by Yeong Sek Yee & Khadijah Shaari

In this segment on collateral damage, we have decided to feature the late Datuk Ilani Isahak, the Chairman of the Interfaith Relations Working Committee until her passing away on February 24th 2011 after a 3-year battle against breast cancer. On June 12th 2011, Dr Amir Farid Isahak (Datuk Ilani’s brother) recounts his sister’s struggle in an article in The Star entitled “MY SISTER’S CANCER.” Our story below is essentially excerpted/adapted from Dr Amir’s article.

In Dr Amir’s own words, this is his story:

“THIS is not just another sad cancer story, but the story of the struggles my own sister, Ilani Isahak went through, fighting her breast cancer for three years until she succumbed to the disease in February this year (2011). She followed everything the oncologist prescribed. Each time, after discussing with me, she would decide “no more chemo”, but after the next visit with the oncologist, she would tell me “the oncologist said it is absolutely necessary that I go for the chemo, so I agreed”. 

Soon after the initial six courses of chemo and one year of a “smart” drug ended, the cancer came back. The extremely expensive “smart” drug she was given was trastuzumab (Herceptin), which is a monoclonal antibody that targets the HER2 receptors on the breast cancer cells. However, a re-examination of her cancer cells then showed that she was not a good candidate for trastuzumab. The first report had been inaccurate. 

So her oncologist put her again on further chemotherapy. Other drugs were then tried, and there was some response, but internally the cancer was encroaching into her rib cage and onto the lining of the lungs (pleura). Besides hair loss, her fingernails were blackened after the repeated chemo sessions. 

The other “smart” drug she was given included bevacizumab (Avastin), which is also a monoclonal antibody that is supposed to prevent new blood vessel formation (anti-angiogenesis), thus preventing new cancer growth. (However, back in July 2010, the US FDA had evidence that bevacizumab was not suitable for breast cancer. In December 2010, the US FDA officially revoked its approval for the use of bevacizumab for breast cancer, saying that it is neither safe nor effective in breast cancer patients. The available data shows that bevacizumab neither prolonged overall survival nor slowed disease progression sufficiently to outweigh the risk it presents to breast cancer patients). 

Until the last six months of her life, my sister was relatively well, which means she had about two years of reasonably “good quality” life. Then she started to have chronic coughs.

At first, she still managed to do her normal chores, but she gradually deteriorated, and became breathless easily. A pleural effusion (fluid in the space covering the lungs) was diagnosed, but the first attempt to drain the fluid failed to relieve her symptoms.

Exactly one month before her death, she had to be admitted to the hospital, and had permanent drainage tubes inserted into both sides of the rib cage, and she required the oxygen mask continuously. The doctors also decided that she could have palliative care only, with no further active treatment. After one whole month of suffering, she died. 

My sister died because the cancer spread to a vital organ – her lungs. There was copious pleural effusion that repeated and even continuous drainage could not solve it. The effusion meant that her lungs gradually collapsed.

With the reduced oxygen supply, the heart had to work harder, and soon it also succumbed. Although there were discussions to attempt surgery to seal the pleural cavity (thus preventing the formation of the effusion), by that time, her poor general condition made any major surgery unsafe.

At her death bed, she told me “learn from my mistake, do not go for chemo”. 

One of the major lessons about conventional cancer treatment that Dr Amir Farid imparted in his article is that: 

“If the cancer patient is not cured after the first course of chemo, she is unlikely to be cured at all. Cancer cells which are resistant to the first chemo are most likely resistant to further chemo. Although each subsequent chemo may drastically reduce the number of cancer cells, the tough resistant ones will multiply and manifest their presence soon enough.” 

NB: Dr Amir Farid Isahak is a medical specialist who practises holistic, aesthetic and anti-ageing medicine. He is a qigong master and founder of SuperQigong.  


The article was excerpted from the sources below which we acknowledge with thanks:

1)   Breast Cancer: Ilani’s Message – Learn from my mistake, do not go for chemo


2)   My sister’s cancer–by Dr Amir Farid Isahak


3)      Ilani Isahak – A true Malaysian….A Tribute by Dr Amir Farid Isahak