who's afraid of cancer?
people give an inspiring account of their battle against cancer.
Meet Afia Salam, editor, The Cricketer, Gul Hameed Bhatti, editor,
The News, Faisal Sher Jan, CEO NTM and actress Yasmin Ismail.
me, at least not any more. Cancer does not hold the same dread that
it did when I was just a bystander. Two of my mother's sisters and
two of my nieces had gone down fighting cancer. That's why, the
moment I felt a lump, I was sure it would be malignant.
biopsy simply confirmed my suspicion. While I was reading the report,
I kept thinking, "I don't want my mother to know!" She
had been through three major surgeries, eight sessions of chemotherapy,
and had suffered a relapse after a three-year remission. I was afraid
my diagnosis would be the last straw.
was then that I began 'operation deception.' My husband, a cousin
and my boss, Riaz Mansuri, conspired with me. Mansuri called up
my mother to say that I had to go out of the city on some cricket
assignment and my cousin successfully convinced her to spend the
weekend together with my children at his place.
my stay at the hospital, Mansuri kept my mother posted about my 'travel
plans!' Dr. Kishwar Nazli gave me the confidence to cope with the
surgery in a manner so that upon my return home, neither my mother
nor my children had a clue as to what I had been through.
was only when I visited Dr. Imtiaz Malik, that I learned the cancer
had spread to the lymph nodes. I was to undergo chemotherapy which
would result in complete hair loss among other related side-effects.
I knew I had to come clean with my mother.
in my mother gave me the support of dua (prayers) along with her
dawa (medicines). My eldest child was just nine, the middle one
eight and the youngest one only three. I tried making them independent
of me, in case they had to fend for themselves. But with the support
of my friends and family, coupled with an excellent level of medical
care, I came to grips with the situation. My mother had done it
earlier and I wasn't about to give up now.
doctor made it very clear that it was possible to function normally,
as long as I didn't take unnecessary risks. That was all I needed
to hear when I came out of the hospital, I firmly took over the
wheels from my driver as I used to before my treatment started.
And that set the pattern for the rest of my life.
severe side-effects from my chemo. I felt nauseous. The bitter taste
in my mouth put me off food. My nails turned black, my skin darkened
and my toes pained so much that wearing shoes became a problem.
At one point, I got blisters in my mouth and all I could consume
was milkshake for 10 days. Talking was extremely painful so I had
to communicate with a pad and a pen. But I went to the office as
usual and the magazine came out regularly. I even went to Lahore
for some interviews, despite the pain. It was these achievements
that gave me the confidence to do more. The most difficult thing
for me to come to terms with was hair loss. I had knee length hair,
which I now miss despite the compliments on my 'chic' new short
years down the road and I am doing everything I did before my brush
with cancer. However, I am wary of making any long-term commitments
lest I am not able to fulfill them. I have become rather possessive
of my time and I prefer to stay home once the children return from
I am grateful
to God for the support of my friends and family who have been extremely
positive throughout my illness. Not everyone has that advantage and
that is why there is a need to organise formal support groups who
can counsel people diagnosed with cancer. We must put the fear of
cancer behind us, and be more positive about it. I do fear that some
day my cancer might return, but I refuse to spend my life in dread."
Hameed Bhatti, editor, The News, is a heavyweight in the cricketing
fraternity. About three years ago, his world turned topsy turvy
with the sudden death of his wife, Razia Bhatti, founding editor
of Newsline. It took Gul quite a while to come to terms with this
loss. And just when he thought things were worse, life took another
tragic turn: while he had no apparent health problems, there seemed
to be a growth at the side of his jaw that started to swell.
six months, the doctor kept me in the dark. They couldn't figure
out whether this growth was serious. And this despite the fact that
I had been going to the head of surgery of the country's top hospital.
In fact I had been told emphatically that the tumour was benign.
I was referred to ENT surgeon Musheer Hussain, the first thing he
asked me for was the report of the biopsy. He was extremely surprised
to learn that none had been carried out. He was extremely surprised
to learn that none had been carried out. He sent me off for a biopsy.
