Tuesday, 25 May 2010

It's ok to cry...

Sometimes, I wonder if I have given the wrong impression to the people who visited my blog. Reading some of the comments brings shivers down my spine. Especially the ones that come from people I don't know personally. I am worried that some people might look up at me as someone who is unbreakable, with unwavering mettle to face whatever adversity that comes my way. Someone who is very strong at heart, with an iron resolve.

In real fact, I am not. I am just like everyone else. I cry when things go beyond my control. I cry when trials just kept on coming over and over again. I cry when I feel helpless in the battle I face.

I remembered, when my doctor first broke the news about my disease back in December 2008, I was in a lost as to how should I convey the news to my mom, back home in Malaysia. I was in the mosque, having just performed my Asr prayer. From the main praying hall, I made my way to one of the area inside the mosque where no one was around. I called home, and as soon as my mom picked up the phone, I could hear from the background that my mom was trying hard to keep her tears. Apparently my brother, who found out about the news earlier, had told mom in advance before I made the call. Hearing mom crying broke my heart. Tears started to run down my face, I could barely say anything. Whose soul wouldn't break apart having heard the tears of his/her dearest mom?

The soul would have no rainbow had the eyes no tears.

Even after I hung up, I just couldn't stop crying. I told myself,

"Cry Afzal, cry. Let it out."

There I was at a corner inside the masjid, wiping over my tears. That, admittedly was one of the most emotional moment in my life. Not because that I found out I have cancer, but because I felt so bad that the person I love so much in my life would have to hear such news, and not being able to hold my hand, and offer me a hug, as we were thousands of miles apart.

A few minutes later, I got up, picked up a Quran from the shelf, and started reciting one of the chapters in the Holy book. I was looking for a source of strength, and I looked at none other than Allah's beautiful words for it. Not long after, I managed to gather myself, and started to make plans of how I should encounter my latest trial in life.


Dearest friends,

It's ok to cry. Natural it is for a human being to feel sorrow over times of hardship. The heart doesn't have to be dead or numb. The act of crying does not necessarily denotes that one has not got the strength of patience and fortitude. Our beloved Prophet cried over the death of his son, Ibrahim, yet he is the epitome of strength in the face of trials and tribulations.

As long as crying doesn't turn into wailing, or sobbing loudly, as if we are venting our anger to the One who has decided on our destiny. Our Rabb. And that we don't remain trapped in this pool of sadness, acting like someone who is totally paralyzed by what has happened, as if it is the end of the world. Ibn al Qayyim, a respected scholar in Islam, beautifully describes how Prophet Muhammad cried over a sad situation;

"As for the weeping of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) it was in the same degree as his laughter. He wouldn't sob loudly and raise his voice, just like his laughter wasn't loud. However his eyes would fill up with tears, until they flowed out, and you would hear the sound like that of a whistling kettle coming from his chest. He would weep out of mercy for the dead, out of fear and compassion for his ummah, out of deep fear of Allaah (سبحانه وتعالى), upon listening to the Qur'aan. And it was a weeping of longing, love and exaltation, accompanied by fear and khashyah".

The important thing is how we reacted after we cried. The mistake that a lot of people often fall into is when they start to whine over the calamity that afflicts them, saying things like "Why has Allah allowed such a difficulty on me?" or that when they were supplicating, they would complain, " Why have you not answered my wish and prayers O Allah?". You might think that you won't fall into such traps, or utter such sayings, but believe me, the heart tells you to do and say all the strangest of things when you feel helpless or stressed up.

So a person with seemingly strong character does not necessarily mean that (h)she never shed tears over a calamity. Rather, after letting his/her heart out, there is a positive reaction that succeeds the sadness. That should be the attitude of every Muslim. In life, there will definitely be a day when you might fall down. You cried because you have a cut on your knee, or that the ankle is bruising up. But it isn't the injury or the nature in which you fell that matters, but it is how you get up from it.

And that, is the character of STRENGTH. To get up, when you have fallen down.

To cry over something that saddens you is a mercy which Allâh puts in the hearts of His servants. And verily Allâh shows mercy to those of His servants who are merciful. Insha Allah.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

If only...

