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A young man’s brush with testicular cancer

Age is no guarantee for good health. Zuhairi was only 16 years old when he started experiencing frequent fevers. With the high temperature came an abnormal swelling of his right testis, alerting the young man that something was wrong.

“I immediately sought medical help and was scheduled for an ultrasound,” says the now 28-year-old. “The scan indicated the presence of an unusual growth. I was diagnosed with a malignant mixed germ cell tumour.”

This is a rare cancer comprising at least two types of germ cell tumours, which begin in the cells that form the sperm or eggs. They usually occur in the testicle or ovary, but occasionally also affect the chest, abdomen or brain.

Zuhairi was naturally terrified by the diagnosis.

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“After the second cycle, I told my late mother I didn’t want to continue chemo: my hair was falling, I couldn’t sleep and my body was so weak. She was ever compassionate and comforting, and promised that if I went through with the third cycle, it would be my last.”

It was, as the treatment proved successful. The road to recovery was rough but Zuhairi had a strong support system in the form of his family, who rallied around him at his lowest. “I’m very grateful for each and every one of them,” he shares. “They were always there beside me and gave me the strength to carry on.”

Life a decade later looks rather different than it did pre-diagnosis. While cancer can be caused by myriad factors, Zuhairi is careful to pay attention to elements within his control.

“Before all this happened, I didn’t really watch my eating habits or diet, for instance,” he says. “But now I am much more particular about the food I consume. As much as I used to dislike vegetables, I now include them more and more often in my meals. Ultimately, I ensure I look after my health.”

That includes taking charge of self-examinations and paying close attention to his body. Men tend to be more hesitant than women are in seeking medical help, but Zuhairi strongly advocates prioritising medical aid over embarrassment or denial.

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Testicular cancer is relatively uncommon, affecting one in 250 males at some point in their lifetime. The average age of patients upon diagnosis is the mid-30s, but children, teens and older males are also susceptible. However, survival rates are very high, so men are encouraged to seek treatment as early as possible for a smoother recovery.

*Photo shown is not the interview subject.

BRAVE

Braving Cancer With MAKNA – Azian Hanim


Cancer through a caregiver’s eyes

A positive diagnosis affects not only the patient, but their loved ones too. To mark World Cancer Day this month, a mother shares how she copes with her daughter’s Stage 3 brain cancer.

In 2018, AzianHanim Binti Abu Taleb had her world turned upside down when a minor tumour in her daughter’s brain developed into Stage 3 Left Anaplastic Ependymoma and caused a seizure. Doctors declared that her brain had shut down and requested permission to disconnect her from life support, but her surgeon asked to attempt surgery with a 50:50 chance of survival. The 10-hour procedure saved her life but the battle was far from over.

“It was devastating to think that my daughter was alive in the morning and suddenly declared dead by evening,” shares Azian. “I couldn’t fathom it. I asked the doctors to hold off on disconnecting the life support machine so I could pray to God, and I truly believe my prayer was answered.”

The surgery left her daughter with severe side effects, including memory loss, paralysis of the right side of her body and heightened sensitivity towards noise and bright lights. A second surgery a few weeks later robbed her of speech and movement.

“She was like a newborn baby,” continues Azian. “The whole situation took a heavy toll on her. She was bedridden and could only drink milk through a tube, which resulted in severe weight loss. She was completely dependent on us and needed round-the-clock care.”

The physical and emotional challenges on the family were compounded by increasing financial strain. A single mother with seven school-going children, Azian had to quit her job to provide the care her daughter needed. Two of her children sacrificed their education to work, and Azian herself would make and sell kuihkapit for additional income when possible. Still, the family was barely scraping by.

“At the most desperate times, we were forced to sell some possessions,” she says. “When MAKNA approached us to offer support, I felt a huge burden lifted from my shoulders. They provided essentials for my daughter such as a wheelchair, milk supplements, and diapers. They also covered our travel costs to and from the hospital and even provided an allowance for my children who are still studying. I am incredibly thankful for their assistance. “

Despite the monumental challenges, Azian strives to maintain a positive attitude.

“I prefer to not think about my situation as hard, no matter how trying it can be sometimes,” she says. “I always convince myself that everything will be okay and that there are people out there who are facing much bigger problems, so I should be thankful and not give up easily. My children are my source of strength. I think of them constantly and remind myself that I need to set an example for them by being strong.”

Caregiving is a vital and demanding role, and caregivers need to look after themselves just as much as they do their patients. There are numerous resources about caregiving, including here and here, that might offer insights and support.

World Cancer Day is celebrated every February 4th to raise global awareness of the disease and encourage prevention, detection, and treatment. Early intervention saves lives!