Brought closer by cancer

Brought closer by cancer
Ms Siti Faizah Abdul Latiff and Mr Muhammad Nurfarhan Mislam (both front) were married after she completed her chemotherapy last year and now live with her parents, Mr Abdul Latiff Othman and Madam Sanyidah Hassan (both behind).

Ms Siti Faizah Abdul Latiff had the support of her family and fiance during her chemotherapy.

Like many brides-to-be, civil servant Siti Faizah Abdul Latiff, 30, wanted to slim down for her wedding day.

After losing almost 20kg in three months of exercising and dieting, she discovered a hard lump on her left collar bone in June 2013. In August that year, after a battery of medical tests, Ms Siti Faizah, aged 29 then, was diagnosed with Stage 2 Hodgkin's lymphoma, a form of cancer of the white blood cells.

Her journey to remission, with 12 sessions of chemotherapy that ended in February last year, brought her family closer. During the chemotherapy, the whole family, including her then fiance, brother and sister, visited her at the hospital.

"We changed our lifestyle, eating mostly vegetables and no processed foods. We spent weekends exercising together at East Coast Park. We tried to control our sadness in front of her," says her father, Mr Abdul Latiff Othman, 65.

Mr Abdul Latiff, an assistant manager at a company that provides exhumation services for Muslim cemeteries, adds that he cried at night during the ordeal but told Ms Siti Faizah, his second of three children, about it only at this interview. Ms Siti Faizah's mother is housewife Sanyidah Hassan, 62.

Ms Siti Faizah and her husband, corporate training executive Muhammad Nurfarhan Mislam, 29, got married in November last year as they had planned, though she had to wear hair extensions because of the hair loss from chemotherapy, and had gained back the weight she lost.

Ms Siti Faizah says the self-control of her parents and of Mr Nurfarhan, who says he "wanted to be a pillar of support for her", helped her during her illness.

"They didn't cry in front of me. If they had, I might have crumbled as well. I was surrounded by positive vibes. I told myself I had to pull through, no matter what," she says.

How did your cancer affect your family?

Mr Latiff: My wife and I met Farhan's family and asked if they wanted to go through with the marriage. If I were to give my daughter away, it would be a burden on the other family. They said there was no issue and that it was God's will. Those were very encouraging words. There was strong bonding from both sides.

Madam Sanyidah: It's like a blessing.

Mr Nurfarhan: I would never have left Siti, she needed me. In October last year, through the Bone Marrow Donor Programme (www.bmdp.org) that I had signed up for, I donated part of my bone marrow via stem cell harvesting, a seven-hour procedure, to someone who was suffering from Stage 4 Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. I could understand their pain. When I saw Siti suffer, I was completely helpless.

Ms Siti Faizah: We feel as though nothing can come between us now.

What is your parenting style like?

Ms Siti Faizah: My dad was very fierce when we were in primary and secondary school. We had to reach home by the time he set for us.

Mr Latiff: It's a form of discipline. We need to maintain discipline, including spending time with parents. We were concerned about their education. Sometimes I also pampered them, I would ask them what they wanted for birthdays.

Madam Sanyidah: I bought extra assessment books for them and also insisted that all three of our children went to religious classes at the mosque.

Which parent are you closer to?

Ms Siti Faizah: I'm close to both but closer to my dad. I was beaten twice by him, with a belt and a cane, in primary school for misbehaving. I tried to get back into his good books after being punished.

Madam Sanyidah: When she got older, she got sick of him because he would tease her.

How did you discipline her when she was younger?

Mr Latiff: The rotan (Malay for cane) was always available but I would caution her first. She was a bit mischievous in primary school. After I saw the mark of the rotan on her, though, I thought I had been too harsh. Her mother didn't interfere but her brother cried.

Madam Sanyidah: I didn't interfere when the children were caned because parents have to be united. My husband did landscaping work at a Bintan resort for three years when Siti was in secondary school. I had to be mother and father then. But I didn't use the cane, I would only scold the children when they misbehaved.

What are your family values?

Mr Nurfarhan: I've been living with my in-laws since I got married. My parents-in-law make it a point to have bonding time with the family - such as going jogging then having breakfast together. Family comes first.

Madam Sanyidah: I treat him like my own son.

Ms Siti Faizah: Respect and not forgetting our prayers and our responsibility as Muslims. Faith is important.

If the parent-child roles were reversed, what would you do differently?

Ms Siti Faizah: I wouldn't do anything differently. Discipline goes a long way - spare the rod and spoil the child. That's how Farhan and I would like to discipline our children in the future.

Mr Latiff: Nothing. Values such as obedience and respect for the elders are important.

Madam Sanyidah: I wouldn't change anything. We nurtured them from young to know the values of a true Muslim.

venessal@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Feb 15, 2015.
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