Two years ago, Sadayan Ahmed Maideen Jabbar's marriage ended in divorce after he started displaying uncharacteristic abusive tendencies towards his family.
“(It was) mostly verbal, the physical finished [my marriage],” said the 47-year-old man.
But in July 2021, he received a second chance with his wife and family after what his doctor calls a “marriage-saving” surgery.
Maideen had a "fantastic family life" with his wife and four children which took a sudden turn during the Circuit Breaker back in 2020.
He started experiencing uncontrollable anger, which he vented on his family members.
What he was angry about exactly, Maideen couldn't tell.
The pandemic in 2020, a changing work environment, kids growing up at home: These were all plausible reasons that he attributed to the drastic change in his behaviour.
“You would think it’s (just) you... (the) kids are growing, work is different and Covid-19 just started.”
The uncharacteristic aggression escalated to a point where police were called in and this led to the couple’s eventual divorce in June 2020.
“Why did I feel angry? Why did I do this?” he asked himself. But he couldn't explain why he had no restraint over his emotions during those fiery bout of anger.
It's clear that Maideen feels remorse and guilt over the abuse that he inflicted on his loved ones; it was a dark period that he does not wish to revisit today.
"I don't want to talk too much about that."
But to be fair, a lot of it was out of his control as Maideen learned after moving out of the family house, something was not right in his brain.
Brain tumour found
The first sign of his condition appeared not too long after the divorce: An epileptic seizure.
Maideen experienced a whiteout that lasted about 20 seconds and left him with a metallic taste in his mouth. He was doing some chores around the house when it happened.
It was shocking but Maideen recovered from it and continued with his day.
But it began to get more frequent. Once, he experienced it eight times in a single day, raising concerns. When his colleagues heard about the whiteouts he was facing, they persuaded him to go straight to the National University Hospital (NUH).
And it was lucky they did.
The doctors did an intensive check on Maideen’s family’s medical history but still couldn’t explain why he was experiencing whiteouts.
That’s when Clinical Associate Professor Yeo Tseng Tsai from the Department of Surgery at NUH advised him to do a brain scan.
The scan brought back devastating news: Maideen had glioblastoma which manifested as a rare and aggressive tumour in his brain that leaves patients with a median life expectancy of 18 to 24 months.
Glioblastoma happens to three in 100,000 people and often is diagnosed in those who are older. NUH treats about a dozen patients with glioblastoma a year.
Yeo said for Maideen, it was a small tumour in a specific location.
The tumour, which was two to three centimetres in diameter, was located in Maideen's temporal lobe, affecting the emotional part of his brain and triggering the uncharacteristic behavioural changes in him.
“This part of the brain is called the amygdala, which is the emotional brain responsible for rage, anger, and your fight or flight response.”
He went on to explain that for Maideen, the connection that makes one think – ‘I'm angry, but I'm not going to manifest it.” – was severed.
Without that connection, a person would act out without inhibitions, said Yeo.
Underwent two brain surgeries
Finding the tumour and an explanation for the strange turn of events that Maideen was experiencing was just the start of a difficult journey. The harder part was understanding the condition and what was going to happen next.
When Maideen heard about his diagnosis, he turned to Google for answers and instead came away feeling discouraged by cancer's short life expectancy.
"If you just searched for glioblastoma (GBM), there's so much information. And almost all of them say: 'Give up in life, you're going to die.'"
It also didn't help that the consultations with Yeo about his upcoming procedures were tedious and stretched on for about three hours each time.
"(We) would discuss for about three hours and oh my god, it's not a normal 30 minutes appointment."
In July 2021, Maideen underwent two brain surgeries. The first was a mini-craniotomy and resection of the tumour on July 6, 2021, a day before his birthday.
Maideen recalled with gratitude how the hospital's nurses surprised him with a cake as he lay in bed the day after his surgery.
Maideen didn't tell many people about his first surgery. Only a select few, including his brother, knew what was going on.
"So my brother registered and he came in. My kids knew about it, but I didn't want to tell them so much because they are young kids as well. Eventually they found out and so did my ex wife. I didn't tell many people what I'm going to do... I don't want them to react too much to this."
Why did he choose to keep such big news from his family?
"Sometimes we don't understand (because ) this is something very new," said Maideen.
He recalled waking up from the surgery feeling confused and dazed, and admitted that he was "a little nasty" at the chief resident surgeon, Nivedh Dinesh, after his first surgery.
Nivedh calmed him down and said:
"Look Maideen, take care. We'll come back, we'll see and at the next appointment we'll talk okay?""
During Maideen's consultations with Yeo, the latter came to know about his situation with his wife and his aggressive behaviour at home.
Yeo later encouraged Maideen to reconcile with his wife.
On July 27, 2021, Maideen underwent a second surgery for a repeat resection, a craniotomy and an excision of the tumour
‘Back to normal’
Thankfully, Maideen woke up from the second surgery feeling like he had a bit more control of his emotions.
“Everything was different. Like why did I feel angry?” he questioned.
Now, everything is “back to normal” -- well, almost.
Maideen faces some side effects -- slight speech impediment and short term memory loss -- from the brain surgery. As he talked about his journey, he paused and said:
“Sorry sorry, my words sometimes are a little shortcoming after the surgery.”
To cope with the memory loss, he carries a list of new names he has to remember.
Thankfully, all his long-term memories, the names of his kids, and old friends, are still intact.
In addition to that, Maideen is currently undergoing chemotherapy; while most of the tumour has been removed, Yeo said that they “can never get it all out”.
Side effects and therapy aside, the surgery has brought Maideen some closure to what was a harrowing freak episode that pulled apart his family. Today, he has reconciled with his wife and kids; earlier this year in April, he remarried his wife in a small 10-person ceremony.
And he remains grateful to Yeo and the team of doctors who gave him a “second chance” at the most important thing in his life – his family.
Follow and listen to our podcast here
Quotes were edited for clarity. Top images courtesy of NUH.