How would you feel if you were diagnosed with stage 4 cancer? Cancer – a disease feared by many; as it is often referred to as a death sentence.
For Mohamad Hirwan Hatta who was diagnosed with stage 4 lymphoma cancer, for a moment, time suddenly came to a halt and everything went silent. Every tick of the clock felt as if he was counting the last days of his life – questioning ‘will there be a tomorrow, a day after or a next week?’
For those of us who are in the pink of health, we often take our lives and our time in this world for granted; as though we will live a long life and that we are not yet 40, as the old saying goes, ‘Life begins at 40’. But for Hirwan, after discovering his days are numbered, nothing else mattered but to make the most of his time left in this world.
It all started when he started coughing non-stop. His neck started swelling and day by day, he found it harder to breathe as there was tightness in his chest and he easily felt tired when his body was low in oxygen.
His condition also came with constant fever, and over time he went to the hospital to undergo several tests like tuberculosis, hepatitis and even HIV. However, all the results were negative. At one point he almost believed there was sorcery behind his illness and digressed to seeking alternative medical treatment across the country.
Finally after several months, in April 2008, the results of a CT scan showed a tumour which was nearly 12cm in size between his lungs, positive lymphoma stage 4. He was referred to a haematologist at the Ampang Hospital. After seeing a specialist, he was admitted to the ward – and following that episode, the hospital became his second home.
For Hirwan at that time, nothing seemed more important than the effort to fight his illness. He focused on chemotherapy and other treatments and disconnected himself from the rest of the world. And picking up the pieces, he vowed that no matter what tomorrow, the following day or the week has in store, he will remain strong and not give up without a fight.
Hirwan after his second chemotherapy session
Ever since that day, in addition to the five obligatory prayers, Hirwan also increased his supererogatory prayers. Aside that, he ensured he had enough sleep, at least seven to eight hours a day. He also started jogging on alternate days – an improvement as initially, he only took brisk walks because his tumour blocked his respiratory tract. Moreover, he avoided anything that would cause him stress and strived to always be happy.
After undergoing 16 chemotherapy sessions, the PET scan showed although the cancer has reduced, it was still present in some parts of his body. The report completely broke Hirwan’s spirit at that time. As a follow-up treatment, specialists then recommended a bone marrow transplant which only left Hirwan in a dilemma; to go-ahead with it or not – as it could be very risky.
Two months had passed and Hirwan had yet made a decision. And despite his delayed response to the specialists, he never stopped making an effort to find alternative treatments. Coincidentally, that was when his friend, a former Royal Military College (RMC) student, invited him to perform the umrah (lesser pilgrimage). Along with the two of them, three other friends who are also former RMC students decided to join them on their journey. And despite having spent all his money to cure his illness, fortunately, his RMC friends generously sponsored his trip.
Performing the umrah in April 2010 was an uplifting moment for Hirwan. For a while, he forgot about his cancer. He was also elated in his worship in the holy land of Mecca that he decided to extend his time there even though his friends had returned home after two weeks.
Hirwan (far right) performing his umrah in April 2010Hirwan (far right) performing his umrah in April 2010
In Mecca, he felt an indescribable calmness. When prostrating before the kaaba, Hirwan recalled understanding the true meaning of surrendering himself and accepting the fate God has set for him. It was then that he accepted whatever that came next, and whether he will or will not heal. He knew he was not giving up, but placed his trust in God after all the efforts he had made. He deeply related to the meaning of verse 5 in Surah Al-Fatihah which says: “It is You we worship and You we ask for help.”
From that moment on, in realising the greatness of God, he regained his strength and vowed to be a better version of himself. He knew that he would be able to live a better and more meaningful life despite the little time he has left in this world, vowing not to waste the rest of his life.
While in Mecca and Medina, besides dedicating his entire time to his worship, Hirwan never stopped drinking zam-zam water. And each time he did so, he felt more energised. Upon returning to Malaysia from umrah, Hirwan also felt more driven and positive about life.
A few months after his return, another former RMC friend offered Hirwan a working visa during the haj season which indirectly enabled him to perform the hajj. All praise and thanks to Allah, in November 2010, he set foot in the holy land once again, but this time for the annual pilgrimage. While there, he consistently drank the zam-zam water that even his friend who accompanied him there kept complaining about the frequent toilet stops they had to make.
Hirwan performing his hajj in November 2010Hirwan performing his hajj in November 2010After performing his pilgrimage, Hirwan returned to the hospital for follow-up checks. Glory to Allah, doctors found that the cancer cells in his body were gone. The tumour in his chest had also shrunk and there were no signs of active cancer cells. Alhamdulillah, God is great.
He was lost for words and felt like being reborn. He shed tears of gratitude, acknowledging the greatness of God. Truly, Allah is Most gracious and Most merciful. There is no power greater that supersedes Him and everything happens in His will.
“Do you not know that to Allah belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth and [that] you have not besides Allah any protector or any helper?” (Surah Al-Baqarah, verse 107)
“And whoever fears Allah – He will make for him a way out.” (Surah At-Talaq, verse 2)
Today, Hirwan feels healthier than ever before, both physically and spiritually. In fact, nine years after being diagnosed with stage 4 lymphoma cancer in 2008, Hirwan has even ran 2,320km!
After confirming he is cancer-free, Hirwan also started a family and visited several countries in Asia and Europe. To add to that, his recent achievement in early 2017, saw him successfully conquering Mount Kinabalu, the highest peak in Southeast Asia.Hirwan participating in the KL Marathon 2012Hirwan participating in the KL Marathon 2012
Hirwan hopes by sharing his story with the public, it would motivate others to keep fighting against cancer, and inspire other cancer patients out there, along with their family members and friends as well.
As for the author, hearing Hirwan’s story only sends out an important message to all of us, that no matter the illnesses or challenges we are faced with, never give up easily. Keep fighting and praying, trust that God is always with us, for He sees all things and He hears all things.
Chairman of the Malaysian Chinese Muslim Association (MACMA), Kelantan Branch