In the UK and Ireland, this is certainly the time of the year when Malaysian students abandon a lot of their personal affairs and focus on nothing else but one thing; the examinations.

Some students calmly take things by their stride and wouldn't let the impending examinations take over their life. Whereas some are completely overwhelmed by it, worried that they might flunk and consequently getting very tensed-up.

This is the typical life of a student when examinations are just around the corner. No matter how traumatic your experience of preparing for an examination might be, I'm sure we cherish such moments. Especially those who have gone through the university life phase and are now on their respective career path.

Likewise, I will definitely miss the times when I had to prepare for my examinations. My final year as a medical student in the University of Sheffield, to be more precise. What made the experience even more profound was the fact that I not only had my final examinations to deal with, but I had cancer to battle against too.

Looking back now, I can only thank Allah, that by His Will, I managed to obtain my medical degree amidst all the sheer difficulties I had to endure for the last 6 months of my studies.

Success is a journey, not a destination...


When I was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma back in December 2008, I only had roughly 5 months left before my finals, better known as OSCE (Objective Structured Clinical Examination). I had to weigh my options; should I postpone my studies, having gone this far, so that I can focus on my treatments, or soldier on. The seemingly less arduous path was obviously to take some time off my studies. The representatives from JPA, the governmental department who sponsored my studies were also of the same opinion, ie to postpone my final year studies. It was a difficult decision to make, but I had to decide.

And I decided not to choose the primrose path.

I was definitely not trying to be a hero by doing the mission impossible, but deep inside me, I believed that I had the strength to reach the finishing line. Not only that, I was worried that I might just lose the will to continue my studies once I finish my treatments. I also pondered, that if things don't go well with my treatment, I will then need more time off for further treatment, thus further delaying the completion of my studies.

And I can only thank Allah, as I felt that I made the right decision, insha Allah.

My circumstances were clear then. I had roughly 20 weeks before my OSCE. During these last 20 weeks of my studies, I will undergo 12 courses of chemotherapy every fortnight. For each chemotherapy, it is expected that I will need a whole week to recover from its side effects. Thus in truth I have 10 weeks less than my colleagues to prepare for my finals.

Will I have enough time to prepare?

I must admit that at the beginning, I almost believed that this was indeed, just a step too far. The pressure just seemed too much for me to bear. But just before I crumbled under the immense pressure, I reminded myself of Prophet Muhammad's sayings,

“The strong believer is better and is more beloved to Allaah than the weak believer, although both are good. Strive to attain that which will benefit you and seek the help of Allah, and do not feel helpless.” (Saheeh Muslim, hadeeth no. 2664)

There are clearly 3 important steps the Prophet has taught us in the aforementioned hadith that we should take heed from during times of difficulty.

1. Strive to attain that which will benefit you

  • It's true that I have been disadvantaged by my circumstances, but I shouldn't waste the precious time I have left for my examinations by crying about it.
  • I might have lost a great deal of preparation time due to my treatment arrangements, but I told myself to look at the benefit of such plannings. The benefit was clear -- I had the opportunity to become more focussed and disciplined during my revision times.
  • Thus I strive to attain such opportunity, and I didn't fail. I was definitely procrastinating less, and optimized every little time that I had to revise. In the end, I made good use of the study times that I had, without having to affect the period that I needed to recover from my chemotherapy sessions.

2. Seek the help of Allah

  • Even when things are plain and easy, we should never forget to seek for Allah's assistance. What more in my circumstance. Of all the things one can do in preparing for an examination, you can never do wrong by asking for Allah's favor.
  • Whilst seeking for Allah's help, we should also try to avoid committing actions that displeases Him. Common sense teaches us that if you want to ask for something from someone, you would be nice to the person and would avoid doing anything that might offend him/her. Ironic isn't it, that one performs Solat Hajat (wish prayer) to ask for excellent results but at the same time abandons the obligatory prayers, not being concerned with looking after his/her awrah, or to continually speak bad of someone else?

