Monday, 28 June 2010

Thank you was all I need

"Thank you for contributing, Sir. And thanks for listening too."

I replied, briefly, "You're most welcome, do keep up the good work," and with a big smile, I left the Chinese lady I was talking to, who is a fundraiser for The Budimas Charitable Foundation. BUDIMAS is a renown organisation in Malaysia, heavily involved in the care of orphaned and underprivileged children in the country.

I was approached by the lady who was at her Budimas booth, just as I was about to enter into the Cold Storage supermarket in Subang Parade. As our conversation ended and I made my way into the supermarket, I suddenly thought to myself about her very last sentence to me before we parted ways.

"...And thanks for listening too."

Those few words might not mean anything to some, but I took it quite profoundly for unknown reasons. To me, it showed the deep appreciation of the fundraisers to the people who actually did spare a few of their precious minutes to stop, and listen to what they have to say. I'm sure the fundraisers must have gotten so used to people ignoring them, passing by them as if they are not there.

That was when I told myself, "I think I should I thank you instead. For persevering to approach people even though mostly ignored you. For persevering to do a noble cause for the benefit of someone else and not just for yourself.". I will always have a soft spot for altruism.


Last weekend, I was privileged to be invited as the main speaker in a summercamp event which took place in Sungai Congkak, Hulu Langat. The event, called "Weekend with AJ" with the main theme, "Transformers : Rise of The Fallen", was participated by Malaysian university students from both local and foreign (ie United Kingdom and Ireland) institutions. The event was organised by a group of aspiring Malaysian students from Cork, Ireland who named their association as AtapHijau. The other invited speaker was my dearest friend, Imran Koyube, who is the current President and co-founder of the impressive ILuvIslam.

I was entrusted with the responsibility of delivering talks on 4 different topics, with my sessions being on Saturday morning and evening, as well as Sunday morning. Even though I could claim to be quite used to giving talks to vibrant youths via my personal experiences in the past, never have I been asked to become the main speaker for an event, and to deliver as many as four talks. Given the fluctuating state of my health condition, I was slightly concerned that I wouldn't be able to live up to the expectations of the organizers. What more, the organizers seemed to have done tremendous work in ensuring that the event would be a successful one, thus I know the talks must be equally impressive to achieve the objectives already listed.

Even though there were slight doubts on whether I would be able to cope given my health condition, I believed I could do this. An immense task it seems, the thought of contributing my part in developing my society just seemed an opportunity too hard to resist. A similar situation happened back in December 2009, when I decided to accept the invitation to give a talk in a winter camp event in Birmingham, United Kingdom, just a few weeks after having my high dose chemotherapy and autologous stem cell transplant. I just love the thought of 'giving' to others, thus providing me with the strength to withhold any challenges that might come my way.

The main challenge I discovered in delivering my talk in Sungai Congkak was the travels I had to make, which had its toll on my stamina. I decided to commute to Sungai Congkak on both days of my talk instead of staying at the event's accommodation for two reasons; i)my strict diet regime makes it easier for me to have my meals at home. ii)I was worried that I might not get good rest at the venue's accommodation and thus possibly affecting my performance to deliver the talks.

Every trip would take me about 45 minutes, longer if the traffic was congested. On Saturday, I made 4 trips altogether, back and forth, that by the time I reached home that night, I was totally knackered. Tired I was, I still had to finish up the powerpoint slides for the next day's talk and I must admit, a sense of frustration almost crept in. I almost blamed it on my cancer, believing that the Mas Afzal 3 years ago, free from cancer, would never struggle with this sort of pace.

But that was when I put such negative thoughts aside, and reminded myself to be thankful to Allah that in spite of my condition, I am not bed-ridden, in fact I'm well alive and kicking. That's more than I can ask, given my state. Eventually, I opened up my laptop and got on with completing my slides for the next day. Aiysha, my dearest sister, kindly enough gave me a therapy massage of my head and shoulder just to ease the accumulating tension building in my head. Mom, as usual, provided me with the words of encouragement. That's what families are for, aren't they?

Aiysha, my lil sis.

In the end, I was generally satisfied with the talks I've delivered throughout the two days. There will inevitably be some loopholes here and there in my presentation, but these are always rooms for improvements. All I can hope for is that the participants, the youthful leaders of our future, have benefited from the content of my talks and are inspired to play their part to the society.

