Seeking Good Death!

Cancer, a disease that brings goosebumps when you hear its name only. It’s a deadly disease and the ones fighting it are heroes and warriors. It takes away many things from the ones suffering from it but also gives a sense of maturity and understanding about life. One of the most important thing is getting the right treatment for it. Sadly, Pakistan being the third world country has given a lot of trouble to its citizens, with no health care insurance and the expensive treatments people tend to lose their lives to diseases like cancer.

I stepped in Jinnah hospital in search of finding the very idea of ‘good death’. As I entered the cancer ward I could see strong men and women battling with different types of cancer. It took me awhile to digest the situation. Traumatic and agonizing. I could see young girls and boys lying on beds with drips on their hands, starring the roof. Maybe they were thinking about just life, I guess. There comes a point in life when we get a reality check where we understand the actual meaning of life and, so I am assuming those men and women had hit that point.

As difficult it was for me to witness it, the worst was when I started talking to them. Just the mere question of asking their name and age brought tears to my eyes. I had to stay strong and vigilant as I was on the giving end, and not on the receiving end. I took a deep breath and asked my questions with a smile on my face to make the situation comfortable. It wasn’t easy. I felt my questions are knocking their pain.

Jehanzaib Waris, 19 years, was diagnosed with blood cancer two years ago when he was in matric. He is from Multan and has shifted to Karachi for his treatment. “I started having a lot of trouble walking, I used to get short of breath very easily”, said Waris. He used to walk towards the bus stand from his house and kept ignoring his stamina problem but one day he collapsed while walking back home.

Jehanzaib sitting on his bed at Jinnah Medical

He’d been having symptoms: occasional nausea and stomach discomfort. Doctors told him he was young and healthy, that it wasn’t anything to worry about. But the symptoms persisted and eventually Waris demanded a chemotherapy.

His parents took him to a lot of doctors and hospitals. He was told by his parents that he has hepatitis C. The treatments started with a never-ending search of good hospitals and of course the problems of financial aid. “We moved city to city every other day just so we can treat our son” said Mrs Waris. They went to Shaukat Khanum as they guarantee free treatment to cancer patients. “When I got off the Rickshaw I read Shaukat Khanum for Cancer I fell on the floor”, he says, “It’s almost like a lightning bolt strikes you because your body just goes numb”. My parents held me and assured me that they won’t let anything happen to me.

Waris’s family went to Shaukat Khanum with high hopes also because the way the hospital talks about itself and their emphasis on free treatment for cancer patient. However, it turned out that the free-treatment slogan is not so free after all. “We were refused to be treated”, said Waris’s mother, “They were asking for money and when we claimed about the free treatment they offer, they just simply refused. That was the day when we felt helpless”.

The family came to Karachi and visited Jinnah Hospital where Waris was treated. The treatment is also not free but the amount Waris’s family had to pay was very little compared to what they were asking at Shaukat Khanum. “My father is a driver and his boss has helped us greatly. We pay Rs15000 for injections every month”. It does get difficult for the family, but they try to manage their finance by even taking loans from their family and friends.

Department of Clinical Oncology


Treatment began, just two weeks before his 17th birthday. He would undergo six 21-day cycles of chemotherapy. He has stark memories from the chemo’s harsh physical effects. “The first day I woke up with hair covering my pillow, I said to myself, ‘This isn’t some awful nightmare that you will wake up from,’” Waris recalls.

“We all Google our own symptoms and the worst thing comes up,” Waris says. “The worst that came up for me was blood cancer, and I thought, ‘It can’t be this bad, but it’s worth a check.’”

Following chemotherapy, he had 60 days of radiation therapy. That experience left him with permanent reminders: precise spots all over his body. Doctors used them to align him with machines every time he went in for radiation. “They would put me on this table and load up this loud and scary machine,” says Waris. “I knew it was saving my life but as a 17-year-old I just wanted to go home.”

Waris tried to find small triumphs and reasons to smile during his treatment. He asked his best friend to give him a Mohawk before his hair fell out, and once dressed up as Mr. Clean when he was completely bald. His family, friends and doctors were ever-present, but like many others faced with a life-threatening diagnosis, at times he felt isolated. “Imagine being the puffy-cheeked bald kid, walking around knowing that everybody is looking at you because you have cancer,” he says. “It’s really lonely.”

After months of intense treatment, Waris’s cancer became undetectable. He had CAT scans every few months for two years. And while he knows there’s always a chance it can return, he smiles as he says, “I am ten years cancer free. It’s exciting.”

Now 19 years old, Waris is a first-year college student in Karachi, studying. He wants to become a Pilot, but he knows he will the medical test. He’d originally planned on going into business, encouraged by his parents and his own interest. But being a cancer survivor at such a young age had defined a large piece of him. “I recognized that for the rest of my life I’m going to forever be passionate about fighting cancer,” he explains. “So, if I can do that for a living then every single day I go into work I’m going to be excited.”

Reflecting on all he’s been through, Waris wants to thank his family. His mother, who was there every step of the way. His brother, who he joking calls annoying while sharing tearful gratitude. His extended family, who joyfully dance with each other in the living room.

“They don’t know how to love a little, they only know how to love a lot.”