On 10 March 2005, my mother, Shahla Zia, passed away. It had been less than three months since had been diagnosed with Renal Cell Carcinoma or RCC (i.e. kidney cancer). She was 58 (born 12 February, 1947).
Towards the end of December we discovered a large tumour (about 20cm in length) attached to her right kidney (there was blood in the urine, we got an ultrasound done). As advised by various oncologists (doctors who specialize in cancer), she underwent a radical nephrectomy (i.e. removal of the kidney and stuff around it) in early January. The surgeon (a kidney transplant specialist) removed all visible traces of the tumour in a six-hour long operation. She recovered well and was scheduled to begin radiation therapy (which kills, among others, any cancerous cells left behind) about four weeks later. Unfortunately, while "mapping" the abdominal area before administering the radiation, the oncologist saw "shadows" on the surrounding regions. An x-ray concluded that the cancer had spread to the liver and lungs.
Since radiation was now pointless and chemotherapy doesn't work on RCC, we opted for immunotherapy (in which the body's own immune system is used to get rid of the cancer). Unfortunately, once RCC has gone metastatic (i.e. has spread), even immunotherapy doesn't help much (6% get completely cured, 15% live for another 9-18 months). It also takes about two months for any effect of the drug to be visible. Ami, meanwhile, got steadily weaker. We kept her on the lowest dosage of Interferon Alfa (one of the two immunotherapy drugs used in RCC) for three weeks, but the cancer only spread further. Rapidly. At the end of the day, we didn't even have a fighting chance.
The doctors had given us a worst-case estimate ("if nothing works") of about six months, but the cancer was much more aggressive than they or anyone else had estimated. Ami died of respiratory complications less than a month after we started treatment. She was buried in the Islamabad Graveyard (Plot 42, Grave 49-B) on the evening of the 10th. Many, many people attended the Namaaz-e-Janaaza, including over a hundred women. The Qul was held on the 12th and the Chaaleesvan (40th day) on the 17th of April.
As a tribute to Ami, here are some things that might interest people:
- Some photographs of her as we knew her best (not a comprehensive collection; these are only the ones we already had in digital form) <coming soon>
- The press release issued at the time of her death: 'Shahla Zia Passes Away - Press Release' [PDF, 54kB]
- A collection of articles and obituary write-ups about Ami on the Internet: 'Shahla Zia - Obituaries' [PDF, 214kB]
A big thank you to all the people who sent their wishes and lent us their support during this incredibly difficult period in our lives. All the best.
Ami was one of the one thousand women nominated for the 2005 Nobel Peace prize as part of the 1000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize campaign. That nomination was, however, not accepted.
She was also awarded the Sitara-i-Imtiaz for Public Service on 14th August 2005. This is one of the higest civilian honours you can get in Pakistan.