I wish I could tell each and everyone of them, that

If I am not letting this terminal cancer of mine stopping me from 'giving' to humanity, then what more for them, all fit and well. Let us all RISE to glory!

When some of the participants came up to me personally before I left the place and said, "Terima kasih abang," that was all that I needed to rejuvenate my tired mind, body and soul. Looking at their bright faces and witnessing the exuberance radiating from it is a therapy to the pain I suffer from my cancer. I guess it's true what they say, it is in giving that we actually receive. We receive the satisfaction in life. We receive the true meaning of being alive, that is to be of benefit to others.

And the best people are indeed those who are most helpful or beneficial for other people. Allah knows best.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

The man of few words

When I was a young, innocent 7-years old boy, I remembered how unsure I was about what I wanted to become when I grow up. Back during our days in the primary school, there would be a time during the year when all the students had to fill in a card, where we would update our personal details, and list a few of our ambitions, among others.

Unlike some people who have always wanted to become a doctor, lawyer or a pilot ever since they were young, I was rather clueless. Thus, every year, my ambition was never the same, they kept on changing again and again.

Darjah Satu [Year One]
1st - Wartawan [journalist]
2nd - Polis [police]
3rd - Kakitangan Kerajaan [government official]

Darjah Dua [Year Two]
1st - Peguam [Lawyer]
2nd - Jururawat [Nurse]
3rd - Doktor [Doctor]

Darjah Tiga [Year Three]
1st - Askar [Soldier]
2nd - Perdana Menteri [Prime Minister]
3rd - Pelakon [Actor]

Obviously the one listed above was roughly what I could remember almost 20 years back and thus a possible discrepancy from what I actually wrote down. Nevertheless, it showed my take on what I would want to become in the future back then.

It was only clear that I wanted to become nothing else but a doctor when I was 17 years old, when previously I kept on changing from dreaming to become a judge, a lawyer, even a singer at times, etc. When I passed my SPM [GCSE-equivalent] with flying colors, it further reinforced my ambition to become a doctor and I never looked back ever since.

Ask every doctor and they'll have their own reasons why they wanted to become one. So did I. In fact, I have quite a few reasons. And one of it, is not just for my fulfillment, but rather for my beloved dad.

I believed, and purely assumed, since he never really voiced it in front of us, that he wanted to see a doctor among his children. Even till now, I can't really prove whether my assumptions are true or baseless. I never knew why he never said it straight to us [that he wanted at least one of us to become a doctor], but I believe it signifies the type of a person he is. High hopes he has on his children to become successful people in the future, yet he will not heap the unnecessary pressure on us. The pressure that many parents might put on their children's shoulder to be successful.

"You must be a doctor, just like your cousin, bla bla bla..."

"I want you to become a lawyer, so you should work hard at school and stop playing around!"

No wonder a lot of children faltered to the unnecessary expectations of their parents. Some even resorted to taking their own lives, naudzubillah! May Allah protect my family from such situations!

As Jep rightly stated in his entry, Papa allowed us the right to grow up at our own pace. Yes, when it came to our academics, he'd rarely compromise on success, expecting us to do well in our examinations. But at the same time, I would always remember Papa as the one who prompted us into loving sports so much.

Being a good footballer himself, Papa would bring us to the football stadium back when Malaysian football was relatively more entertaining than how it is now.

He would take us into swimming classes, tennis lessons, golf driving course and badminton courts. When we developed the interest on tenpin bowling, and became quite serious with the sport, Papa adapted. He went to play bowling with us, gradually improving with every game, even occasionally defeating us even though we were better trained in the sport than him.

That is our Papa. He, in short, is a man of few words. He rarely shows his emotions in front of his kids. He is not the type of person who hugs or embraces you with tears running down the eyes, nope. I guess he leaves that to Mama. Mama deals with the emotion-bit. =)

I am certainly not the type of person who fully approves on special days for your mom, or dad, or your grandfather, etc. Not that I am being an ungrateful son, but I believe such days actually stemmed from the shrewd ideas of some money-making people. Those involved in making cards, cakes, etc. When it's Mothers Day, people will flock these shops to get a card for their mom. And when it's Fathers Day, they'll follow the same routine again. Imagine how much money do they make at the end of the day.

