I left Iran in 1978 to follow three brothers who had already emigrated to the United States. My courageous mother raised four boys as a single parent and insisted that we all get a higher education—but there were limited academic opportunities in Iran.

Having earned Bachelor’s Degrees in General Science and Mechanical Engineering from Portland State University, I pursued a career in engineering, including 17 years at Intel. In 1984, I got married, and we had two beautiful daughters.

Life-changing news

In 2009, I went for a routine medical check-up, and my doctor detected an elevated white blood cell count. He referred me to a specialist, who gave me the shattering diagnosis: chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) at stage 2 to 3. It was like hitting a wall at 100 miles an hour. My world just stopped.

I remember vividly how the doctor showed me a bell curve with an average survival rate of four to eight years for older men with CLL. I was in my late 40s, and there wasn’t much reliable data about my survival chances.

I had to pull myself together. I couldn’t let my family and friends down. In 2011, I started chemotherapy combined with a Roche product. After six months of treatment, doctors gave me the exhilarating news that my body was free of cancer. I had a new lease on life.

After recovering from leukaemia, I wanted to give something back. My disease and tragic events in my family in the preceding years transformed me. I began to ask myself what really mattered and what I should do with my time.

A new chapter

After retiring from Intel in 2014, I decided to use my skills and experience to help others. Then came an opportunity to join Genentech/Roche – the company that helped save my life.

In 2015, I became the program director on a huge project to upgrade the facilities in South San Francisco with more environmentally-friendly cooling systems. Today, I am making a contribution for a better planet for my daughters and their children.

In parallel, I was asked to speak to groups of employees about my experience as a leukaemia patient. It wasn’t easy at first to open up about my private life to so many people. However, I have now spoken to many groups and each time I can hear in people’s comments how my experience as a cancer patient touches and inspires them. They say it makes a difference in their daily work on the next generation of life-saving medicines. It came about unexpectedly, but it has become clear to me that my story as a patient is another way of giving back to the people who have helped me so much.