Faith, acceptance and a passion for work keeps this cancer patient flying, writes Aznim Ruhana Md Yusup
THE day I met AirAsia Group chief operating officer Anaz Ahmad Tajuddin at the company’s new headquarters in Sepang, he was wearing a purple shirt with formal slacks. As far as I know the company has a smart casual dress code, but Anaz, 42, informed me that he had an award to pick up for AirAsia that night so he needed to dress up.
(AirAsia won several accolades at the 2015 KLIA Awards; Passenger Airline of the Year, Low Cost Airline of the Year, as well as Foreign Airline of the Year for Indonesia AirAsia.)
But before all the festivities, Anaz had a 4pm appointment at Subang Jaya Medical Centre. He’s undergoing immunotherapy treatment for kidney cancer, now in its third year. He planned to be back in the office by 6pm, before heading off for the event.
“AirAsia is a beautiful family. You look at this office, there is an energy here,” he says.
“It’s the reason I keep coming to work. The doctor gave me a six-month medical leave but I put it away. There are times I come in late, but I still come in to work because this is where I feel the energy.”
Anaz was diagnosed in 2014 when a medical check-up for back pain with his GP led to the discovery of a large tumour in his kidney. The surgery to remove it, and his kidney, took 11½ hours.
But the cancer had spread to other parts of his body, so Anaz also undergoes advanced treatment at Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore. He wears a portable device that pumps chemotherapy drugs into his system. He changes the “chemo ball” every seven days, and goes to Singapore every fortnight.
When he was diagnosed, his boss Tan Sri Tony Fernandes insisted that he get the best care. The AirAsia Group CEO researched cancer hospitals and specialists, and upon finding out that Mount Elizabeth is owned by Khazanah Nasional, he personally called Khazanah’s managing director Tan Sri Azman Mokhtar. Fernandes managed to get the doctor at Mount Elizabeth to clear his schedule for Anaz.
“Some tumours have become missing, some tumours have become inactive,” says Anaz. “But there are times when the tumour is active which is why I’m on management chemo.
“I’m very lucky. I may have cancer, but I have a generous boss, a generous company and good career that provides me with access to treatment. Allah has given me these things, it’s only right that I give back to others.”
MEANING OF LIFE
One of the causes close to Anaz’s heart is AirAsia’s partnership with the National Cancer Council of Malaysia (Makna). Earlier this year, the airline pledged to donate 10 sen for every flight sold on its website between 15 Aug to 16 Sept. It raised RM350,000 for the NGO.
Last year AirAsia contributed RM265,000. Part of the proceeds came from the #AirAsiaMakna captain T-shirts, which Anaz helped model with his two sons.
“Like AirAsia, Makna has grown in the Asean region. We need to reach out to people everywhere. Sometimes people do not have access to the right treatment or have the financial means for the right treatment. This is where big companies like us can give back,” says Anaz.
Makna’s efforts include providing financial aid to underprivileged patients. It conducts awareness campaigns, makes home visits and operates a halfway house. It supports cancer research and offers scholarships to young cancer survivors. It also lobbies for a more equitable cancer policy in Malaysia.
“I hope there will be better access to cancer treatment in Malaysia, as well as cheaper treatments,” says Anaz. “And I want to play a part in making sure that cancer patients are taken care off. When you’re diagnosed, people always think your time is up, it should not be that way.”
HELP AT HAND
When an AirAsia staff or their immediate family is diagnosed with cancer, Anaz makes it a point to go and talk to them. The first battle in cancer is accepting the diagnosis, he says. Only then can you fight the disease.
“It helps to share. When I meet cancer patients, I tell their friends and family not to feel sorry for them. Give them moral and emotional support.
“The day after I was diagnosed I called all my managers and made it public. You don’t know whose prayers will be answered. Mine might not but maybe other people’s prayers will be answered. You need the prayers of everyone to help you in the fight.”
Anaz says death is inevitable and can happen at any time, cancer or no cancer. His only wish is to see his children, 12 and 6, grow into adulthood.
He recently became a certified diver, along with his eldest son. He’s taking his family for a holiday in Mauritius a week before Christmas. Ever the company man, he promptly tells me that AirAsia flies there three times a week. “Hopefully we’ll increase that soon,” he adds.