Having said that, I am still quite thankful that such a day exists. Because I, rather shamefully, often forgets to appreciate how indebted I am to my parents. For their unconditional love. For the sacrifices they would take for their children's sake. For the prayers they make day and night for our success in this world and the Hereafter. And at least this day has reminded me again about my Papa.

I was watching a program on TV1 a few hours ago, and was left with teary eyes when they showed a clip containing the faces of fathers all over Malaysia, with the song "Lelaki Ini" by Anuar Zain on the background. I guess the song really goes well with the clip, and would touch the heart of anyone who listens to it.

Try watching pictures of you and your dad, and play this song as the background. I'd be surprised if you don't even feel like shedding a tear.

"Hanya dirimu, yang bertaktha dalam sanubariku..."

Thank you Mr Masarudin bin Yusof. Thank you Papa.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

To hope and pray

Alhamdulillah, the PET scan I underwent last Tuesday went well. The routine was pretty much similar to the ones I had back in Sheffield, except that I was being kept in the waiting room for almost an hour post-scan. I played that down to the fact that I was 'radioactively positive' and thus the need to be separated from the public for a while, in particular from pregnant women and babies. Whereas in Sheffield, I was allowed to be discharged right after the scan finishes. They only reminded me to avoid being in close contact with the two aforementioned group of people, and not to return home using the public transportation, ie bus.

Mom took a day off work, accompanying me to the hospital. She didn't have to do much, well, she couldn't even be next to me during the scan for obvious reasons, but her presence was enough to bring a calming influence in me. Things were obviously different when I was under treatment back in the UK. I obviously couldn't expect my friends to be around all the time whenever I'm in the hospital, and therefore there were many occasions when I had to face things all by myself.

That's what families are for. Through the thick and thin, you can bet your money on them putting their hands around your shoulder, always being there for you.

“When you look at your life the greatest happiness are family happinesses”

Nevertheless, there is something good about the healthcare system in the UK that I'm already starting to miss sorely here in Malaysia. Back in England, the National Heath Service (NHS) bears the full cost of my treatment. Be it the chemotherapies, the numerous PET and CT scans I had, and the countless days I spent in the hospital. Everything comes FREE of CHARGE. It's difficult to imagine how would I cope financially had the NHS not bear the full cost of my treatment, which in total must have been at least thousands of pound sterlings, if not more.

However, things are different here. Although the government still subsidizes a portion of the cost of treatment, most of it will have to be borne by the patients themselves. It's not too bad if one works as a government servant as they can then waive off the cost of treatment using their respective Guarantee Letter (GL). As for myself, I can't use my mom's GL due to my age. As far as I understood it, one is allowed to use his/her GL to cover the treatment cost of his/her parents or his/her children who are under the age of 21 (if I'm not mistaken).

Doctors working in public hospitals in Malaysia also have their respective GLs. Thus, the staff in the hospital was rather surprised when I told her that I wanted to pay for the PET scan.

"Doktor tak ada GL ke? Mahal juga nak bayar scan ni." [Don't you have a GL, doctor? This scan is quite expensive.]

"Saya tak kerja lagi cik. Jadi saya takde GL." [I haven't started work yet, thus I don;t have my own GL.]

I am still currently jobless for two reasons. Health reason is obviously one of it, although I believe that if given some leniency in my working hours and workload, I could still possibly serve the people. The second reason, however, is slightly beyond my control. The Malaysian Medical Council (MMC), have informed me that they will only grant me the license to practice once I show my updated medical reports and can prove that I am fit to work.

A lot of people have been asking whether I have started work. I wish I could say yes, but the circumstances are slightly difficult. It's not like I'm dying to start work, as obviously my health is the main priority at the moment. But I guess that's what happens when people kept on asking the same question again and again; "Mas dah start kerja ke?" [Have you started work, Mas?]

Now and again, on Facebook, I read posts by my fellow colleagues who shared their experiences at work, seeing patients, performing procedures, being told off by their seniors, etc. Or news about my juniors who have passed their finals, and have started talking about which hospital they would want to work in. Part of me is happy for all the good news of my dearest friends (or sympathizes for the bad days of the doctors I know personally), but the other half also wishes I could experience them myself.

Sweet memories of my graduation. July 2009, Sheffield.

But I know I need to get rid of such feelings, as it only makes me a very ungrateful servant of Allah. Have I forgotten, that by not working just yet, Allah has given more time for my body to get the rest it deserves? And that I get to spend more time with my family after being away for 6 years? And that it is possible that should I start work, the stress of my job will only exacerbate my condition?

