Abu & Cancer
2.1. Diagnosis of Cancer, as told by Shakil.
I feel like this is the worst sick joke someone has ever play on me and my family. As his
younger and only brother, I keep thinking he is going to walk through the door and will join
us in all these events meant for someone else. I mean somewhere, somehow I think
this is all not true. How could someone lose his life at the tender age of 40? And my
family? This is just not supposed to happen. How could someone who has never drank
nor smoke a puff in his entire life fall prey to lung cancer? Where did this come from?
How could my strong brother not survive this?
I have been in denial all this time even when we got his prognosis of terminality from
Dana Farber Cancer institute. I kept thinking, he's gonna beat this thing and things are
going to go back to normal; my brother's way too strong, he's a fighter and wont give up.
Here's his first email he sent me about the cancer fight:
From: Abu Quazi [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Wednesday, January 16, 2008 7:32 PM
To: Shakil Quazi; Jennifer Thomson
Subject: Third day of chemo - Still Kicking Ass!
Shakil & Jennifer,
Today I finished the third day of chemotherapy. I have chemotherapy in the morning and
radiation in the afternoon. Except today it was in reverse. Tomorrow is triple dosage, with
the professional home care nurse that will come in after my hospital treatments to
change the IV lines. Later this month I have an appointment with Dr. Slater for an
evaluation and to see if more treatments are needed after the tests. I will keep you
The good news is that Dr. Fischer believes that the first tumor is dead and/or non
existent. But I am on the survival mode (kill the mofo) mode and will not give up until it's a
nuclear winter inside the lung! I will kill it before it kills me! I've declared war on Oct. 25,
2007 and the battle continues...I refuse to go down!
I keep my cell phone on during my sessions, you can contact me if wish.
This positive fighting attitude, his physical and mental strength led us all to believe this
would be no problem. Things like this dont happen to Abu. I mean he didn't even have a
cavity - his dentist eulogized about his excellent oral hygiene.
His first doctor missed the diagnosis. Over the summer he had cough in which his
physician prescribed antibiotics. When the antibiotics didnt seem to work, a friend at the
mosque, Sami Yusuf, demanded using his doctor. Abu went to this doctor and an
immediate xray showed a small spot. Shortly thereafter a CATSCAN revealed 2 tumors,
one the size of a golf ball, the other the size of a grapefruit. Both were situated in
inoperable regions in his chest, too close to his heart and vena cava. October 25, 2007
is when the fight of his life began. Ironically around that time, myself and my wife found
out we were pregnant with our son Khalil, my brother's nephew and the only grandchild in
our family. God must be writing poetry.
I will never forget how angry I was with his first doctor for missing the diagnosis, but he
refocused me on his fight, telling me nothing could be done with that situation. He was
shortly admitted to William W. Backus Hospital in Norwich, Ct. under the oncologist care
of Dr. Dennis Slater. The cancer fight brought out yet again his most admirable qualities
for which the world knew him -- strong positive fighting attitude, good nature,
selflessless, love and humility. His fight with cancer is best described in his own words
in just a few of his own emails.
CLICK HERE TO READ HIS EMAILS.
2.2 His last few days, from Shakil's perspective.
There's more to this from my parents, Adib, Inam and Auni's perspective as I wasnt there
for the overnight shifts and didn't live there for the past month or so. I can tell u that he
fought the fight until the end. My parents, Auni, Sami and my brother received the
prognosis of terminality exactly 1 week before his death at the Dana Farber Cancer
Institute in Boston. I will spare the details and protect the emotional privacy of my
parents, and leave out their reaction. At that point I rushed from NYC to CT to be with my
family. Needless to say once we heard this news, myself, Sami and Auni made the
decision to tell most family and closest friends given that his days were limited and it
would give an opportunity for a potential last visit. The website went up
Still in denial, myself, Jenn and Khalil (Abu's 8 mo old nephew) made the mistake of a
lifetime by leaving Sunday, 2 days before his death thinking the worst was not so
imminent. Ironically when I was at work on Monday, a coworker of mine was telling me
how is mother died of a brain tumor and his deepest regret in his entire life was not
spending that extra week he could have spent with her. Then came the Tuesday
morning phone call (the day he passed away). I got into the office at 710am and there
was a message from Jenn and my mother telling me of the emergency. I got to the
hospital hours later to see my brother at 11am. and Jennifer and Khalil 5 hours after that.
