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Diagnosed with terminal cancer, dad dies shortly after a StoryCorps visit


Time now for StoryCorps. Sohaib Sultan was a Muslim chaplain at Princeton University. He was diagnosed with terminal cancer four years ago. Sultan wanted to leave something for his 3-year-old daughter, Radiyya, who was adopted from Pakistan. So he recorded this conversation with his wife, Arshe Ahmed.


SOHAIB SULTAN: You and I would stay up till 12 o'clock at night waiting to make that phone call to Pakistan, reminding them that we were inquiring about a child, and they would always say, there's no child for you. You know, I've wanted to be a father since I was a little kid. And I think hearing those words night after night, it was sad. But the moment they said we have a baby for you, I just remember this feeling of joy.

ARSHE AHMED: Yeah. Seeing her for the first time and holding her was just the most gorgeous moment of my life. So do you remember the day when you got your full diagnosis?

SULTAN: They called and they said you probably have a year to live. But it didn't feel like all bad news. Like, think about the 40 years that God has given me. What a beautiful life. What a purposeful life. What a blessed life. But Radiyya is always asking, are you better now? You know, I say that but it's not going to get better. And when she says, but then I'll cry and I'll cry. I remember saying to her (non-English language spoken) - you're a human being, so it's OK to cry, to be sad. And you've told me that one of the hardest things you imagine is explaining to her where I am.

AHMED: Yeah. When she wakes up in the morning and she looks over to our bed and says, where's (non-English language spoken) and you're in the bathroom, I can't but think about that moment when I'm going to have to answer that differently. That's going to be a hard one for me.

SULTAN: You know, I feel a lot of sorrow in my heart thinking about that moment.

AHMED: Yeah.

SULTAN: But even though I won't be there physically, just know that I'll be there spiritually. You won't be alone. So many people have said we're praying for a miracle. But I always chuckle at that because I feel like my entire life has been a miracle and one of them is finding you. What you've done for me, waking up in the middle of the night almost every night for the past three months because I'm in pain, those are the things that I hope Radiyya really knows (crying) that that's how you took care of me.

AHMED: Yeah. You know, I'm just grateful for each moment that we get.

SULTAN: My hope is that Radiyya will live life beautifully no matter how long God gives her. And you are especially going to teach her what it means to take life as a gift and to live it out every day.


MARTÍNEZ: That was Sohaib Sultan and Arshe Ahmed at StoryCorps in 2021. Sultan died shortly after this recording. Their interview is archived at the Library of Congress.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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