All I can do now, is to keep praying to Allah, that He grants me cure from the disease if that is what He has planned for me. And difficult it might be, I just have to push myself to keep reading my medical textbooks, so as to prevent my knowledge from rusting. I am not going to give the time and space for myself to sit purposeless, wondering when will the time come when I will get to don the white coat again.

The results of my PET scan should be up in a week's time. Let's hope and pray that better things are to come. I'm quite eager to know the current state of my disease since the last time I underwent a PET scan, about 6 months ago. Wondering if the alternative treatments and my diet changes have provided positive responses or not.

O Allah, to You alone I seek help, and I leave all matters to none other but You!

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Adapting to changes

"Makan buah je ke Mas?" [Are you just having fruits, Mas?]

"Ini je makanan yang boleh dimakan. Takpe, mak dah masakkan makanan kat rumah." [Well, these are the only foods I can have here. It's fine, my mom's made some foods for me back home.]

Such question very often would pop up during any of the kenduri kahwin (wedding receptions) that I've visited these past few weeks. And I reckon similar question might arise again in my next visit to a friend's kenduri.

Rendang daging.

Ayam masak merah.

Kari kambing.

Nasi minyak.

And the list goes on. The foods mentioned above are almost always the typical menu of a Malay's wedding kenduri. Mouth-watering they certainly are, I had to teach myself to abstain from eating such foods. Ever since I made the decision to adopt a rather 'healthier' diet regime back in March, I have started to develop a rather unusual routine whenever I attended a wedding kenduri.

Mom's always been the staunch supporter of my new diet regime. In every way possible, she improvises a lot in order to not let my diet regime affect my daily activities. When I want to attend a wedding kenduri, for instance, mom would usually prepare my foods in advance. So that I can either eat them before or after attending the ceremony, or sometimes even bringing the foods to the kenduri itself. If the ceremony is held in a way where it's inappropriate for me to bring my own foods, then I'll just have the fruits served during the occasion, even abstaining myself from the sweet air sirap in offer, taking plain water instead.

Foods served during a Malay wedding ceremony are usually iressistable!

Some might argue that wedding kenduri does not happen often, thus the license for people to just enjoy the foods in offer. But in Malaysia, I frankly feel that such rule doesn't really apply. Wedding ceremonies mushrooming everywhere, especially during school holidays. I sometimes joke to my mom, telling her that what we really need in a Malay wedding ceremony is a sphygmomanometer to measure the blood pressure, and a blood glucose measuring kit, to measure the sugar in the blood. Those with high blood pressure and blood sugar levels should then be told that they are only allowed to munch on the vegetables, rather than the sumptuous rendang daging or kari kambing! Well, I wonder if one would even give such an idea a consideration in their wedding kenduri!

Packing my foods whenever we go out is no longer an unfamiliar routine. I might have decided to adopt for a healthier diet regime, but unfortunately a lot of the restaurants and food outlets in most shopping complexes don't follow suit. Apart from only a few food outlets known to serve good foods (ie no additives, MSG, additional flavorings, etc), it's extremely difficult to find one that suits my diet.

I must admit, adapting to my new changes was initially difficult, and it actually still is. Imagine walking along in a shopping complex, on your left is Krispy Kreme, and on your right is Baskin n Robbins. As you march ahead, you drop by at a bakery shop, and all you can find are sweet pastries and cupcakes. Everything around you just seems so tempting, yet you know you can't have them as such foods are not going to be of any help in the battle against your cancer!

Sometimes even my family members are kind enough to make sure that they eat the 'junk foods' behind my back. It's funny how depressing it sometimes feel when you aren't able to enjoy the 'unhealthy foods' you used to love in the past. Difficult it might be, I know I have to adapt. Life is all about adapting to situations around you. As Stephen Hawking rightly says, the ability to adapt to changes is what defines intelligence.

But more importantly, the whines and complaints that I make whilst adapting to this diet change of mine prompts me into thinking, "What an ungrateful servant of Allah am I?!" It's not like I don't have enough foods in the kitchen, or that I am starving to death. How lucky am I compared to the so many unfortunate people out there?! Ya Allah, shame on myself!

People in Gaza are deprived of foods, clean water, or even a shelter to protect themselves from the adverse weather.

