The Quintessential Karachiite: After braving cancer, she is now rolling back the years with unmitigated optimism

Asma Butt survived cancer twice and has authored a book to inspire others fighting a similar battle

December 23, 2019

Over three decades ago, Asma Butt, a star student, exemplary daughter and talented athlete, was fit as a fiddle. Today, at the age of 44 years, after having gone through the tragedy of losing her father at an early age and surviving a long period of struggle to fend for her family, coping with the grief of her husband’s death just after three and a half years of marriage and having undergone the treatment for cancer twice, Butt may not be in the best of health but she has not lost her resolve in the face of unending challenges life threw at her.

She has battled her way through difficulties and successfully beat the deadly disease of cancer twice, to emerge victorious. Presently, she is a source of inspiration for many others fighting cancer, in the capacity of a member of a support group at the Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH). Moreover, her book, titled ‘I Can-cer-vive’ (survive), is set to launch next year, which chronicles her journey of staying resilient and not losing hope in the face of ill health.

However, her struggle goes far beyond her combatting cancer and began as early as when she was in school.

Orphaned yet resolute

She was a teenager, studying in eighth grade, when her father, having suffered from ill health, passed away. Soon after her father’s death, Butt, being the eldest of three siblings, took it upon herself to support her siblings and widowed mother.

Her father co-owned a car showroom, but after his death, his partners refused to give the family his share of income, explained Asma. Finally, when the aggrieved family did manage to get their due share after a long, arduous year of fighting a legal battle, they realised that it was not enough to meet their expenses and fell short of funding Butt and her siblings’ education.

In order to make ends meet, Butt began teaching at a school, alongside giving private tuitions at her home. She would work all day long and study through the night, determined to complete her BCom degree.

Transient respite, lasting success

Her burden eased to an extent as she landed a job at a private company after her graduation. However, it turned out to be only a transient period of some respite. Butt switched jobs after five years, opting to work as a student counsellor but soon faced a setback when she was asked to resign following the merger of the company she was employed at with a school. Nevertheless, she soon found another job at the Sui Southern Gas Company Limited (SSGC).

Butt began her stint at SSGC in 2002 as a human resources executive and in a short span of time, earned the acclaim of her superiors for her dedication and hard work. It was not long before she was chosen to assist the company’s senior management and presently she holds the portfolio of SSGC deputy chief manager and SSGC MD secretariat in-charge. In addition, she is appointed as the president of SSGC Women’s Association, leading the body in working towards helping female employees polish their abilities and resolving their issues.

Butt’s impressive professional growth, which continues till date, came about against the backdrop of grave tragedy, though.

Widowed yet resilient

She married a banker in 2007, but little did she know that her happiness of finding a supportive husband, who encouraged her to achieve greater milestones in the professional realm, was short-lived. Suffering a heart attack, her husband died a sudden death just three and a half years into the marriage.

Reliving the painful experience, Butt recalled that he had called her on the day he died, asking her to come home early from work. She, however, had told him that it wasn’t possible due to her heavy workload. When she reached home later, she found him lying still on the sofa, the shards of a broken glass scattered on the floor nearby. “The doctors confirmed that cause of the death was heart attack,” she said.

The tragedy left her traumatised but she was able to deal with it with the support of her family and friends and, more importantly, because of her positive approach towards life.

“I believe that the Almighty chooses special people to test them with hardships and I am one of them,” she said. Motivated by this belief, instead of lamenting her loss, she once again began her battle against life’s challenges, resumed her education, completed her MBA and all this while, continued her successful stint at SSGC.

Nevertheless, her struggle was not to end yet.

Diseased but not battered

It was in Ramazan of 2015 that she started having health issues, often vomiting after sehri and iftar.

Troubled by her persistent ill health, she went through a medical examination and endoscopy, but when medicines failed to improve her health, doctors suggested that she get a computed tomography (CT) scan done. The results were not good. She was advised to consult a gynaecologist, who asked her to undergo a biopsy. The biopsy results diagnosed her with stage-three ovarian cancer.

“I couldn’t believe it at first,” said Butt, adding that the news had left her shaken and hopeless. In despair over what seemed to be looming death, she “felt as if her life had [already] ended.”

But then, it was unlike her to fall prey to despair and distress. She had survived many blows and so, when presented with the choices of surrender or battle, she chose to fight cancer - and beat it.

She underwent nine cycles of chemotherapy, a surgery, and then nine more cycles of chemotherapy, remaining on leave from work for eight months. By the time her treatment ended, she was tired, but had emerged victorious.

Following the completion of the treatment, her health improved gradually. And then, three years later, she was diagnosed with the deadly disease again. This time around, it had affected her liver. The experience was more painful and exhausting than the previous one, and the treatment more intense.

Besides chemotherapy sessions, she had to take the assistance of a full-time attendant to carry out even the most menial of tasks. The dependence was depressing but she mustered the courage and stood resilient in the face of cancer.

A new lease on life

According to Butt, besides her resilience, the support of her family, friends and colleagues played a huge role in her surviving cancer.

“People surrounding cancer patients play a significant role in helping them beat the disease instead of giving up mid-way through the struggle,” she opined. The patients rely on their family’s support to survive the hard times and their encouragement can be invaluable in motivating them to stay courageous and resolute during the course of treatment, she added.

As for Butt, she has begun a new chapter of life. She is a member of a cancer support group at AKUH, inspiring others to brave cancer and has even authored a book, scheduled for release next year, narrating her experience of battling the disease.

She is making all-out efforts to help others overcome cancer, for which she believes a positive attitude and firm faith in the Almighty is most important. This, more than anything else, helps patients stay strong and unwavering in their battle, she said.


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