Surviving the Dark. A Cancer Survivor’s Tale


I am not sure if its Saturday or Sunday.

My phone shows the time to be a little past 3 am … dark and silent … I can see my own breathe in the cold night air … I am thankful for the warm blanket and duvet… enjoying a welcome respite from the chemo side effects … a consistent lull in the storm which has been raging since the night before…

Two days have passed since my last treatment… my body nauseated … and weak … legs feeling like jelly and my chest burns… burns like nothing I have experienced before … I’m suffering tonight … I have not been able to sleep … I have been in and out of consciousnesses whole day, grappling with a form of insomnia brought on by the unrelenting wave of violent hiccups and together with heart burn … [yes, let’s call it ‘heart burn’… Since I have never really suffered from heart burn before I can only rely on my father’s description of what heart burn is]… they conspire to keep me out of sleep… during the lull … the spit collects and in about 30 seconds time i will lean over… desperately seeking out the ice cream container/ “spieg bakkie” on the floor next to my bed… before then I would have reacquainted myself with the ever intrusive hiccups three to 5 times per lull…


Alone and desperate …like Entrepreneurship. Infact it’s 100 times worse. That’s how I’m feeling … mouth slobbered in a waterfall of mucous like spit hanging from the lip … bouncing up and down… hanging on like a bungy jumper. Alone and desperate … that’s an apt description of how I felt…

But I am an optimist … my wife tells me so, so it must be true :-)… I think sometimes my optimism borders on romanticism … if not buffoonery … all I know is that it helped … In my solitude I would lay in bed dreaming up dreams … thinking and plotting of days in an ‘uncertain” future … reminiscing about past glories … POSITIVITY … is something which gets one through …

Gratefulness for what you have gets one through…

It was a day or two after I had my third chemo session that I realised something … something which gave me hope at a time when all I had was hope and its older brother – FAITH. As a Muslim we are taught by our noble Prophet Muhammad (SAW – peace and blessings be upon him) that sickness expiates some of our sins… so don’t despair … the theoretical understanding of that saying and the physical/ literal experience are two sides of the same coin.

God is Great!!!

What comfort. What companionship it was…Words cannot explain the relief one gets from ascribing to such a belief … but the reality of experiencing a belief is something that not only illuminates ones faith but brings a solace to a very difficult and lonely experience.

As much as your family and friends are supporting you through your illness – the journey to recovery is a lonely one. Mostly it’s just you and your coping mechanisms.

I suppose all of life’s trials have its coping mechanisms. And no doubt everybody will have their own manner of dealing with situations. Be it business, financial, domestic or social difficulties … the overriding will to win will drive a person on.

Being positive – and staying positive are two different things. In my humble opinion being positive means keeping your head up and your eye on the goal whilst staying positive is enduring the eye of the storm. Complaining positively … is not being negative … its sharing… It’s a coping mechanism… much needed to the incumbent and hats off to the recipient.

I had many coping mechanisms. One such mechanism was my kids … a week after I was diagnosed my wife gave birth to my daughter … (All praise is to Allah [GOD]) … her sounds were a breath of fresh air. My wife’s smile and a parent’s touch were comforts which I also relied on.

I was laying on my 3 year old sons bed … all he wanted was to be able to play with his dad … but I continually made excuses … but that afternoon I mustered up enough energy to oblige his request … no sooner had we started did I plonk myself down … and drifted off to sleep … waking up periodically to view his innocent play … I think it was the third or fourth time of regaining consciousness when I witnessed him playing with my cell phone … swiping away and ‘pretending’ like he knew what he was doing . At times he become frustrated – i imagine he was not achieving his desired objective. I had not shown him how to use my phone … let alone did I explain to him how to navigate it.

Instead I kept telling him: ‘Yusuf- that’s not a toy. Put it down’. I never had the energy, or will, to take it from him … so I let him play on. Observing him from a distance … was both a torture and a treat. Then he paused – looked up and smiled a huge smile: “Daddy -smile! I’m taking a photo”. I never took much notice of it at the time just brushing it off.
He carried on. I fell asleep.

Watching him … I was reminded that one of the most amazing qualities of the human being is our ability to adapt… to change and together with the yearning to learn and improve ourselves we can accomplish so much… I saw him making mistakes but he carried on … he tried again … and again … he wanted to impress me … he wanted to prove to himself that he can do it – and he did. That was evidence enough to me that we are capable of change. It’s our ability to adapt to change that will ultimately determine our futures.

As a God conscious person ( I think I am) I believe that our adapting is guided by our belief and way of life… as humans we have free will to expose ourselves to changing environments but we also have the choice which to allow to influence us. This choice is an expression of our humility and character…

Life experience – good or bad – is just that, experiences. With positivity we can change the seemingly bad into good. Sickness can cripple one mentally and physically. Physically I was taking a beating – mentally I was holding on, just… but I was doing quite ok. Having endured a form of cancer and having gone through the rigours of its treatment – I can comfortably make that statement.

… but I also draw on the one undeniable fact that with faith comes a form of contentment… and in the end no matter what our background or differences – contentment is something we are all searching for. Some yearn and others experience. Good or bad – we have the ability to turn the seemingly bad into good.

As with anything it can be used for the betterment of lives or to do evil and spread corruption. Technology is no different. Technology is and always has been a part of our being… and with it we have the ability to harness new technologies to benefit all.

Later that evening when I again found myself alone and in the still of the night … I picked up my smart phone … and browsed through my folders. I happened upon the video folder… I opened it and I watched my son’s video he had taken earlier in the day…

The next 30 odd seconds would make me smile for the evening… forgetting the pain and discomfort. It was evidence that technology… as is life … can do both good and bad … we can make a difference. Having only captured the upper right side of his face and a bit of the window blinds and roof … some would call Yusuf’s attempted video amateurish and bit a clumsy … 15 seconds of ruffling and dropping the phone … was followed by … a high pitched laugh and a “love you DADDY” “get better soon” and another laugh… and then 5 seconds of silence. Bump. End.

All it took was 30 odd seconds to make a difference.

With a little bit of effort and, endeavour… we can make a difference in our lives but more importantly in the lives of others.

Sometime we do this on our own … but many times people have to experience a life changing event which propels them forward … whichever it may be … God speed!!!


Be positive. And never give up!!!

By: Zaheer Parker (Abu Yusuf) – Cape Town, South Africa – Cricket Lover,  Lawyer, Entrepreneur and cancer survivor

Join the Conversation


  1. Beautifully-written and so positive 🙂 May brother Zaheer live a long and productive life that will continue to bring inspiration to many 🙂

    1. Jazakallah ghair for your kind words and good wishes … Much appreciated. May you and your family always be protected and in good health… Physically and spiritually.

  2. Maashallah…may it be a means of attaining His Mercy when you meet Him you Creator, Sustainer, Healer, etc . May Allah reward you for your efforts and patience and firgive us for our shortcomings…ameen

    1. Jazakallah ghair for your duas and support throughout… Im humbled to be your friend and have learnt so much from you… Allah swt bless and protect you and yoyr family

  3. Zaheer ‘harry’ Parker.. u are a legend.. we miss you alot. What an article. May the almighty spare you for many years to come.

    1. Jazakallah ghair chicha… You know mos you my hero… I miss you too and cantvwait to be back talking … You know what … On the cricket field. I pray for your protection and the continued good health for you and your family … Peace

  4. My Brother you are an inspiration to all of us. When Allah created you, there was always a purpose …for you to overcome and motivate us. I am proud of you Zaheer, may Allah always protect and guide you … Best

    1. my brother … i am grateful for your kind words … if someone somewhere can take inspiration from my thoughts and experiences then i shall be blessed to be a serving my community in that manner. jazakallah ghair

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