Arisha’s fight against cancer and how you can help her win
The first day I met Arisha, she was a mixture of curiosity and shyness, clinging to her father and peeking out from behind him. She was wearing a face mask to protect her from infections, but the twinkle in her eyes was unmistakable – the three year old was smiling at me.
While walking to their one bedroom abode in Rampura, Arisha was repeatedly told by her father Saidul Islam to keep still. But still she would not be – swinging from his arm and jumping over puddles, she laughed and skipped during the entire two minute trip.
Once the mask was removed, she said, “I like going outside! If I were a little chicken, I would pick worms from the ground and eat it,” and burst into a fit of giggles. However, the giggles soon turned to a bout of coughing, and Arisha’s mother Selina Islam sternly sat her down and told her the same thing – you know you are not well, be still.
Selina and Saidul had been married for almost ten years. Saidul works for a multinational security company and is currently contracted out as a security guard at a bank. Earning about Tk7,000-8,000 a month, a chunk of his income (Tk4,000) is spent on rent alone. Selina used to help out, working on her sewing machine.
“We didn’t have much, but we had enough,” she said. “The only thing we had missing was a child. We spent six years trying to have a baby, and finally God gave us Arisha.”
Toying with a battered old doll in the corner, Arisha looked up with a big grin as soon as she heard her name. But the smile slowly disappeared when she realised the talk was about her illness.
“When she was a baby, we noticed a little growth on her side,” continued Selina. “But the local community clinic said it was nothing. Suddenly this December, she had fever and became dangerously ill. She contracted pneumonia, her lungs filled with water – we thought we were going to lose her.”
She was initially treated at Popular and then referred on to Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU), where after running numerous tests and getting a biopsy done, Arisha was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma – in simpler terms, cancer.
What can a family living in one room, struggling to make ends meet in the heart of Dhaka, do when their child is diagnosed with cancer?
“The doctors at BSMMU try and help,” interjected Saidul, saying they had reduced fees on tests and beds are free of charge. “But the costs of chemotherapy and radiotherapy are high, almost Tk 15-20,000 per session, and then there are additional costs of medicine (Tk5,000 on average). Sometimes we also have to buy blood because she is A+.”
What about his workplace? Before he can reply, Selina jumps in. “He’s worked there over ten years and they refused to give anything. They didn’t even allow us to organise a donation drive, saying it is not their policy! Is this a way to reward his hard work and loyalty?”
“The people at the bank where I am contracted out are nicer, they raised almost Tk 50,000 for Arisha,” added Saidul quietly. “We both have elderly parents who cannot help, but my friends did what they could. Our neigbours were wonderful too, they raised almost one lakh, even though they are struggling like all of us here. I had a little bit of land in our village which I mortgaged. Now I am running on loans.”
Arisha has had eight cycles of chemotherapy as well as surgery, which has cost them over four lakh taka already. She still has six more cycles pending, after which she will be re-assessed for further treatment.
According to Dr Afiqul Islam, Professor of Paediatric Hematology and Oncology, BSMMU, “Arisha has a type of bone tumour in her ribs. Unfortunately she was diagnosed late, but it is still localised. She needs long term treatment, but there is a 60-70 percent chance of survival.”
Arisha’s mother is full of praise for Dr Islam and his team, saying they all drop in to listen to her incessant chatter every time she goes in for treatment. It’s easy to see why Arisha is so popular among them. In the few minutes we spent talking, she had already described how she wanted to be a chicken or a duck, attempted a little somersault and fell over, force fed me biscuits and made me promise to bring her ice-cream on her birthday.
Her face fell at the idea of spending her special day in a hospital bed though. “I don’t like being there,” she said solemnly. “It hurts and I cry. It scares me.”
She brightened up as she added, “But everything is nicer if ice-cream is involved, even chemo!”
If you want to donate for Arisha’s treatment, you can bkash her father at 01714535558 or tranfer to his BRAC bank account 1521201864107001. Alternatively, you can contact the writer at [email protected]