Feature Story: I’m a survivor – Ammar Arshad

Growing up, my grandpa would tell me about his stories of helping people with his medicine. I wanted to follow in footsteps of my Grandpa and become a Pharmacist. At 18 years old, and just graduating high school, I was ready to take on those dreams…until I was diagnosed with colon cancer.

My entire life changed in August of 2012 when I went into surgery. All my focus was on the unstainable pain that I had been having since July. After the surgery my Doctor walks in the room, and informs me, “We operated successfully, and removed a lot of your colon out, but sorry to inform you it was cancer.” When I heard those words come out of the doctors mouth I couldn’t control myself, and just started crying. It was a sunny afternoon and there I was crying with my mom. I cleared up the tears, and asked the doctor, “What now?”

They kept me in the hospital for 3 weeks to do 12 rounds of aggressive chemotherapy to kill all the cancer cells. I started my first chemo treatment around the first week of October shortly after my birthday. Initially, I went to chemo treatments with my family, but I couldn’t handle seeing the stress and sadness on my parents’ faces, so I started going alone after the first treatment. A few of my friends stayed with me for a treatment or two, but I did a majority of them alone.

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I sat in a chair for four hours and had my mind race through, “what did I do to deserve this shit.” I already had a hard life growing up poor, and having nothing. What did I do to deserve cancer? I didn’t care about anyone. I just wanted to be alone. I told myself that I’m going to do this alone, just like I do everything else in my life. I don’t need the help of anyone.

The way the chemo treatments worked was every two weeks I would sit in a chair for 4 hours and take this sonywalkmen looking thing and have that squeeze death syrup in my chest for the next 48 hours. Then you take a break, and 2 weeks later do it again. 12 treatments meant 6 months of this hell. I lost 30lbs of weight. I lost my hair. I would wake up every morning throwing up; I couldn’t take food down. My hands looked dead. I would look in the mirror and just see a corpse. Not even a man anymore.

Another side effect of chemotherapy is the bottom of your hands and the bottom your feet and your throat are extra sensitive to the cold. So I couldn’t even go outside because it was during October, November, December, and January. I slowly creeped away from my family. I didn’t give a fuck about anyone or anything. I could care less about it. Hell, I didn’t even care about myself, but I did the treatments.

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My last treatment was on January 23rd, 2013 because I was a lil bitch and had an allergic reaction to the chemo and couldn’t continue it anymore. So, I finished with 8 rounds. Thank God. I was so happy I didn’t have to deal with that shit anymore. Now I could focus on going to school and continue on with my life. I started with great motivation. I was like “I JUST BEAT FUCKING CANCER, I CAN TAKE ON ANYTHING IN THE WORLD.” But looking back it now all I can say is “hahahahaha, yeah right bro.”

I enrolled into school immediately. I thought I was ready to start school, and follow my Grandpa’s path to becoming a Pharmacist, but as school started I realized that I didn’t’ want to do that anymore, and switched to computer science. Not only did I change my career, but I also changed some other things in my life. I took up drugs and alcohol. When I talk about drugs I mean like cocaine, Adderall, and some narcos prescribed by the doc. I slowly started drifting away from everyone again, and would just wanted to party and forget about life.

After I finished my last chemo treatment I went in a spiral of depression and deep anxiety because of the fear that I was going to get cancer back again and the fact that I’m still young and there’s no more point to life. So, why not just party it up? Why follow any rules when I can just party and forget about all my problems if I’m just going to get cancer again? I had a very negative mindset that kept me going through this, and that negative mind consumed me because I didn’t know any way out of it.

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I kept this lifestyle from 19 to 22. It was the most depressing years in my life. What really got me out of this life was when my parents found out the dark path I was going down, and God. My parents had nothing but disappointment in me. They knew I was better then this. I knew I was better then this. I stopped drifting away from the people I love and care about, because at the end of the day, they wanted nothing but the best for me. I stopped drinking, doing drugs, and just stopped doing everything that harmed me and didn’t put me in the right direction.

I turned to Islam, and got closer to God. Even though I grew up with nothing, I started realizing that I grew up with everything, but I just had a negative mindset about it. I changed that mindset to only positive thoughts, no matter the situation. I started reading more and working on myself. Even though I was born a Muslim, I felt that I actually became a Muslim when I was 22.

With the support of family and putting my trust in God I’m still changing my life and getting better everyday. I also stopped the mindset of rushing things. I would rush things like graduating, working, buying things I’ve always wanted, getting married, and all the dreams I had just because of my fear of getting cancer back. That mindset is not only unfair to myself, but the people that I am close to. I remind myself that I can die from anything; it doesn’t have to be cancer. It could be me walking down the street, driving, getting sick from another disease, or anything. I realized God gave me a second chance in life, and I’m not going to waste it.

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I see cancer as a blessing from God to opening my eyes and realizing that there’s more to life then what we think. I’m 24 and still growing and bettering myself to become the person that I want to be. It’s been 2 years since I stopped the negative lifestyle that I once had, and I don’t plan on ever going back to it. Now, I’m almost ready to graduate college and hopefully go on to Medical School where I can pursue a career in helping people. It’s still a challenge everyday, but I try my best to not waste the new life that God has given me.

If you’re reading this, you might be going through some sort of adversity that has an emotional impact like the way cancer affected me. With the right mindset, you can tackle anything life throws at you. We all go through challenges, but at the end of the day, it’s all up to how we choose to handle these situations. Nothing is achieved over night, but if you fall down 7 times you get back up 8 times, and you tackle the obstacle in front of you. – Ammar Arshad

Ammar Arshad is a junior at Michigan State University studying Kinesiology planning to pursue a career in medicine. He is a cancer survivor and hopes to use his platform to help motivate others who have gone through similar emotional experiences. He’s looking to share his motivational outlook and reflections through Instagram. Give him a follow at m.ammar_a.

Always keeping my gaze down because I’m a good moslem

A post shared by Ammar Arshad (@m.ammar_a) on


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Hi, I'm the founder of The PhDream. I'm a second year doctoral student who wasn't satisfied with just sitting behind a desk and writing papers. While my research may have an indirect impact, I wanted to engage more directly with the community and provide a platform to discuss neglected and sensitive issues. Along with that, I try to stay sane in my program by stress baking, glamming up even when I'm down, and sharing my dad-joke captions on the gram -- if only that creativity could translate into my research... Anyways, I'm always looking for contributors, collaborations, and people to eat my zelicious creations, so don't hesitate to reach out or follow me @ZuniJilani :)

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