My wife says that this could be her last Ramadan. I protest saying it could be, but it could also be mine, and it could be anyone else’s, and that no one is guaranteed anything, anyway. This is half-hearted and she knows it. We do indeed all know that we are going to die but my wife—age 32, and a year into her diagnosis of stage 4 kidney cancer with metastasis to multiple organs and bone—is keenly aware of this.
Ramadan is a time to reflect on death and to turn platitudes like “remember death” into spiritual cures. For many—and ourselves included prior to the cancer diagnosis —death was not routinely on our minds. We may think about it during Ramadan, then we forget, settling back into our comfortable routine.
But cancer disrupts routine. There are appointments and scans and side-effects and drugs. There are waiting rooms filled with other patients, seeing their frail bodies and strong souls and then whispering, “May Allah save us.” Your own body, weakening and shrinking, testifies to its eventual demise; the cancer is literally waging a mutinous war. We shudder when reading articles that talk about survival in months, not years. A quickly evaporating sense of time races perspective forward, and forces you to focus on the finite period of time you have left. We have learned some lessons along the way, although we ourselves have by no means fully implemented all of them. We still struggle every day. Nonetheless, we hope that sharing some of these realizations may help others benefit without the trial.
We have learned that effective use of time starts with paying real, active attention—to be firmly attuned to your state and the blessings surrounding you. Whether that is pondering the richness of the Qur’an, the power of the ocean waves, the beauty of your spouse, the soft caress of a summer breeze, the miracle of your mental and physical faculties… Doing this consistently takes effort. This diagnosis has given us an opportunity to deeply reflect on the bounty of our Rabb (Lord). What is important quickly separates, like cream rising from milk. Frivolity becomes lame and spending moments with loved ones and God becomes paramount. And diagnoses like these shows that life is a collection of moments, and our goal should be to make each of those moments an act of ibadah (worship), because that moment is itself a mercy of our Creator. Recognition and attentiveness to your blessings are keys to happiness. Even in this difficult time we realize that we are still so very blessed. Remember the refrain:
“Then which of your Lord’s blessings would you deny?” (Surah Rahman)
Know that however bad you think you have it, there are better people who are in worse conditions. Be grateful: “So remember Me; I will remember you. And be grateful to Me and do not deny Me.” (Qur’an, 2:152)
Going though this make it abundantly clear that control is only an illusion. The veil is lifted and you are reminded over and over again that the only one in control is the One. “Allah [alone] is sufficient for us, and He is the best Disposer of affairs [for us]” (Qur’an, 3:173). In the end no one can help you, not your degrees, connections, doctors, friends, or family, unless God allows them to.
And the main means of accessing Him is through du`a’ (supplication), genuine, heartfelt—and in our case, desperate—du`a’. Remember: “And when My servants ask you concerning Me, then surely I am very near; I answer the prayer of the supplicant when he calls on Me, so they should answer My call and believe in Me that they may walk in the right way,” (Qur’an, 2:186). We make du`a’ and beg everyone we meet to make du`a’ for us as well.
We are also reminded that the outcomes that we pray for may not be the outcomes that He has planned. Remember: “It may be that you hate something when it is good for you and it may be that you love something when it is bad for you. Allah knows and you know not,” (Qur’an, 2:216). It is a humbling reminder, but we still must maintain hope. We continue to pray for what we think is best, but know that God may have something better in store for us.
In the end, we are all terminal—a mitotic misadventure away. But do not wait for a calamity to bring you to your knees to remind you of this and make the most of the precious, limited, beautiful time you have now.
May we humbly request that you remember us in your du`a’.
The author wishes to remain anonymous. You can contact him at: CancerIslam@outlook.com