3. Do not feel helpless

  • Even when things look extremely difficult, I told myself to never feel helpless. I questioned myself, what might happen if I decide to confront my difficulties by feeling that there is nothing I can do about it. Will the problem be solved, or is the burden any lesser?
  • I know that I don't have to face this battle all alone. On top of revising my medical notes, I also spent some time practicing my clinical examination skills with my fellow Muslim colleagues. I made it clear to them that I needed their help, and they were keen to lend a hand.

Having adopted all the 3 approaches as above, I entered into the examination hall with the belief that I couldn't have prepared myself any better given my circumstances. Thus all I had to do by then was to put all my knowledges into practice during the OSCE, and eventually leave all matters to Allah. Alhamdulillah, when the big day came where our results were posted on the medical school's announcement board, I could muster a smile and tell my parent over the phone,

"Mom, your son is now officially a doctor. Alhamdulillah."

To all my dearest friends who will be facing their examinations not long from now, I wish you all the very best. May Allah ease all your affairs and that you will stroll through your examinations with flying colors.

In the end, if you believe that you have put as much effort as you could but things still don't go as how you wish it would, then do not fall into despair. Avoid saying, "If only I had spent a bit longer in the library..", or "I should have listened to such and such's advice", for such actions are merely meant to find the scapegoat in your failure. Rather, keep on trying until you eventually succeed, as the only real failure in life is the failure to try.

“If anything befalls you, do not say, ‘If only I had done such and such.’ Rather say, 'Allah has decreed and He does what He wills.’ For saying ‘if only’ opens the door for the Shaytaan.” [Saheeh Muslim]

And Allah knows best.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

All you need is a bit of patience...

I was twice being told that my cancer has relapsed after what were initially positive responses to treatment. I wondered what put my heart at peace having heard such news.

Never in my life had I experienced such excruciating pain with two of my bone marrow biopsies, the second one being the worse of the two, and a bloodied experience too. I wondered what put my heart at peace having to go through such painful experiences.

My doctor told me that they have exhausted all the curative options for my condition, and the end of the road seems inevitable. That moment when even my doctor had lost hope on me, I wondered what put my heart at peace.

Those were the three important points in my life that I had to endure within the last year and a half. Three incidences that could easily shatter any hopes or optimism, and jolted even those with strong hearts. If there is ever one thing I have learnt from this journey of mine, it is the importance of believing in the power of SABR (patience).

The shirt you would need in times of anger!

Because patience, was the medicine that has kept my heart at peace in all those three situations.

And till this very moment, I pray to Allah that He endow me the power of Sabr to this fragile heart of His servant.


Living with a chronic condition like cancer can take its toll on you, if you don't practice PATIENCE. Do you know what do most people with chronic conditions eventually developed into when they fail to practice patience? They end up being DEPRESSED. Being a patient with a chronic disease myself, I'm not really surprised as to how one can easily become depressed over their condition. If I can just prove my point by sharing my own experience:

  • Ever since I started taking the alternative medications, a lot of positive improvements have been noted over the last 3 months. I started to believe again. But in the last 2 weeks, things seemed to have gone down yet again. On some nights, I was awaken yet again by pains on the right side of my leg. The lumps on my neck seem to have grown slightly bigger, and my energy levels have definitely been lesser than usual. I have done nothing different to my diet, or changed anything in the medications I've taken, making it more frustrating as to why such symptoms are redeveloping!

  • I was hoping to at least start work as a doctor even in my current circumstance, but obviously I would need some leniency in my working hours and workload. However, I doubt if I can persevere for even a week. Not that I don't believe in myself, but my symptoms are really unpredictable. Sometimes, I can stay awake after my Fajr (morning) prayers but when things don't go well, I would have to take those extra hours of sleep having done my morning prayers. Then I started questioning, can I really make it for work at 8am everyday then? [in actual fact, junior doctors in Malaysia have to turn up much earlier than that!] When people ask me, "Wouldn't stress exacerbate cancer? What more the stress of working as a doctor?", I really can't say no to such question, and it is indeed one very good point highlighted.

  • With alternative medications, there are certainly a lot of things that needs to be done throughout the day. Brewing the herbs would take a few hours altogether. With so many medications to take within a day, DISCIPLINE is needed to make sure I NEVER miss taking any of them. Even with my mom and young sister helping me a lot in preparing these medications, I still find it very hard to consistently take all my medications, without fail.

