New York, NY
I'll never forget the call I received on April 17, 2017, when my then-three-year-old niece, Zainab, was diagnosed with leukemia. At the time, she was a bubble-blowing, pose-striking, diva princess. But for the next 2½ years, she became a tiny superhero whose mission was slaying the evil villain cancer. I've always felt a special connection to Zainab starting from the day she was born ― on my birthday, which I also happen to share with my younger sister Noura. In the fall of 2017, I moved from New York to San Diego to help my brother's family through her treatment and watched with amazement as she took on this horrifying disease with spunk, grace, and humor that far surpassed her young age. Celebrating the end of her treatment at her No More Chemo carnival on the beach is a day I'll never forget.
Five years later, Zainab is now a thriving eight-year-old whose sass and charm delight anyone who meets her. While Zainab's diagnosis rocked our family's world, it's been amazing to watch my brother Akbar, sister-in-law Naureen, and nephew Amaan rally around her and now rally together as a family to raise funds and awareness for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS). This year, to mark Zainab's fifth cancerversary, Akbar took a step toward reclaiming this date and transforming it into a source of meaning and hope by campaigning for LLS Man of the Year San Diego. At the gala in June, he was named runner-up, and our efforts as Team Khanfidence raised more than $306,000 for LLS's life-saving work and will fund a pediatric cancer research portfolio in Zainab's honor. I can't think of a better way to bring Zainab's joy and optimism to other children and families who need a source of hope during their grueling months of treatment. It truly is such an honor to be Zainab's aunt.