When the report came, he tried to break it to me gently saying that
it was positive, and that the tumour was indeed malignant.
the surgery, I was told that the cancer had spread to the shoulder
area and they had 'cleaned' it all up. The oncologists agreed that
I needed no chemotherapy, but only radiation, which Imran Khan insisted
I get done at the SKMT hospital.
was a big decision, for with Razia no longer there, it meant leaving
my children, Sara and Kamil alone. It also meant being away from
my job for well over five weeks. Our maidservant stayed with the
children throughout, while the management at the newspaper told
me to simply concentrate on getting well.
Lahore was remarkable. I went for radiation five days a week, and
came twice to Karachi for the weekend to be with the children. After
the radiation sessions ended, I couldn't talk properly for days. The
pain-killers didn't seem to work and I had problems sleeping on my
back. However, I knew this was a temporary condition which would go
away Ð and it did.
there were no formal support groups, my son, especially, was a real
help, and for the sake of my children, I put on a positive front.
Am I afraid the cancer might return? Well, if it does, I will get
it treated again. The only thing that worries me is that my children
will be left alone if something happens to me but if God wants me
to be there for them, I'll be there."
Sher Jan seems to be in a perpetual hurry. Meeting deadlines is
what life is all about, and he isn't about to miss any just because
he has cancer. Most of his professional problems surfaced about
the same time as his disease, and he had to battle on two fronts
at the same time..
I went in to have a check-up for a stomach problem, I knew it might
be cancer, for my father had it. In fact, we have a history of colon
cancer. The oncologist was very blunt and made no promises. But
he did tell me that I had to undergo chemotherapy.
really afraid because of the tremendous support from my family and
friends. It helped me to be a very positive attitude about everything
and just eight days after my surgery, I was battling in the court
for NTM. In fact, I had a lesser reason to be negative about it
than my mother, who had to bear the trauma of seeing not just me,
but my two sisters, diagnosed with the disease at about the same
time. If anyone should have cracked up, it should have been her
but she has been strong and calm throughout and this helped us to
be strong too.
I hadn't been diagnosed with cancer, probably my sister's cancer
would not have been detected either. She went for her check-up after
my diagnosis, and was detected positive. We've had a tough time
as a family. A few months later, my elder sister too had to undergo
surgery. It's having the right mental attitude that has helped us
has been interrupted because the drugs were affecting my heart, but
I am going about my job as usual. My sister goes to Shaukat Khanum
Memorial Trust Hospital to counsel patients who are to undergo a colonoscopy,
for that is a traumatic procedure. Talking to her has helped many
overcome their fear.
have good doctors who can help the patients keep a positive attitude
and live life to its fullest."
Ismail is a name synonymous with television and stage. A gifted
director, Yasmin's Grip's theatre plays have provided some delightful
moments for children and adults. Cancer stalked Yasmin stealthily,
for ovarian cancer does not really have any symptoms...
first reaction was of disbelief ... after all, cancer is a dreaded
disease. I was apparently very healthy, and was working quite normally.
However, I was having a lady coming in to massage me because my
stomach felt distended. After that, everything happened so quickly
that I had no time to think or react. My tumour burst and the liquid
filled the entire stomach. The very next day they operated on me,
and it was then that the doctors discovered that I had stage III
the surgery, I had to undergo chemotherapy. It was quite a bad experience
both emotionally and physically. Hair loss was tough to cope with,
though, I did get around with wigs and even did plays wearing them.
I reacted rather strongly to the chemo, for I felt miserable. With
successive cycles, I lost interest in socializing.
my commitments pushed me to meet deadlines. Once I was in bed feeling
quite ill and the entire cast of a play we were staging for Civil
Hospital was sitting in my bedroom rehearsing for it. Since it was
for a worthy cause, I made the effort.
the going was tough, it helped to talk about it. I know there are
a number of people who hide it, and I wonder why. the wealth of
support I received by being open about it is unforgettable. Being
a known face, I came across so many people who could come up and
say they included me in their prayers. It was really a wonderful
after my chemo, my mother too was diagnosed as having breast cancer.
Despite knowing that it ran in the family, I was not mentally ready
when I suffered a relapse.
I am not cancer-free, but I am feeling much better. And this is why
you see me directing and acting in plays. I do believe that one shouldn't
be afraid of treatment. the doctors are there, the treatment is there,
and people with cancer must shed their fear. That is the only way
to overcome cancer."