Morphine drip. Morphine is a pain killer that places you in a semi conscious state, so
cognition is difficult and conversation is impossible. My brother removed himself off this
drug to be conscious, at the cost of the worst pain of his entire life. He did this out of love.
For me. Having no voice he was only able to utter the words all morning to my mother
"my brother" "my brother" "my brother". When he greeted me he said 2 things. I love
you and thank you for coming and then he mustered enough strength to lift his
arm to shake my hand. I could not believe it. A gentleman to the end. *I thought to myself
right then that I hope my son becomes just like his uncle.* I told him to watch over Khalil
wherever he is and he acknowledged this before drifting into sleep. Khalil and Jenn
came in a few hours. He mustered every ounce of strength to raise both hands to look at
Khalil, hold him briefly and smile. Close friends and numerous relatives were present.
His breathing was too painful, so he was place back on the morphine drip to ease his
pain, something Adib and myself weren't sure he wanted to do given that enough
morphine could be lethal, but as it turned out it was indeed a small dosage.
His breathing became slower throughout the evening and he eventually passed away at
1115pm, Tuesday, January 13, 2009. My mother was caressing his head recanting
muslim prayer "la ilaha ill lil lah muhmadur rusulila", saying constant that she loved him
and asking if he was cognizant prior minutes and at the point of his death. His last
breath was taken in front of his loving family - my parents, myself, Auni, Adib, Polly khala
(his aunt). A quiet moment. Just pure disbelief and shock. But we knew he was in a
better place without pain.
2.3 Wake, funeral and memorial service.
In Islamic tradition, burials take place typically within 1 day of the death. At the time of my
brother's passing, within 1 hour close many muslim friends, including the religious
leader (know as the Imam) from the Islamic Center of New London (ICNL), where he
served many years including as a position as treasurer, came to the hospital and helped
assemble the next day's wake and funeral service. This day was particularly difficult for
myself and my family as it was the last time we would ever lay eyes on our dearest
The Wake. An outpouring of 200+ people showed up at the wake at the ICNL in Groton,
Ct. to pay last respects to Abu around 11am on January 14, 2009 Co-workers at
Sonalysts, close family friends of many years and family spoke briefly, yet beautifully
about Abu. Abu's good nature and kind soul came out through the hearts of all those that
spoke and mourned him. This was very difficult for myself and my parents knowing that
this would be the last time we ever to lay eyes on him. Specific Islamic prayers ensued
followed by a quick body viewing and an immediate drive to the burial site.
The Funeral. Burial occurred immediately afterwards in Enfield Ct. in the Islamic
Cemetery. Reminders of this day will be always permanent. The temperature had
dropped to around 5 degrees Fahrenheit and it had snowed the prior day, leaving a
pristine January coat of whiteness in the graveyard, with the exception of Abu's grave,
which was dug open. A few notes about Islamic funeral traditions. 1) The coffin is large
enough for a person to sit up, the idea being upon judgement Allah (God) will come and
ask you questions and you have enough space to sit up and answer. 2) During the burial,
the Imam said for each person to place dirt from the Earth three times, the idea being that
life came from the Earth, and now you return to the Earth and your soul leaves the Earth to
either go to the hellfire or heaven.
The Memorial Service. January 17, 2009 3 days later at the East Lyme Senior Center.
200+ people showed up. "Robin and Michael" always been uttered in the same breath in
this community in large and it showed as common elementary school teachers,
principals, high school coaches and classmates, cub scout den leaders, neighbors of
close to 50 years, close family friends and relatives showed to deliver support to the
family. Close friends, my uncle, my father and myself spoke in memory of my brother,
each presenting a great memory. Coach Spellman, Abu's football coach described Abu's
reaction upon catching a touchdown in a game - my brother said he wasn't just happy but
proud for his family and that would be something he would never forget. Such a selfless
man, I wish I had been able to know longer.