On August 13, Hashim Raza, a 25-year-old social activist whose before and after cancer photographs went popular on social media and made people reflect on the uncertainty of life, died.
According to sources, Hashim was a social activist living in Lahore, Pakistan. In March of this year, he was diagnosed with stage 4 intestinal cancer. Hashim had been complaining about a little stomach ailment. The appropriate diagnosis began in March with a routine medical checkup when the doctor felt it may be something more severe than a simple ailment.
He encouraged Hashim to get an endoscopic examination to get more information. What began as a difficult road saw Hashim’s health deteriorate quickly and him lose almost 15 kg, making many gasp when they viewed his before and after images.
Hashim had written about his position in the weeks leading up to his death, and the piece had gone widespread on social media.
“Illness is an odd thing. It drains you completely, leaving you unable of doing anything except introspection. I’ve always thought that everything happens for a purpose, but not this time.
I went from being a physically strong person with a healthy lifestyle to becoming fragile and skinny in a couple of months, and I dropped 16-18 kgs. That is how fragile human life is.
I’ve been sick since February, assuming I had a small gastrointestinal condition. The appropriate diagnosis began in March with a routine medical exam when the doctor felt it may be something more severe than a simple ailment. He suggested having an endoscopic check to get further information.
With two physicians in my family (sister and sister-in-law), I felt certain that I was in good hands and had nothing to worry about. A week later, I had my first endoscopy, which revealed that I had Pyloric Stenosis, a rare disorder in babies that prevents food from entering the small intestine.
Following that, the doctor had a one-on-one talk with me, enquiring about my socioeconomic standing, family history, and ability to pay for the therapy. He stated that such an illness is uncommon in adults and that we should undergo a CT Scan to rule out any possibility of malignancy before proceeding with therapy.
The following few days were spent wondering, “What if I truly have cancer?” What about all of my life objectives? How can life end in an instant? What happened, and why did it happen to me? And a slew of other existential questions sprung into my head, to which I had no solutions.
Normally, I am someone who inspires others, but at the time, I needed inspiration to get through my days and restless nights.
By this time, I was having problems digesting meals and was vomiting on occasion, and as a result, my health was gradually deteriorating. To conserve my energy, I had to leave the gym, remove several duties from my daily routine, and put Kitaab Dost – An Online Bookstore on hold. I was just housebound to care for my declining health.
Later, a CT Scan proved that I did not have cancer, and the doctor recommended an endoscopic (non-surgical) therapy for the ailment, albeit he cautioned about its inefficiency in curing the sickness and the likelihood of recurrence. The alternative was to undergo surgical therapy. In fact, we sought a second opinion from another expert doctor.
The specialised doctor questioned the previous findings and recommended endoscopic ultrasonography as part of the therapy. Then I had my second endoscopy (treatment) on April 28th and my third (ultrasound) at the beginning of May. The ultrasound suggested that I had MALToma, a kind of cancer, but we needed to wait for the biopsy results before drawing any conclusions. Then came the Eid holidays, which extended the wait until the 19th of May for the biopsy findings.
You may picture how my eid days would have gone if the study had ruled out any malignancy and confirmed that I had the adult version of Pyloric Stenosis (a disease usually found in infants). Following that, I was recommended to a general surgeon to proceed with the surgical therapy. The surgeon went over every detail of my procedure with me so that I understood everything. In layman’s terms, he informed me that I would be undergoing stomach bypass surgery (Gastrojejunostomy and Roux-en-Y Gastric Bypass along with vagotomy).
The surgeon then gave me a date of June 9th for my procedure, with some blood tests to follow. I was ultimately getting closer to a cure for my sickness. Meanwhile, my health deteriorated to the point that my days and nights were disrupted by severe vomiting. So I had to switch to a completely liquid diet that was somewhat digestible but frequently passed through my nose at night. It felt as if eating meant purposefully putting myself in agony, therefore I was better off not eating anything at all.
My situation was becoming unpleasant at the beginning of June owing to blood in my vomits, so we had to request an earlier date from the doctor, which was then pushed back to June 5th. Following that, I was admitted to the hospital on June 3rd for several pre-op procedures. As it was a big surgery, the doctor requested that we prepare at least four pints of blood in case it was required during the procedure. I wasn’t sure what my blood group was, so I had it tested, and it turned out to be O-ve, an uncommon blood type.
I had to publish a message on my WhatsApp story and share it in several WhatsApp groups in order to organise the blood in such a short amount of time. With a vast social network and friends circle, I was certain that I would be able to organise it quickly because I had Blood Societies, NGOs, and some blood activists on my contact list, but none of them helped much apart from a few acquaintances.
Approximately 600 people saw my WhatsApp status until I erased it, but just a few bothered to question about what happened to me and why I needed blood. The blood was successfully organised, but what surprised me was the number of people in my network and friend circle who didn’t care. It made me think.
My birthday was on June 4th, and I celebrated it with physicians, family, and close friends who came to see me at the hospital. The doctor had already inserted a nasogastric tube into my nose and down into my stomach to clear it of any residual food, so I couldn’t enjoy my own birthday cake. I was simply glad I got to live this day, and I’ll be better shortly.
On the morning of June 5th, I was taken into the operating room, with my family praying outside. The procedure was supposed to take 2.5 hours, but owing to its intricacy, it took the surgeons nearly 5 hours. After that, I stayed in the hospital for a week until my health improved enough for the doctors to release me. During this time, my family took excellent care of me in the hospital, particularly my parents, who were my primary caregivers. And the recuperation time began at home with bed rest.
After 10 days, the sutures were removed and I was permitted to resume a semi-solid meal. I’ve been primarily restricted to bed for the past six weeks, and my recuperation time is nearly done. However, it will take some time for the incision to completely heal because I am still in agony and my stomach is not functioning correctly. I enjoyed my first real dinner (with roti) in well over two months yesterday, and you can imagine how grateful I was to Allah (SWT).
The goal of sharing the facts of this entire journey is not to exaggerate my condition in order to garner likes and sympathy remarks from you, but to share what it taught me along the road, as the disease proved to be a true blessing in disguise. Life has its own way of teaching us things, and I had to learn them the hard way: