This Thanksgiving we teamed up with Food & Friends to help distribute food and learn the stories of some of their recipients battling life-threatening diseases such as HIV/Aids and Cancer. We reached out to Lisa, Public Relations Specialist for Food & Friends, to let her know about our interest to help, capture, and tell a recipient's story through photographs.
Food & Friends, Packing and Distribution Center
Faruq, 60, father of three, and grandfather of eight is battling an incredibly rare form of cancer called Chordoma. Chordoma is a rare bone cancer that is diagnosed in very few cases each year in the United States. It develops at the base of the skull, in a vertebra, or in Faruq's case, at end of the spinal cord. According to Faruq, "The fatality rate for someone with Chordoma is almost 100%."
We stepped in to Faruq's apartment. At first glance we noticed the eclectic artifacts strung up on the walls and countless shelves of old rare vinyl. Scattered across the tv dinner stand were medical devices and medications prescribed for his treatments. Faruq was sick, it was obvious. The sweat dripped down his face and the occasional grunt expressed to us that he was in pain.
We sat and listened to Faruq tell his story about his life up to that moment. He was a DJ, breakdancer, traveler, and lawyer. He spoke of his younger years as a heartbreak casanova from Chicago, Illinois. Animated and energetic, he told us about his time spent traveling, collecting rare vinyl by day and scuba diving the ocean waters by night. He was happy to say that he led an amazing, fulfilled life up to that point. Up to about 6 months ago and just before being diagnosed with Chordoma cancer, Faruq was working as a Lawyer for a firm in Washington, D.C. His life quickly and drastically changed after being diagnosed with this rare disease.
Faruq's demeanor went from lively to frightening. I saw the look in his eyes as he opened up to Sera and I. He told us that his commute changed. It changed from traveling every morning to being greeted by a receptionist and finding his way to his desk as an attorney to now commuting to the National Institute of Health (NIH) and greeted by 25 doctors, all bickering at each other on what new treatment to try that day. Faruq is a guinea pig, for lack of better words. For free medical treatment and a chance at survival, Faruq agreed to allow the NIH doctors to try everything they could to understand his horrible illness. Faruq told us, "For five days a week I commute to the NIH. I have to look at that building and in my head I know I will be put through the worst pain of my life for thirty minutes." We asked him what he meant by that. He said, "… the only measure the doctors have to determine the effectiveness of each new treatment is to lay me on my back and for thirty minutes put me through the worst pain of my life, resting all of my weight on the cancer sitting at the bottom of my spinal cord. On a pain scale of 1-10, 10 being the highest, I am at a 20."
He concluded as we were leaving, saying, "A fulfilling life isn't measured by the intrinsic things we acquire, but from life's experiences that are never forgotten. I led an amazing life up to this point and can happily say that with no regrets." Faruq currently lives alone in Washington, D.C. The next few days, weeks, months are crucial in his life. We will stay in touch with him as he fights each day to survive.
Having the honor to have listened as Faruq opened up to Sera and I in the two hours we sat in his living room, this was the best Thanksgiving I've ever spent.