KUALA LUMPUR: It started with a feeling of bloatedness, a string of stomach aches and some blood in the stool.
For a while, Mohd Faisal Abdur Rani thought nothing of it. But when he eventually went for a check-up, the doctor told him he was experiencing the symptoms of stomach cancer.
The diagnosis was confirmed last month, marking the start of Faisal’s second journey with cancer.
When Faisal was 22, he was diagnosed with brain cancer while studying for a degree in chemical engineering at Montana State University in the US.
“I kept experiencing migraines for two months,” he said, adding that he returned to Malaysia for treatment after that.
But he kept his illness a secret from many people, including his parents.
“Only five of my closest friends knew, and my sister. I was determined to finish studying as I had a scholarship and I did not want to waste it.”
In 2015, he was declared cancer-free. Now 33, he faces yet another battle with the disease.
But until recently, he was reluctant to tell people about his cancer as he did not want to be treated differently.
“Life is too short for a pity party,” he says.
Instead, he fills his time volunteering with Trash Hero Malaysia, a group whose activities include cleaning public places.
He also conducts environmental workshops on top of his weekly clean-up sessions.
He believes that an idle mind is a cancer patient’s worst enemy, as it can lead to feelings of depression and hopelessness.
“And after I was diagnosed for the second time, I still wanted to continue doing all I could for the environment,” he added.
Faisal has undergone cancer treatment in both the US and Malaysia. The good thing about treatment here, he told FMT, is that costs are heavily subsidised at public hospitals.
“In the US, it is tough because you need to have insurance and the cost of treatment is very high. In my case, it cost me US$300,000,” he said.
What made the difference for him in the US, he said, was the use of medical marijuana, which is legal in some states.
“With chemo treatment, you sit there for three hours and the pain is excruciating,” he said. “It feels like there are needles piercing you, and it is hot. After that, you feel lousy and nauseous.
“But with medical marijuana, the pain is not so bad. You don’t need to take morphine and you still have an appetite.”
Without medical marijuana, he said, it takes him three days to recover from each chemo session.
When asked, Faisal said he is an advocate for medical marijuana but only if it is highly regulated to prevent abuse.
“I think we should be open to evidence-based research on this,” he said.
“Patients should have the option to go for both modern and traditional medication.”
At the end of the day, his advice to people is simple.
“When your time is up, it is up. Who knows what will happen, so it’s best to live life to the fullest and take it one day at a time. A diagnosis is not the end.”