October 5, 2016 – Toronto. I first met Daniel and his partner, David, about a year and a half ago. It was at the Toronto & District Multiple Myeloma Support Group meeting. Daniel had been diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, and he was looking for information on the tandem stem-cell transplant that he was about to go through. And from that first meeting, we became friends. At every subsequent Support Group meeting, I would wait expectantly for Daniel and David to walk in the door, knowing that I would be treated with enormous bear hugs, huge smiles and joyful conversations. We talked about cancer, yes, but cancer did not define our relationship.
Today, Daniel is no more. He lost his fight with cancer yesterday and the world is a dimmer place today. I am so saddened by this loss; it is almost as if I lost a brother. What makes this even more difficult to accept is that Nagib and I visited with David and Daniel at their beautiful place in downtown Toronto less than two weeks ago. Daniel had just been released from St. Michael’s Hospital where he was being treated for a serious infection (listeria) that he caught in Germany a couple of months ago. Unfortunately, he also had a relapse of the myeloma in late June and his doctors were anxious to start him on chemotherapy again. When Nagib and I saw Daniel, he was weak, but his spirit was strong and his smile lit up the room. We made so many plans as we sat around the dining room table sipping tea – including taking a tour of the Aga Khan Museum and Ismaili Centre, and having lunch at the Diwan restaurant. And just like that, Daniel is no more. Further tests last week revealed that the cancer in his bone marrow had invaded his bloodstream (this is known as Plasma Cell Leukemia) and his liver, and that he would have a scant 72 hours to live. I sat in prayer all night. I prayed that God look after Daniel, keep him safe and envelope him in His love and protection. I prayed equally hard for God to give David the strength and courage during this devastating time.
Over the year, I witnessed the incredible love that Daniel and David shared. I saw how they could finish each others’ sentences and know what the other was thinking. I loved how different they were – David, expressive, social, funny and outgoing; Daniel quieter, thoughtful, reflective and gracious — and yet how they fit together just right. I learnt that their story began some 14 years ago when David was living and working in New Jersey and Daniel was working on Wall Street in New York. They met at a party in New York and the rest in history. They have been together ever since, even deciding to move to Toronto when Daniel was transferred here.
Heartbroken. Intense pain. A gaping loss. It is written all over David’s face. And yet, he is strong enough to let Daniel go, knowing that Daniel is not in pain any more. When I woke up this morning, I had a sense of peace and calm that when Daniel crossed over, the doors of heaven opened for him and God was there to receive him in His warm embrace and to grant him the grace of eternal light and peace. I also know that Daniel will continue to be with David – and all of us who loved him – through shared memories, the gentle autumn rain, a butterfly that floats by, stories, events and celebration. I will never forget how Daniel happily carried a sign I gave him at Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation’s MM5K Walk in 2015. He had lost all his hair from cancer treatment and the sign was almost custom-made for him!
The fragility of life. The loss of loved ones. The sadness and pain. The havoc that cancer can sometimes cause. All these things are very real for me as I come to terms with Daniel’s loss. I also know that if Daniel were here, he would remind me of the gift of friendship and love, of making each moment count, of holding on to faith and hope, of being a good person and of living life fully. This is the legacy that Daniel left behind – and that David embraces – that I will hold on to.
When we had tea with Daniel and David two weeks ago, we learnt that Daniel was living and working in the area south of Canal Street in New York, that was severely impacted by the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001. It took nearly 10 years for the multiple myeloma to surface in Daniel. He is among thousands of responders and survivors who were directly impacted by the toxic and hazardous air following the attacks.
More than 15 years later, there are more than 75,000 patients enrolled in the World Trade Centre Health Program; nearly 23,000 of them are specifically getting treatment for conditions such as multiple myeloma, among others. Daniel was one of them. Fifteen years after 9/11, the death toll continues to mount.