The children in Africa are malnourished, lying helplessly with flies all around them, surrounded by vultures waiting to eat them once they die.

They are never given the opportunity to enjoy the life I have. Yet they adapted, in a circumstance worse than yours truly. And yet, here I am, still complaining about not being able to enjoy the foods I used to love. How ungrateful am I when these people, amid their struggles, can still praise and thank Allah whenever they are blessed with a loaf of bread, or even a bottle of plain water.

It is true what Allah says,

Indeed, man has been created impatient.

When affliction befalls him, he becomes fretful,

and when good fortune falls to his lot he becomes stingy.[Al-Maarij:19]

So here I am, telling myself to be thankful for the blessings that Allah has given to me, rather than pondering on the ones I think I have lost. Only then will one find solace in life!

And remember also that your Lord forewarned, `If you be grateful I will increase My favors on you, and if you be ungrateful (you should know that) My chastisement is severe indeed'!" [Ibrahim:7]

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Me, Myself and I

When I found out that one of the Malaysians on board in the Mavi Marmara ship was Jamuliddin Elias, it brought back memories of our encounter in Sheffield, United Kingdom back in 2005. He was on a tour to several places within the country, and when he was in Sheffield, stayed for a night in my room.

Uncle Jamuliddin, clad in black jacket.

Since he stayed overnight in my room, I had the opportunity to hear a lot of his personal experiences being involved in humanitarian work. Uncle Jamuliddin is one of the backbone of Yayasan Amal Malaysia, a non-governmental organisation heavily involved in numerous humanitarian work all over the world. His personal account of visiting places such as Acheh, Afghanistan and Kashmir, to name a few, all solely for humanitarian causes, highlighted a lot of the difficulties these people have to go through for the benefit of others. Yet, a struggle it might be, Uncle Jamuliddin still found all the hardships rewarding in the end.

His stories has never ceased to amaze and inspire me. His work meant that he spends less time with his family and loved ones. His work meant that sometimes his life is being put on the line just to save the lives of people he doesn't even know personally of. He is one out of the many respectable people who find their satisfaction in life by serving others.

I personally believe that the best thing one can do in life is to give. At present, we hear about unfortunate casualties in the Zionist attack on the Mavi Marmara ship, and mourn for the losses. Having heard how some people would risk their own life to help others, I wonder how can there still be people so mindless of the things around them.

People who couldn't care less to play even the smallest of part for someone else. People with the "me, myself and I" attitude.

The atrocities committed in Gaza is clear for everyone to see. Normal human beings reacted, doing their own bit to help the oppressed. Donating money, holding demonstrations against the Israeli government, boycotting products proven to fund ammunitions for the Israeli army, to name a few. Doing whatever one can possibly do within their ability to at least ease the deep wound of the Palestinians.

Yet, there are still people out there who don't give a damn. Even worse, questioning the effect of boycotting Starbucks. Or making ridicule of people who sacrificed some time demonstrating against the Zionist government. To these people, all I can say is, the world will never be a better place with people of your attitude!

From what we get, we can make a living; what we give, however, makes a life.

Palestinians deserve a life, just like anyone else. One can never achieve personal fulfillment in life until (s)he starts to satisfy the needs of others. I am telling myself, and others, let's start asking, "What have I done for the Palestinians? What have I done for someone else?"

If you still need to find a reason to start giving, then watch this video and listen what the late Rachel Corrie has to say.

"We have got to understand, that they are us, we are them."

By Firdaus

Menjadi fitrah manusia hidup di dunia
Perlu sesama begitu adanya
Pabila duka mengusik indahnya suka
Dan seharusnya bangkitlah di jiwa

Rasa peduli menolong sesama
Bukan hanya bicara
Tindakan yang utama

Di sini kita dengan segala yang dipunya
Semuanya fana, titipan semata
Lihat mereka saudara kita di sana
Dalam nestapa di manakah cinta?

Rasa peduli menolong sesama
Bukan hanya bicara
Tindakan yang utama

Cuba rasakan setiap tangisan
Tak berhenti berharap akan huluran tangan
Memberi cinta dan harapan
Bersama kita melangkah kaki
Menuju dunia yang lebih indah

Pernahkah kita bayangkan jadi mereka
Belum tentu kan mampu, cuba sedari
Tanya diri sendiri
Apakah ada simpati