The Star Malaysia - Star2
Putting up a fight
Comedian Zaibo opens up about battling stage four cancer.
COMEDIAN Zaibo spent three full days in his bedroom after returning from the hospital with a cancer diagnosis.
“When I reached home after my diagnosis, my wife told me, ‘I don’t want you to do any house work. I will take care of everything. Just go to the room and rest’,” the 62-yearold recalls in a phone call from Rengit, Batu Pahat, where he resides.
Unfortunately, lying on his bed, what he found wasn’t rest.
“During the first three days, when I was all alone in the room, doing nothing, there were so many things that went through my mind. And I was tired of it.”
On the fourth day, Zaibo had an epiphany. “Why must I be so melodramatic, as if I’m in one of those Hindustani movies? Am I feeling any pain? No. I can still talk, walk, laugh, and if I want to, cry.”
Zaibo – who usually does the household chores, as his wife travels outstation for work regularly – decided he would settle back into his normal routine.
“I said, ‘Wake up Zaibo, wake up.’ I’m not going to stay in the room anymore and I told my wife not to stop me from doing what I’m used to doing. If I feel tired, I’ll tell her and I’ll have a rest.”
The comedy actor, known for his roles in 1990s series like Malaysia’s Spanar Jaya and Singapore’s Under One Roof, talks to Star2 about his cancer journey and the fight ahead.
The moment everything changed
It was about two weeks after Hari Raya that Zainal Ariffin Abdul Hamid, or Zaibo, first noticed something was wrong.
“At one particular meal, I choked on my food so terribly, it was difficult to even breathe. So, I tapped the back of my neck and vomited out my food. Then I could breathe,” he remembers.
“After that incident, I didn’t think too much about it. Then, it started to happen at every meal. It came to a point where I got scared to have meals; I only ate when I felt really hungry.”
As a result, he lost 10kgs in two months.
As the vomiting persisted, Zaibo visited a local clinic which prescribed him probiotics, suspecting his intestines were dirty.
“I was supposed to take it for six weeks. But at the fourth week, everything was still the same.”
As all this was happening, a thought kept playing at the back of his head: Could this be a sign of cancer?
Zaibo’s parents had both died of cancer; his mother had breast cancer, which later spread to her brain, while his father had pancreatic cancer.
Zaibo then went to another clinic and asked to be tested for cancer. “They did an X-ray and took my blood samples but didn’t find anything.”
He was then referred to a hospital in Batu Pahat, where an endoscopy confirmed his fears.
“I looked at the doctor blankly. I didn’t know how to react because I had no feelings at all,” he remembers the moment he heard he had oesophageal cancer.
The diagnosis didn’t surprise him, but the fact that the cancer has progressed to stage four did. The doctors found two tumours on his oesophagus and the cancer has spread to his lungs, liver, stomach and lower left rib.
“That shocked me because I didn’t feel any kind of symptoms or sickness except for the vomiting.”
Enveloped in love
After the initial diagnosis, Zaibo travelled to a hospital in the Klang Valley for further tests. The latest was a PET scan.
“From the results of the PET scan, the doctors will determine how best to treat the cancer. I’ve been told that it’ll likely be a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.”
The treatment is expected to begin some time next month. In the meantime, Zaibo is on a very strict diet, consuming mostly high-protein milk, fruit juices and soft foods like porridge.
Asked how he is coping financially, Zaibo says, as he has not undergone any treatment yet, he doesn’t know how much the total sum will be.
The comedian, who has five schooling children living under his roof (two in primary school, three in secondary school), is grateful to the many who made donations upon hearing about his ordeal.
“I’m thankful and happy because now I can focus on my treatment. Before this, besides thinking about the treatments I have to go through, I kept thinking about how I’m going to pay the bills.”
“To Yayasan Artis Veteran Malaysia, Yayasan Kebajikan Artis Tanahair, Persatuan Kebajikan Artis Veteran Malaysia, Persatuan Seniman Malaysia, The National Development For Culture And Arts, Afdlin Shauki and crew members of Super Spontan Xtravaganza and Vision Works, Johan Raja Lawak and wife Ozzlyn as well as family, friends I made from various stages of my life, fellow artistes and Malaysians locally and abroad, thank you for your love and support.”
But more than the financial support, Zaibo says he appreciates the care and prayers they have afforded him.
“In the beginning, I didn’t want to make a fuss about it. But then someone advised me, ‘Let your friends know about it because everyone who loves you will pray for you, and you never know whose prayer will be answered’.”
When Zaibo spent about four days in the hospital recently, some 50 to 60 people filled his room at each visiting session, every day.
“At one of those visiting hours, I was seated on my bed and I looked around and saw the faces of the people representing the different eras of my life, from primary and secondary school to university and then working life,” he recounts.
“I looked at them and it was like a flashback to all those sweet moments in my life. What a beautiful experience God has sent to me. Looking at their faces, it’s just like watching a movie of my life.”
As for the future, Zaibo accepts what God has in store for him.
“In the last five years, six of my secondary school friends have passed away. If it is fated that it is my turn, what is so unusual about it? I’m above 60. It’s not necessary people above that age must die, there are those who live longer. There are also people who die at five, 10 or 20 years old.
“If I meet my creator, it is not because of cancer. I told myself, ‘My fate is in God’s hands’.”