In February 2012, I was diagnosed with two cancers of the blood, Stage 4 Lymphoma and Stage 3 Multiple Myeloma. This blog is an attempt to share my journey, learnings and insights with you through this process. Continue reading
Life is God’s gift to you.
The way you live your life is your gift to God.
- Leo Buscaglia
Toronto – March 8, 2015.
It was 3 years ago, on March 8, 2012, when I was in the Intensive Care Unit at Toronto General Hospital. 3 years ago, when my hemoglobin count had dropped to a dangerously low 36 due to acute hyper hemolytic anemia. Three years ago, when the doctors gave me a 50% chance of making it through the night. 3 years ago, when my body had created antibodies to reject new blood. Three years ago, when Dr. Christine Cserti and her team worked all night to find the right blood match. The situation was tense. The odds against me. The doctors said that if my body rejected the blood, my organs would fail, one by one. There was no plan B.
My family vacillated between encouraging me to fight for my life, literally, while on the other hand, contemplating getting the lay ministers to administer last rights. Nagib, Shayne, Sabrina, Afzal and Alia Sunderji stayed up all night at the hospital, supporting me and each other. We all prayed as the blood dripped into my body, ever so slowly, under the watchful eye of the nurse. First one bag, which we affectionately named “Mr. Bean”. Then the second bag, “Dexter” The third bag we christened, “Edward Cullen”. And finally bag 4, “Popat”. It was Popat power, the last bag, that pushed my hemoglobin to 91 by 1 pm, the next day. Let it be known that Shayne has decided to name his first-born, Popat, in honour of this miracle! In between solemn prayers, I understand that I took a moment to serenade Nagib with the love song, “Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps!” Obviously I was on a high dose of steroids or perhaps I was just being a drama queen!
The next day, Dr, Cserti came to look for me. It was the first time I met the doctor that saved my life that fateful night. Dr. Cserti was astounded to find me sitting on my bed, complete with my iPad. She said she expected to find a really sick patient given what she had heard about my very critical condition the night before. She told me that it was a miracle that they were able to find the right blood with the exact antibodies to combat my Y and C antibodies. Generally, this type of matching takes 6 to 8 hours as the blood bank has to screen for 20 different variables. With God’s grace, they were able to find the exact match from 4 different blood donors within a short tIme. The wrong blood match would have been catastrophic and resulted in death. Not finding the right match on time would have meant that each of my organs would start shutting down.
Fast forward three years to this day, and it has been an emotional one for me, as I recounted that fateful night 3 years ago when I almost lost my life. It was also a time to reflect on the grace and mercy of God for giving me the gift of life.
I try to remember this every day and consciously put my best self forward as a gift to God. Sometimes I flounder and find myself overreacting, being impatient and, worse, being judgmental. Often I find that my priorities are messed up and I’m not spending time on things that matter because the day-to-day demands of life can get overwhelming. And then I smarten up and start over because I have learnt that every moment is a chance to become who I want to be and to be the best me that I can be.
" — " Isn't it interesting that on tombstones, you see the person's name, the year that they were born and the year they died? The many years they lived is reflected in " — "(the dash) between these two dates. The texture of their lives, what they stood for, the values they embraced, the fights they fought, the difference they made, the wisdom they shared, the adventures they lived, the books they read, their passion, their fearsand hopes, all this is in " — " on their tombstone, eerily silent. Because I live on borrowed time (as we all do), I want my " — " to be daring and fearless and bold. I ask you this: What is your " — " going to be?
February 14, 2015 – Toronto.
I am looking at the flowers that Nagib brought me to the hospital on Valentine’s Day two years ago. I was on the 14th Floor of the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in the stem cell unit, preparing to undergo a stem cell transplant. I remember being nervous and excited, hoping that the stem cells would settle happily in my body and start functioning. Nagib brought the Valentine’s Day spirit to the hospital ward and we marked the occasion together – tired, hopeful, cuddling, crying, laughing and making dreams for the future. And he brought me flowers – not real ones because they were not allowed in the ward – but a wonderful, strong, robust arrangement of white and pink flowers that cheered the room and now sits in our family room as yet another symbol of hope.
Toronto, January 25, 2015. Today I lost another friend. He was a gentle, compassionate man, about a decade older than me. Nazim Hirani was a leader in the community, an admired man, someone you could always count on, a gifted listener with many close friends. Last year, Nazim was diagnosed with Lymphoma, the same cancer I was also diagnosed with in 2012. It was a devastating time for him and his family as they tried to make sense of this disease that had invaded his body and threatened to change their lives.
#10: She connects with people
One attribute that I have always admired about my Mom is her ability to connect with people. Whether it is a safari driver in Tanzania, a crepe storeowner in Thornhill or a fellow patient at Princess Margaret Hospital, my Mom has this remarkable ability to very quickly and genuinely connect with others. She is truly interested in hearing people’s stories and learning what drives them. She has the perfect balance of positive energy and pragmatism. Continue reading
For almost a year we listened to their goals and dreams. As their plans evolved, we heard them become more and more confident about the direction they wanted to take. They wanted to deliver holistic early childhood care & education to families living in informal settlements where there is rampant poverty and limited infrastructure. The questions they grappled with, day in and out, were how they would make this happen, what the business model would look like, where they would find the funding, how they could make this sustainable. Fast forward to September 2014 and Sabrina and Afzal opened their first early childhood care centre in Kibera and, on January 6, 2015, opened their second centre in Kangemi, another slum in Nairobi.
During this trip, after being on this journey with them for over a year, we finally got to see “Kidogo” first hand. Nothing could have prepared us for what we saw. Continue reading
All night long it levitated around my face making that annoying “buzzing” sound, threatening to suck my blood. It deprived me of sleep and made me curious how this tiny little nothing can create so much havoc. I also wondered if they only feed at night, which is when I tend to hear them. I found out that mosquitoes are actually quite complex.
We were driving on a busy road in Nairobi when I saw a policewoman stop a car. Next thing I know, she got into the car with the driver and they drove off. Puzzled, I asked what the policewoman was doing Continue reading