I came to know about Siti (Faizah) and Farhan’s inspiring love story and decided to interview them for my blog. When Siti was diagnosed with stage-2 lymphoma, and relatives and close friends doubted their idea of marriage, Farhan disregarded the “noise” and married Siti, sticking with her through thick-and-thin.
Siti has also participated in a half marathon despite feeling weak due to chemotherapy. And she is a finisher!
Siti has since lost 20kg of the weight that she gained while undergoing chemotherapy – she goes for yoga and zumba sessions, and other fitness programmes four days a week.
Farhan has also donated his bone marrow about half a year ago and helped save the life of a patient, who was diagnosed with stage 4 lymphoma!
Both of them are such beautiful and courageous individuals… and here’s their story:
1) Both of you got married after Siti’s diagnosis? Why? What’s your love story? :)
Farhan: Yes, it was already planned. Siti was diagnosed in the midst of our wedding preparations and I decided to proceed as I would like to take care of her, not out of sympathy, but purely because she’s my other half and I know she needs me to fight this disease together. And I know for sure that she will fully recover, and whatever happens, I will take care of her. Not because I have to…but because I want to.
Faizah: We met at our previous workplace. We were really close although Farhan had a girlfriend back then. We had common interests and similar taste in music and food. We hung out most of the time after work and even on our off days.
Farhan: I realised that I wasn’t happy with my girlfriend back then. When I was with Faizah, everything was easy with her and everything somehow falls into place perfectly. By then we both know that we like each other. I decided to man up, break up with my ex-girlfriend (who wasn’t a good girlfriend) and be with Faizah. And the rest is history.
2) What is the chemotherapy process like?
Faizah: I had to go through chemotherapy via the intravenous (IV) route. I was told to go through 6 cycles of chemotherapy and 1 cycle consists of 2 sessions. (Imagine going through 12 sessions!). Each session is 5 hours long and I was required to be treated once every 2 weeks. I was injected with 4 different combinations of drugs (2 injected via huge syringes and 2 bags via the drip).
Nurses had to be careful when administering 1 of the drugs from the syringes as it might burn my veins, which actually happened during the first session of my 2nd cycle and it was a horrible feeling. It took a while for the pain to subside and for my veins to recover.
The worst was yet to come.
The side effects kicked in on the 7th day after every session. Each individual who is undergoing chemotherapy will experience different side effects. I was quite lucky, as my side effects were considered quite minor. I had constipation for the first few days, heatiness in the mouth (thankfully, no ulcers!), upper back pain and at the shoulder area (which lasted for about 3-4days), bloatedness (from the anti-vomit meds), indigestion, weight gain and hair loss (not all but probably ¾ of my hair and this was a huge blow for me as I was afraid my hair will not grow in time for the wedding).
3) What would you say to encourage people who have been (recently) diagnosed with lymphoma?
Don’t give up hope. I know it’s easy for me to say it but you have got to keep pressing on and always stay positive. Cancer is not the end. It can be a start to an awesome life. :)
4) What would your advice be to the friends and family members of people who have been (recently) diagnosed with lymphoma?
Make them feel normal and do normal things. Don’t treat them like a sick person and always, always be there when they need you. Accepting the fact that they have cancer is already hard, so don’t make things harder for them and always stay positive no matter what.
5) What was your bone marrow donation process like? Please give us all the gory details, if any, so we can be adequately prepared if we choose to be donors.
Farhan: There is nothing gory about my bone marrow donation process. In fact, you are given two options as to how the bone marrow is extracted.
Method 1: Bone Marrow Harvest
The bone marrow is removed from the back of the pelvic bone using a special needle. The entire process takes 45 to 60 minutes whilst the donor is under general anesthetic (GA). Although there is no surgery involved, after a GA it is recommended that the donor stays overnight to rest in the hospital and goes home the following morning. The amount of bone marrow harvested is less than 5% of the body’s marrow and this is naturally regenerated within 4-6 weeks.
Other than the remote chance of a reaction to anesthesia or an infection, the risks to bone marrow harvest are minimal. Donors generally feel no pain during the bone marrow harvest as the procedure is carried out under general anesthesia. After the procedure, there may be slight discomfort in the lower back lasting a few days, which is much like a muscle ache or similar to pain felt on the tailbone after a fall.
Method 2: Peripheral Blood Stem Cell Harvest (PBSC)
Peripheral Blood Stem Cells are those blood cells that are usually found in the bone marrow. The donor will be given 4 daily injections of a hormone called G-CSF (Granulocyte-Colony Stimulating Factor) to stimulate the growth of their stem cells and to mobilize them into the blood stream. This is usually done in the morning and the donor can continue their normal daily activities. On the fourth day, the stem cells will be collected in an outpatient procedure that is very similar to blood donation except that it will take between 5-7 hours. Once complete, the donor is usually free to go home.
Donors might experience some flu-like symptoms, slight bone pain, or a feeling of heaviness during the 5 days when the injections to stimulate and mobilize the stem cells into the blood are being given. These discomforts usually disappear soon after the collection is completed.
I actually opted for Method 1 because it would be faster but the patient wanted me to proceed via Method 2 instead. I was willing to do what’s best for the patient so I didn’t mind. A few days before the procedure, I was given the daily injections to stimulate my stem cells. And when the day came, all the doctor had to do was to extract the stem cells via the harvesting system. So, the blood goes out from one tube (from your arms) and goes into a machine where the stem cells are extracted.
Once done, the blood goes back via another tube into the other arm. However, due to difficulties in finding the main veins in my arms, the doctor decided to put a tube directly into my jugular vein on my right collarbone. It was weird but I did not feel anything at all, just a little uncomfortable when lying down. No matter what, they will make you feel as comfortable as possible.
I recovered quite fast as the wound was really well taken care of. And some of the perks of being a bone marrow donor is you get free full health check-up and you’ll be staying in an AA ward at Mount Elizabeth Hospital (Novena), which was a first and an interesting experience for me.
This courageous and loving couple leaves me speechless. I wish them all the best, and to keep on doing what they do and inspiring the people around them. :)