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Turning on a curveball

Sportsnet anchor bets on himself in career, life

by Fred Devries

Khamisa Standing
Sportsnet anchor Faizal Khamisa's Twitter bio bills him "“cancer survivor, metal detector instigator, GIF creator and stylistic ninja,” as well as co-founder of SimpleAs Co., a men’s accessory line.

The news came from left field. “The pain in your chest is a tumour attached to your heart. …,” the doctor explained to Faizal Khamisa in May 2005.

For the next few minutes, Khamisa, BA’11, heard only fragments of his diagnosis: “…the tumour is twice the size of your heart ... it’s too dangerous to remove it by surgery … you have to start chemo right away.”

“Anything I was thinking was better than what I heard,” said the Sportsnet anchor, who was 16 years old at the time. “My parents and everyone in the room cried when they heard the diagnosis (non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma). I was petrified, but I couldn’t show it. I was determined to find the good, the silver lining. I was going to bet on myself.”

And bet he did.

For the next three weeks, Khamisa underwent intense chemotherapy treatments at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. His life revolved around a regime of drugs, pain killers and tests, as the medical team worked to quell the tumour. But the sporty, active teenager from Mississauga never lost his it’s-going-to-be-okay attitude.

While at the hospital, his school friends and sports teammates came by to visit. “Two days after being at SickKids, I received a huge card signed by hundreds of friends, parents and kids I coached. I had a whole lot of people behind me,” he said. “Playing a lot of sports showed me the team aspect to life.”

After he left SickKids, Khamisa returned to the hospital every day for the next year – his Grade 12 high school year – to receive chemotherapy treatments. His father changed his work schedule to take him. Over the next few months, he beat back the cancerous tumour, graduated from high school and applied to Western.

It looked like he scored. Then another setback.

The steroid medication he took to shrink the tumour stopped blood flow to his legs and arms. Khamisa needed double hip surgery in 2006 and then shoulder surgery a year later. The summer before entering Western he laid in bed, recovering from the operations. He started to walk again just two days before his university career began.

Khamisa hobbled from class to class on crutches. “But that didn’t matter. I was up and about and going to university. And my hair was finally growing back,” he said, with a laugh.

His upbeat personality carried him though, even while he continued treatments in London between his class schedule. As a student, he shared his story for the first time at residence meetings, each time talking about what he’d learned about life.

That willingness to be honest strengthened his commitment to anyone who comes his way. “It opened my eyes to being there for people, and how I need to support my friends. Life could have gone either way for me,” Khamisa said, “and I appreciate the support my friends gave me so much.

“It’s easy to ‘like’ a picture on Facebook or Instagram; it’s harder to pick up the phone and talk to someone.”

Now, the 27-year-old Khamisa talks for a living. After graduating from Western, he completed training in sports media and broadcasting. He landed a job as a television anchor with Sportsnet. Dressed in stylish suits and colourful ties, he brings his jovial, bigger-than-life personality to the set, delivering hourly updates on the latest scores and sports news.

“I played it safe at first. Then I took more risks on camera,” he said. “I wouldn’t be myself if I assimilated to sounding and looking like everyone else.”

Sometimes though, his easy smile gets the best of him. “Once I was told by my producers that I had too big of a smile when I showed a clip of a hockey player getting a puck in the face,” said Khamisa, with a grin.

His Twitter bio bills him a “cancer survivor, metal detector instigator, GIF creator and stylistic ninja,” as well as co-founder of SimpleAs Co., a men’s accessory line. In late 2014, Khamisa had a second hip surgery – a further effect of his cancer treatments. Yet, even after two full years of chemotherapy, multiple operations, countless tests and ongoing pain, he says cancer is the best thing that’s happened to him.

“I may not know what’s happening on the inside of someone but I can make them laugh and smile. I want to be there for others and those I care about. If I can be a friend, then I can do that. And this place (Western) was part of what made me want to be like that.”

This article appeared in the Fall 2016 edition of Alumni Gazette
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