.

Families, you don't choose them. They are God's gift to you. Curse your luck for getting a nasty sister or a big fat brother, they are part of you and that is final. It's not exchangeable.

But ironically you can always be sure that families will always be there for you, when no one else does.

As one saying goes, the only rock I know that remains steady, and the only institution that I know works, is FAMILY.

Love your family. Pray for their well-being in this world and in the hereafter. Don't break their hearts for you're only gonna break yours.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Learning the prayers

Last Thursday, I've had yet another fine needle biopsy done on the left side of my neck. Alhamdulillah, although it was slightly painful at the beginning, the procedure went well and I only have Allah to thank for.

This was my third neck biopsy since December 2008. Thinking about what I've gone through for the last one year, I've experienced so many procedures and investigations for the treatment of my condition, some of the major ones being as follow:

1) Three ultrasound-guided biopsy of the neck (December 2008, July 2009, January 2010)

The ultrasound uses high frequency sound waves to make a picture of the nodes in the neck. The fine needle is used to take a tissue biopsy of the enlarged nodes in the neck.

2) Two bone marrow biopsy (December 2008, July 2009)

The bone marrow biopsy is to detect for presence of cancerous cells within the bone marrow cavity.

3) Four Computed-Tomography (CT) scan (December 2008, April 2009, July 2009, December 2009)

CT scan helps to visualize the enlarged lymph nodes throughout the body.

4) Three Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scan (December 2008, July 2009, January 2010)

Works in tandem with CT scan, assisting in determining whether a node is cancerous or not.

5) Two insertion of Hickman Lines (September 2009, October 2009)

A Hickman line allows insertion of fluids and medication into the body, as well as withdrawing bloods from the blood vessels without having to use needles.

6) Countless cannula insertions and venepunctures

Cannula insertion


Above all, the one that probably sticks most in my mind was the bone marrow biopsy. It was without a doubt the most uncomfortable experience of all, especially the second one that I had, which in short was quite a bloodied experience.

This video might be a bit too graphic for some people. So do watch at your own risk.

Obviously with all the procedures above, praying for a skilled doctor will help to make each procedure less painful and time-consuming. However, on my part, there are obviously prayers that I read before-hand as every affairs is ultimately in the hands of Allah. Some of them include:

اللَّهُمَّ لا سَهْلَ إلَّا مَا جَعَلْتَهُ سَهْلاً وَ إنْتَ تَحْعَلُ الْحزْنَ إذَا شِئْتَ سَهْلاً

Allahumma la sahla illa ma ja'altu sahla, wa 'anta taj-alul hazna idha shi'ta sahla

1) O Allah! There is nothing easy except what You make easy, and You make the difficult easy if it be Your Will.

Subhanallah, walhamdulillah, wala ilaha illallah, wallahu akbar, wala hawla wala quwwata illa billah

2) Glory be to Allah, All praise is to Allah, there is no god but Allah. There is no power and no strength except in Allah.

The bone marrow biopsy, in particular, left me with a painful, aching back, worst at night for a few months. It kept me awake on some nights as the pain was occasionally unbearable. On top of the painkillers I took, I'll also practice a du'a taught by our Prophet SAW:

Place your hand at the site of the pain and say:

(i) Bismillah
‘In the name of Allaah’ (three times), then supplicate seven times:

(ii) A'udzubillahi waqudrotihi min sharrimaa ajidu wa-ukhodzir
‘I take refuge with Allah and within His omnipotence from the evil that I feel and am wary of.’

All the prayers above are certainly ones we can practice in life, with the hope that we can live under the shade of the teachings of al-Qur'an and as-Sunnah. Never forget Allah in all of our affairs, believe that Allah is our Protector, and that no harm can be done or afflicted if it is not His Will.

The experience of living with pain. There is an old saying, "Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterwards".

Monday, 4 January 2010

A blessing we often forget

Assalamu'alaikum wbt and Hi everyone,

It has been nearly 7 weeks since I was discharged from the hospital for my high dose chemotherapy. As anticipated, I can still very much feel the after effects of the chemotherapy, in particular my energy level. I'll still need the extra hours of sleep during the day to keep me going with my daily activities. Nevertheless, yesterday marked a significant milestone in my improvement post chemotherapy. I started playing sports again, after a 4-months lay off. It was a good 2 hours and a half outing of badminton with my fellow Malaysian peers, one that left me aching all over by the end of it!

All these while, my only form of exercise has been walking daily for my regular prayers in the Muslim Welfare House. Even now I was still huffing and puffing by the time I arrive at the masjid, as I need to walk up the hill all the way to get there. It is certainly one good form of exercise, and I'm sure any Malaysians in Sheffield who regularly comes to the same masjid would concur with me.

"...then for every step he takes towards the mosque, he is upgraded one degree in reward and his one sin is taken off (crossed out) from his accounts (of deeds)..." [Bukhari]. The journey up the hill of Broomspring lane.

Looking retrospectively, I was reminded how I struggled a lot with my daily worship back when I was having my treatment. I felt so weak that I often made use of the rukhsah (relief/dispensation) Allah has allowed in performing the obligatory prayers. Most of the time I had to pray on a sitting position, but there were also times when I was so poorly, that I prayed lying on the bed.

"Allah burdens not a person beyond his scope. He gets reward for that (good) which he has earned, and he is punished for that (evil) which he has earned." [2:286]. An example of praying on a lying position.

The chemotherapy took all my energy away; I could only perform my obligatory prayers and was already too tired to even consider doing the nawafil prayers. Ablution at times was a massive effort, even though I have a bathroom in the room I was in and it was only a few steps away from my bed.

The struggle I went through in performing my worship to Allah back then was a strong reminder that good health is indeed one BIG blessing from our Creator. With good health, arises all the other goodness we enjoy in life. Think about it.

Without good health, the foods we eat will not taste as good. All the nasigoreng kampung, ayam tandoori, sate, cendol, you name your favourite dishes, will all not taste good when you are not well. When I had the mucositis, I could hardly tolerate any foods that was offered to me, and all the drinks and soup that I had tasted dull. As a result, I lost 6 kilograms within just a week and had to be referred to the dietitian to prevent further weight loss.

What you eat today will 'eat' you back in the future. =)

The comfortable bed that usually provides us with a good rest turns into a pain, as we become bed-bound when down with an ilness. When I was in the hospital for a month, there were times when I felt like burning the hospital mattress I was on. Which was probably because I felt tired just looking and lying on it for such a long period.

I am telling myself first and foremost before everyone else; I must appreciate the blessing of good health before I become ill. There must be at least one moment in your life where your 'ibadah was affected as a result of an illness, and think about how thankful you became once you were back to full fitness.

Remember that the moment will come when each of us will be asked about how have we used our good health. Is it for acts that help to bring us closer to our Creator, or ones that takes us further away. When that time comes, the tongue will only say nothing but the truth about all our actions in this world.

Our Lord, bestow on us Mercy from Yourself, and facilitate for us our affair in the Right way! [Al Kahfi, 18:10]

Our prophet was right. Health is indeed a bounty from Allah wherein most people are deceived.