Shortly after receiving his bachelor’s degree in media and communication, Pakistani native Hafiz Abdul Rehman went to work as a reporter for a news channel in the town of Lahore, the capital of Punjab, the largest province in Pakistan. “I was doing the political beat,” he said, and he greatly enjoyed the work. “Reporting and reading books were my passions.”
But everything changed for Rehman when his mother, a diabetic, suffered kidney failure.
Living and working some three hours away, Rehman quit his job and returned home to help his father and siblings with her care. “I took her to the hospital two times a week for dialysis,” he said.
It was during this time that Rehman began experiencing pain in his abdomen. It wasn’t anything that caused him great concern, but when the pain worsened, he visited a series of doctors looking for an answer.
In August 2017, he was diagnosed with colorectal cancer.
“That news was a bombshell for me,” Rehman said. “The first thing that came to my mind was my family. Straight away, I decided I would not tell them this news.”
It was a hard secret to keep.
“I was not sure about the treatment, like where I should go or how I would continue without my family knowing,” he said. “I am the elder one in my family so I had a lot of pressure.”
He reached out to a friend from his university days, one who was studying medicine and knew about cancer treatment. The friend took Rehman to an oncologist, who began chemotherapy sessions.
All the while, he continued keeping his diagnosis a secret from his family. He also continued assisting with his mother’s care — until her death in December 2017.
Two months later, Rehman learned the cancer had spread to his liver and lungs. He continued chemo for several more months, but after reviewing disappointing lab reports, his doctor decided to end the treatments. “I was told I had not much time to live,” Rehman said.
From his days working in the news media, Rehman knew of an investigative journalist named Rauf Klasra. “I would read his columns in the daily newspaper,” he said. “He wrote about his wife’s cancer treatment in the United States.” The woman’s condition was the same at Rehman’s, and she also wasn’t given much time to live. “That was in 2014 and now, in 2019, she is fine,” Rehman said.
After meeting with the journalist, he learned about Dr. Aasim Sehbai, an oncologist in practice at Alabama Cancer Care here in Anniston. Rehman’s lab reports were sent to Dr. Sehbai, and the two men conversed by phone.
It was around this time when Rehman’s family learned of his condition. “There was already a lot of unrest at home due to the death of my mother,” Rehman said. His father immediately called Dr. Sehbai to arrange for his son’s treatment in Alabama. Once their visa process was completed, the two men, father and son, arrived here in Anniston.
Dr. Sehbai arranged a place for them to live and involved the local Muslim community in their care.
“My father was worried that we were coming to a place where nobody knew us,” Rehman said. “But Dr. Sehbai took care of us like we were family.”
When the two men arrived at the medical office for Rehman’s first treatment, the entire staff was clad in green T-shirts depicting the flag of Pakistan. “It was a surprise for me and my father because we are thousands of miles away from our home, and people of other nation and religion welcome us in a delightful way. We were out of words to express gratitude for this honor and love.”
While undergoing treatment, Rehman has had the opportunity to visit a few other cities. “Everywhere we go, we find loving people,” he said. “Here in Anniston, not only Muslim and Pakistan communities, but natives of this town are amazing.”
When Rehman arrived here last September, his cancer marker was more than 300, but today it is below 50. “I have many reasons to remain optimistic,” he said. He says that the treatment here is harder, but he and his father credit the staff at Dr. Sehbai’s practice for making it easier to bear. “We will remember their gestures of love for a long time.”
Dr. Sehbai feels that Rehman has done “exceedingly well” since his arrival in Alabama. “Every day and month he has survived is life for him, and if the cancer goes in remission, then certainly it can translate into a longer survival for him,” he said. “We all pray that he will go in remission and stay in remission for a long time.”
It is clear that Rehman holds the doctor in high esteem. “When the oncologist in Pakistan said treatment is no longer possible, another door opened in the shape of Dr. Aasim Sehbai,” he said. “He is an angel. Not only for me and my family, but for all those who are in his surroundings. I never met a person like him in my whole life. It’s the GOD blessing that I meet him.”
Donna Barton’s column appears every Sunday. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.