  • A lot of times, I know my family have been very understanding in adapting to my circumstances. In the past, if my dad says that we're going out tomorrow at 8 in the morning, then we will go out at 8 in the morning [well, not precisely 8, we'll end up going out at 9, or 10am, hehe]. However, things are slightly different nowadays. Plans seem to very much depend on how I feel that day. If I feel slightly tired in the morning and needed that extra hours of sleep, my parents would oblige and push plans to a later time. They have been very compromising. Even though I know they have no qualms whatsoever having to make such adjustments, I occasionally developed a sense of guilt. Feeling bad, that other people have to put up with my unpredictability.

I believe patients with chronic diseases share some similarities to the situations I have to face, if not all of them. And it is these sort of examples that usually lead to patients getting depressed, when they feel that the load on their back are just too much to bear. A solid rock can be dented when being hit persistently by water, and so do human beings. When the tension continuously builds up over time, it's easy for us to break.

How seemingly harmless waves can with time, erode the strongest of rocks...

But even when things don't go as planned, or if you feel that everything seems to be going against you, be PATIENT. One moment of patience may ward off great disaster. One moment of impatience may ruin a whole life. Being patient over the bad things that affect you may prevent you from a nervous breakdown, and consequent deterioration from thereon. Being impatient, however, may just lead you to lose control over yourself and eventually commit actions that you don't actually intend to do. You may also hurt others' feelings, or unintentionally say nasty things to the people you love, just because you decided to become IMPATIENT over your personal problems!

“Verily, patience is to faith what the head is to the body. When the head is cut off, the body falls. Verily there is no faith for he who has no patience .”

Experience has taught me that we tend to undo ourselves by being impatient. The Qur'an has taught me that we can pull through the difficulties that we face in life by adopting patience in our life.

O you who believe! Seek Help in Patience and Salaah. Truly, Allah is with those that are patient. [Qur'an 2:153]

And the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him), has taught me that patience is indeed a quality embodied in the hearts of the Believers;

“Strange is the affair of the Mu’min (the believer), verily all his affairs are good for him. If something pleasing befalls him he thanks (Allah) and it becomes better for him. And if something harmful befalls him he is patient (Sabr) and it becomes better for him. And this is only for the Mu’min.”

So when you feel like things are getting out of control, be PATIENT. Adopt approaches you feel can bring tranquility to your heart;

  • Know that whatever trials come your way, it is only because your Lord loves you and wants to test how undivided your faith is onto none other but Him.

  • Know that whatever sickness afflicts you, it is only to purify you off the sins you've committed. Verily fever sheds sins like a tree sheds leaves.

  • Perform wudhu'(ablution) when the heart is raging with anger. The Prophet once said,

"Anger comes from the devil, the devil was created of fire, and fire is extinguished only with water; so when one of you becomes angry, he should perform ablution." [Dawud]

Know that each and everyone of us are on a long but temporary journey, and that the destination is the hereafter - either Paradise, or Hell. Keep that in mind. Whenever we feel that patience is running out as a result of the things that go against us, just recount the endless blessings that God has endowed us with.

Rabbana afrigh 'alayna sobron... [O Lord, pour forth on us patience...]

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Life is just unfair

Last weekend, my family and I decided to pay a visit to my uncle's condominium in Damansara Damai. We were told that just the day before, a gentleman who lived there has decided to take his own life, jumping off from his balcony. He apparently had a quarrel, and when things got out of control decided to commit suicide.

I am against suicide. And I believe that a lot of people out there shares the same opinion. Understandably, the issue might get slightly complicated when one talks about suicide in certain circumstances, patients who are terminally ill, as an example. However, in principal, suicide is a major sin in Islam and the punishments for those committing such act has been mentioned in several ahadith by our Prophet PBUH.

“Whoever throws himself down from a mountain and kills himself will be throwing himself down in the Fire of Hell for ever and ever. Whoever drinks poison and kills himself will be sipping it in the Fire of Hell for ever and ever. Whoever kills himself with a piece of iron will have that iron in his hand, thrusting it into his belly in the Fire of Hell for ever and ever.” [Narrated by al-Bukhaari (5442) and Muslim (109)]

But that is not what I intend to dwell on in this post. Rather, such incidences sparked me into thinking about all the strange ironies of this world we're living in.

  • How ironic is it, that when one who has a terminal disease tries every avenue possible to save his/her life, battling right till the very end, but yet there are people out there who just decided to succumb to their difficulties by committing suicide.

  • How ironic is it, that there are a lot of couples out there who tried for years to get a child but failed, yet there are people out there who dumped their babies in front of a mosque, or in the bush, even worse in the garbage!

  • How ironic is it, that we hear stories of parents trying all they could do to save the life of their child who suffers from a disease, spending whatever they have for the sake of their precious, but yet we hear of sad news about parents who abuse their child, to the extent of killing these innocent children?!

To the eyes of some people, life is just unfair. The aforementioned situations are just some of the examples. Criminals getting away with the crime they committed, people of power enjoying the wealth of his nation while his people suffer in poverty, and rich people gets richer while the poor becomes poorer.

Is life really that unfair?

If you ever need a good example of a so-called injustice, just look at the story of Alton Logan. He was convicted of a first degree murder of a security guard at a McDonald restaurant in Chicago back in 1982, a crime he never committed. Logan was given a life sentence in jail, and only after 26 long years in the prison did they find out that Logan was after all, not guilty.

But what was more shocking, was the fact that two attorneys involved in Logan's case knew all along that he did not kill the security guard, but stated that they were tight-lipped to reveal the true murderer. Why? --Because their client, Andrew Wilson, who they were defending for killing two policemen, confessed to them that he had also killed the security guard at McDonald's - the crime Logan was charged with!

For more story about Alton Logan, click HERE.

When Logan was eventually released in 2008, he was 54 years old. He had spent almost half his life in a place he didn't deserve to be in. The true culprit, Andrew Wilson had died and there was no way Logan could seek revenge for the late Wilson's crime.

If you were to put yourself in Logan's position, how could you put peace to your heart for such injustice?

I myself, can easily claim that life is unfair to me. When I was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma back in December 2008, the doctors told me that it is one of the most treatable cancer in medicine. Some even went further saying that if you have to be affected with a cancer, then take Hodgkin's Lymphoma. I was given plenty of reassurance that my life will be back on track by the end of my treatment.

But the harsh reality is, I am still currently battling against this supposedly easily treatable cancer. In fact, it has gone worse than I could ever expect it to be. And yet, some patients I know of through my times in the hospital who suffered from supposedly more serious types of cancers, are now alive and kicking, being in remission from their disease.

If you were to put yourself into such position, how do you find solace from a seemingly unfair life?


The reality is, one can never find peace when he thinks of how unfair life has been to him. He never will.

I find peace, knowing the fact that my religion teaches me that there is life after death. That there is the Hereafter, and the Day of Judgement.

It is during the Day of Judgement that every criminals who got away with their crimes in this world will be rightly punished for their acts.

It is during the Day of Judgement that all the wrongdoings of an unjust leader be shown, and that he can no longer abuse his power to prevent it.

Believing in the Hereafter should answer every question a Muslim has about all the injustices in life. That we should leave the judgement of every affairs in life to Allah, the best and most just disposer.

As for the difficulties one persistently faces throughout his journey in life, be it from suffering an illness to those with never ending hardships, do find peace in our Prophet's sayings,

The believing man or woman continues to have affliction in person, property and children so that they may finally meet Allah, free from sin. (Tirmidhi)

When one believes in the Hereafter, then there really is no better position to be in but to meet your Creator in the purest of state, a state free from sin. By the will of Allah, the reward of Jannah (paradise) awaits, so beautiful it is, that whatever sufferings that used to afflict him is now just a past memory. SubhanAllah!

That is the beauty of the Deen. When one's paradigm in life is about building for the Hereafter, then the heart finds solace in whatever trials comes his way. But when one's life is centred upon the temporary life of this world, then one will struggle as the heart fails to find the satisfaction it really needs.

Life is, after all, not that unfair, isn't it? Ask yourself.