Newspaper Article - Fairfield, CA

FAIRFIELD — A “buy one get another half off” sale 10 years ago probably saved Aidar Ibrahim’s life.

Not a sale on shoes, but rather a body scan that was originally designed to detect cancer in his wife.

That body scan set the couple in motion for the Oct. 15 honor they will receive from the American Cancer Society at a gala held at C.C. Yin Ranch in Vacaville. The couple, who have a 25-year-old son, will be honored at the third annual gala for their experiences.

With a family history of pancreatic cancer — Annamarie Ibrahim, 53, has lost eight family members, including her mother and most of her mother’s siblings to the fast-moving cancer — and a previous diagnosis of Sweets Syndrome, when her husband suggested she get a scan done, she agreed.

Aidar Ibrahim, 55, actually found the ad for the procedure in a newspaper, and since it was a buy one get another half off, he figured, “might as well get mine done, too.”

His wife’s scan was clean, but Aidar Ibrahim’s scan — after he went back and had them reread it because of an inaccuracy — showed a lump that turned out to be Non-Hodgkins lymphoblastic lymphoma.

“I felt guilty,” said Annamarie Ibrahim. “It was supposed to be me.”

Her turn was to come later, but first Aidar Ibrahim went through two years of chemotherapy in an attempt to eradicate the aggressive cancer. He took in some of the drug through a port inserted in his chest, but he also had a port in his skull with a tube fed through the brain that also received the drug. The first year he also had radiation. The second year the chemotherapy was done orally.

He still has the port in his skull, which he said is “a little bigger than a quarter.” After two years, the brain grew around the tube and if pulled out could cause brain damage, he said.

One of his main recollections of having cancer was when they put in that port. They forgot to put drugs into the intravenous liquid to numb the pain. A couple of screws inserted into the skull later, after Aidar Ibrahim complained about the pain, they realized the misstep and gave him a couple of locals into the areas they already started.

“That was the most painful thing I’ve ever had happen,” he said.

He said that was the first time he’d ever seen his wife of 33 years turn white and have to sit down.

With Aidar Ibrahim on the mend in 2006, Annamarie Ibrahim fell ill with pancreatitis. She spent a year being fed by a tube at night — she was not allowed solid foods — and was looking at a possible lifetime of being fed that way. In 2007, they discovered a premalignant cyst on her pancreas that was actually an odd blessing in disguise. It got her off the nightly liquid feedings, but not wanting to take chances because of her family history of pancreatic cancer doctors opted to remove numerous organs from her body.

“It’ll take up less space if I tell you what’s left,” she said, laughing.

Doctors removed her entire pancreas, spleen, duodenum, half her stomach and her small intestine. This was in addition to the previously removed appendix, gall bladder, uterus and ovaries.

She said jokingly that it’s rendered her organ donor card useless.

“I visualize them opening me up one day and saying, ‘we’ve been tricked, she’s empty.’ ”

While Aidar Ibrahim is cancer free, Annamarie struggles with various health issues caused by having so many of her organs removed. She’s on numerous medications to replace the function of the missing organs. She has to take precautions as a diabetic would, and since she has no spleen she’s susceptible to infections. She also has to worry about sepsis, which she has already had to deal with.

She said people ask her if she’s afraid. She said she’s not but that she uses common sense. Since she doesn’t have a clean bill of health, she lets herself “go down a road so she doesn’t miss” what’s at the other end.

“I use common sense,” she said of her lifestyle. “But I’m not going to be afraid.

“If it hadn’t happened to me we wouldn’t have found Aidar’s cancer. So many opportunities have come from this.”

The experiences the Ibrahims — who remain upbeat and positive — have faced brought them closer together, both of them said. And now that they’re retired, they plan to devote time to help the American Cancer Society in order to “give back.” Aidar Ibrahim said that listening to last year’s honorees at the cancer society gala “touched their hearts.”

The American Cancer Society helped the Ibrahims by providing guidance and information. It allows those with cancer to know that they’re not alone, Annamarie Ibrahim said.