An Auckland single mother of a severely disabled 3-year-old has succumbed to a short battle with terminal cancer, leaving the future guardianship of her daughter uncertain.
On May 24, the Herald on Sunday reported that Rizwana Shaikh was in the final stages of terminal ovarian cancer, separated from her family in India and Australia due to Covid-19 travel restrictions.
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That same day, the 37-year-old mother of two died, leaving it unclear who would take up the role of permanent carer for her 3-year-old daughter Alisha.
Alisha was born with visual impairment, epilepsy, severe spastic quadriplegia, cerebral palsy and cognitive developmental delays.
Until she was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer in February, Rizwana had been the full-time carer for Alisha.
Rizwana's sister in Brisbane, Tabassum Shaikh, spoke to the Herald this morning about being unable to see her sister during the quick descent of her illness over the last two months.
"It's extremely, extremely sad she left us. We couldn't get a chance to see her," Tabassum said.
"It is extremely heartbreaking for us. Our family will never be complete again. That's all I can say right now. I don't know what to say to be honest.
"We would like to visit her grave, and see the children. We're definitely looking forward to traveling as soon as these restrictions are eased."
Tabassum said at the moment Aabir was under the care of his father. Aabir's father confirmed this to the Herald today also.
Alisha is currently in the care of a guardian appointed by Rizwana under her will, but the long-term care of Alisha is a matter that may require resolution in the Family Court.
"Everyone is still grieving. At the moment the children are in the best possible hands," Tabassum said.
During her illness, fellow mothers from the Muslim playgroup Baitul Ilm, which Rizwana had sent her children to, had helped with the care of her children.
A Givealittle page set up by Baitul Ilm has been attempting to raise money for the future care of Alisha.
They notified Rizwana's death on the page.
"It is with great sadness that we have to deliver the heartbreaking news of Rizwana's passing a few hours ago," Baitul Ilm wrote on May 24.
"She fought bravely to the end - with her angelic smile ever present no matter how much pain she was in.
"Her one wish was always for her baby girl Alisha to be independent.
"To this end we are the doubling efforts to get her the most appropriate therapies to help her achieve her mother's dreams and to support her ongoing medical needs."
The page has raised over $64,000 - almost doubling since news of Rizwana's story reached the headlines at the weekend.
Last week, Tabassum Shaikh spoke about last being in Auckland, along with her parents, in February following Rizwana's initial cancer diagnosis.
Tabassum flew out on March 25 aboard the last flight before New Zealand's level 4 lockdown was implemented, thinking they would be back soon.
Tabassum said she spends around three hours every day on the phone to the Indian, Australian and New Zealand embassies and immigration, trying to orchestrate a way back for her family to be by Rizwana's side.
"It is just so hard, none of us can get to her. My mother cries every morning because she wants to go to Rizwana in the state she is in," Tabassum said.
"In this situation we have been deprived of just being able to go to her in her last stage."
The Shaikh family are trying to arrange $5000 seats on an Air India chartered flight to New Zealand in early June, but nothing is yet certain.
Aside from the pain of family separation now, Rizwana told the Herald last week she worries for Alisha's future progress and laments she won't be there to see her grow and achieve.
"The doctors were concerned that she would have much more significant delays but through her therapy and all of my efforts she exceeded the experts' expectations," Rizwana said.
"I was doing a lot of therapy with her and I wanted to take her abroad. We were trying different ways of improving the quality of her life.
"There were different milestones I wanted for her: movement and independence. She had just learnt to crawl. She was making good progress."
The main source of support for Rizwana during the past months has been from the mothers of the Muslim playgroup, Baitul Ilm, where her children are minded.
"I am very blessed to have them. They are more than family," Rizwana said.
Chairwoman of the Baitul Ilm playgroup, Aminah Khaled, has been by Rizwana's side during her quick descent into illness.
"Rizwana told me at playgroup 'My dream is that one day I see Alisha standing up and making herself a cup of coffee'," Khaled said.
"This comment touched my heart deeply. Her dreams are all about her children. She devotes all her time to her children and their opportunities."
Tabassum said after immigrating from India in 2011, Rizwana married in New Zealand and continued her career after the birth of her now 5-year-old son Aabir.
"She was working in the IT industry and once in New Zealand she got a job in administration and HR ... She was extremely educated and talented when she came from India."
But soon after Alisha's birth, her parents split.
"When Alisha was born she gave up everything and became a single mother caring for her children selflessly. She is such a hard-working person. I cannot tell you the amount of energy she has put in.
"When Alisha was born she couldn't see, couldn't take a bottle. It was just night and day she put in."