Hasmah Ibrahim

Even after over 40 years of marriage, Hasmah and her husband Saharuddin are as in love as they were when they were teenagers. Always full of praise for each other, the couple does not shy away from physical displays of affection and are quick to finish one another's sentences. They have three children and 10 grandchildren, who all visit her often. “We are ‘rich’ with family. But with our children all grown up and with families of their own, I’m alone at home with my husband – and it feels like we just got married all over again,” she says with a smile.

The couple first met while they were secondary school students. They would share the same bus home after school. Saharuddin, who at the time was training as a national cyclist, would cycle around her neighbourhood in Kajang just to catch a glimpse of her: “I remember how she would wait for me and wave at me as I cycled past,” he reminisces. After winning Malaysia’s first gold medal in cycling in the 1967 Southeast Asian Games (then known as the SEAP Games), Saharuddin tied the knot with his high school sweetheart.

Up until a few years ago, Hasmah was a force to be reckoned with. She managed a contractual cleaning service, while also assisting in the various cycling events organized by her husband. Her work would even have her driving all the way to Johor from Shah Alam on a daily basis. “She’s always been a tough one. Not many women or even men would take on such roles like she did,” says a proud Saharuddin.

However, a nagging pain in her leg led Hasmah to an orthopedic appointment, where the doctor recommended an MRI. The scans revealed a tumor in Hasmah’s lower spine region, and she was immediately directed to the hospital for treatment. She was then diagnosed with lymphoma, and it was revealed during treatment that the tumor had spread further up her spine.

Hasmah spent a whole year in the hospital before being discharged a year ago. As concerned as she was for her own health, she was just as worried about her husband’s emotions. “At first, I couldn’t bear to tell him the news of my cancer. The children and I kept the news from him in my early stages – I didn’t want him to see me at my weakest,” she shares. After showing some improvement, Hasmah finally allowed her beloved Saharuddin to visit her in the hospital. “He’s quite sensitive, and I knew that seeing him sad would make me sad. Whenever he came, I acted like I was better,” she says as they exchange a loving glance.

Over the course of that long year, Hasmah underwent difficult and sometimes painful treatments including radiotherapy. Her husband and children took turns staying with her in the ward. Once again, Hasmah thought more about her family than herself: “I knew the difficulties they went through to look after me, trying to get to the hospital in rain and traffic jams, sleeping on the hard floor next to my bed,” she says. Saharuddin of course, didn’t want to be anywhere else but by her side. “She had travelled everywhere with me for my cycling events, and I wasn’t about to leave her alone in her time of need. I practically lived in the hospital with her for eight months. I did it because I love her,” he says.

Hasmah’s determination to face her illness was further fueled by her family’s encouragement and support from her doctors. “They gave me strength. On days when I wanted to go home and give up, they would talk to me until I changed my mind. On days I didn’t have any appetite, they would make sure I ate to keep up my strength,” she says. Saharuddin was inspired by his wife’s will and spirit. “It was a challenge at that stage. But she listened to the experts, and followed their advice closely. Most of all she’s a fighter; that’s always been a quality of hers,” he says while running his fingers tenderly through her hair.

With the tumor smaller, mobility regained and Hasmah’s overall health improved, she was finally discharged. “We were so grateful that Alhamdulillah, God heard my prayers, as well as the prayers of my husband and children. I was so happy to be home with my family,” says Hasmah. Today, Hasmah keeps her health up by making sure she takes regular trips to the doctor, and has a palliative care team who visits her at home. “My palliative care nurse Vicky looked after me in the hospital, and continued to visit me after I was discharged. She gave me a lot of strength, and I always feel so happy when I see her. ” she says.

Hasmah keeps herself busy these days with rearranging furniture, gardening and cooking for her grandchildren, but she and Saharuddin have a big plan in mind. “We had an idea to organise a fundraising cycling event to benefit other patients, and nurse Vicky thought it was a great idea! We brought it up with Hospis Malaysia, and hopefully we’ll co-organise it with them. We're thinking of holding it at Lake Bera in Pahang,” says Hasmah excitedly. An inspired Saharuddin chimes in, “My wife has shown me that ... as long as you can breathe and move you can still give back to others around you, and to mankind in general.”

With years of experience organising cycling events up to a regional level, Saharuddin and Hasmah intend to add a unique and personal touch to their brainchild. “We intend to kick off the race with Hasmah and I pedaling the first bicycle ourselves – InsyaAllah, it will come true!” declares Saharuddin. “Since we are not able to donate monetarily, we want to help raise funds for those who need it. We hope to get support from various communities to make the event a truly memorable one,” says Hasmah.

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