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Victim or survivor, it is a mind set A real tale of defeating cancer


Salman Hussain, 24 from Nowshera, came back home diseased, exhausted and hopeless after working in Saudi Arabia for 10 months. A laborer in a construction company, his quest to earn enough money to rid his father of debts ended up in sheer disappointment.

One day, Salman fainted on his work site and was immediately taken to the hospital. He had high fever and weakness. After a thorough checkup and tests, the doctor gave him some medicines and advised rest. He left the hospital with hope to get well in a few days.  “I felt sorry for having to miss work because I was saving each penny for the loan my father borrowed for my visa”, says Salman before adding, “I had also promised to get him a new tractor because he had sold it for me”.

Who would have known fate had some other plans for him. Everything came to a halt when he was informed by his cousin, working at the same company that the owner was terminating him and he had to go back to Pakistan. Actually, Salman’s kafeel (guardian) told his cousin that Salman was no more useful for the company. He is sick and should go back to his family for proper treatment. The family would also look after him well. The kafeel got him some medicines and handed him some cash.  Salman’s cousin informed his uncle about his son and told he should be taken to some qualified doctor in Pakistan. “I asked my nephew to send him home as soon as possible. He did not tell me what was wrong with my son. But I knew it was something bad”, recalls Sardar Hussain, the father.

On his return to Pakistan, Sardar took his son to a doctor in Peshawar. The doctor checked the reports he had brought from Saudi Arabia. The doctor gave them shocking news; Salman had bone marrow cancer. “Even after all the bad things happening around me, I was not ready for such horrifying news”, exclaims Salman. No one was ready for it. He was too young to have something like this. They were perplexed, shocked and did not know how to react. His mother went into severe depression.

Would their son survive this? Is there any treatment for the disease? According to the WHO more than 35000 people develop bone marrow cancer globally every year. It is more common in children than adults. Statistics relating to Pakistan about the disease are not available. The doctor simply said Salman needed a bone marrow transplant. It was a costly treatment. The family was already under a lot of debt. Where would all the money come from? The father asked the doctor for some solution. He advised them to go to Shaukat Khanum Memorial Hospital Lahore for this purpose. Although, friends and family were contributing for his treatment but it was like a drop in the ocean. The family arranged some money and left for an almost eight hour journey to Lahore. There hopes were yet again shattered on reaching there. The hospital could not entertain the patient because it was already over burdened.“You can imagine what it felt like when we heard this. I thought there was no way out now”, recalls the father. But the doctors advised them to go to Shifa International Hospital Islamabad as the facility was available there too. The family gathered their hopes and strength and set off for another approximately five hour journey.

Meanwhile, Salman’s condition was deteriorating. “I used to experience bleeding from my nose and ears. It was painful”. According to Dr Kamran Rasheed, an oncologist at SIH, when he came to us for the first time in March 2013, he was suffering from Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL). This was a life-threatening situation. ALL is a type of cancer of the white blood cells and bone marrow in which the bone marrow overproduces cancerous and immature white blood cells known as lymphoblasts.

Sometimes their count can reach to several thousands and in some cases even to one million. These over produced cells damage normal blood production. Some of the symptoms of this cancer include weakness, fatigue, anemia, dizziness, fever, weight loss, infections, bone and joint pain etc. Salman experienced almost all of these symptoms. “As far as the causes are concerned, there is no such specific reason. Anybody can get it”, says Dr Kamran.

“Luckily, he had reached us four to five days before he entered the end stage. After conducting his bone biopsy, we started his chemotherapy”, says Dr Kamran. Chemotherapy is a standardized procedure for treating this cancer. But the problem with ALL is that it can come back even after chemotherapy. After one session of chemo, he started to get better. “We however, asked him to go for bone marrow transplant because that was the only proper treatment for his problem”, adds Dr Kamran. A bone marrow transplant is a procedure to replace damaged or destroyed bone marrow with healthy bone marrow stem cells from a donor.

The family was relieved to see Salman in a better state. “But the treatment was too costly and we did not have anything to continue the treatment”, says the father. So they left. A year later, his condition started worsening again. He was rushed to the CMH Rawalpindi. The family was making every effort to arrange the money but all were going in vain. At that point, the father made a hard decision. He decided to sell off his home, the home he had built with his hard earned money. Unfortunately, the amount he got from the house was also not enough. It was one sixth of the total cost of treatment. Meanwhile, one of his relatives, working with a famous builder and philanthropist in the country, told the situation to his boss. And as a result, the boss provided the entire remaining amount for his treatment. This was a great sigh of relief for the family. What more could they have asked for.

The father brought his son back to SIH. They were now ready for transplant. The survival rate after transplant is although 50 per cent but they wanted to go for it hoping it would work for him. His family members were tested for bone marrow donation and one of his brothers turned out a suitable match. “Salman was given chemo again to wipe out his bone marrow completely, so that he could be transplanted with healthy one”, says Dr Kamran. Bone marrow stem cells were collected in a bag from his brother by inserting a tube near his collar bone. And a few days later, the bone marrow was injected to Salman through a drip in January 2015.

Jim Valvano, an American football coach and broadcaster once said, “cancer can take away all of my physical abilities. It cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart and it cannot touch my soul”. Salman was not letting the cancer swallow him. He was optimistic and hopeful.
“I was in a lot of pain, but I decided not to give in”, says Salman. His family was also astonished of his courage. “He proved to be very brave. He tolerated every pain with a lot of patience. Not once did I hear him complaining about his disease”, says the father.

He remained in the hospital for 22 days. Now he is getting better day by day. He eventually defeated his disease. Dave Pelzer, famous American author says, “You can be victim of cancer, or a survivor of cancer. It is a mindset”. Salman had changed his mindset towards his disease. He remained inspirationally positive and optimistic. He was determined to fight it and kick it out of his life. “I believed this problem was a trial and God will definitely end it and He did”, says the lucky chap.

After getting complete recovery, he has decided to start his own business in his locality. He wants to bring a real change in his family’s life. The cancer gave him a lesson that he can defeat every misery. He is determined to fight his poverty as he fought his cancer.

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