Meet Faizal Khamisa
Diagnosed with cancer at 16 years old, Faizal Khamisa was forced to look death straight in the eye. This is the interview of an individual who had to overcome many barriers to get to where he is today.
From starting a motivational speaking company to running a sports-blog at 19 years old, Faizal built his personal brand around his story, interests, and passions. Today, he is the famously known Sportsnet Anchor who is able to discuss his favorite topics on a daily basis and make a living from it!
If there is a lesson that you can take away from this interview, it’s that you can use your story and shortcomings to build an identity for yourself. In today’s world, there is no better way to be portrayed than through your own personal brand.
Influence Digest: Can you take us back to the day it all happened?
Faizal Khamisa: I was 16 years old when I was diagnosed with cancer. I remember the day so, so vividly.
It was the night before I was rushed to emergency. I had no idea what was going on. I had no indication that this is what could have been the diagnosis. In the build-up to the day of the diagnosis, I was feeling a lot of symptoms – shortness of breath and dizziness. I thought it was because I was doing a lot of stuff. I was playing all these sports, I was working, I was in school and I was volunteering. I was just very busy. I woke up at Sick Kid’s Hospital after being there overnight.
The doctor came into this room that was meant for kids and said “Faizal you have cancer.” It was very blunt, very surreal, very overwhelming. It was a lot of different emotions, but it was life-changing as well. It was the moment that literally changed my life. I remember hearing the words and immediately seeing my parents cry and thinking, “this is not what I wanted to happen. I don’t want them to feel like this so we’re going to try to do something about this right away”.
Influence Digest: Did it sink in right away?
Faizal Khamisa: Yeah, I mean it kind of did, but I didn’t know what it meant.
Any association with the word “cancer”, I associated with dying. And so, your first thought is “am I going to die?”. And it was a weird thought to have at 16 years old. No one’s supposed to think like that. No one’s trained to think like that. As quickly as that thought came in, it exited just as fast because that was not the way to beat it. The thought process of questioning why it happened was not going to help me, so I immediately removed that thought and decided we’re going to try to be as positive as possible with this.
Influence Digest: So, you started treatment right away, is that correct?
Faizal Khamisa: Yeah, so I got diagnosed and I think I didn’t leave the hospital for about 3 weeks because we had to start chemotherapy right away.
It was the start of a two-year chemotherapy treatment that had surgeries and side effects along the way. But, I mean, we’re here now and it all worked out despite the bumps and bruises. It was a very difficult thing to get used to because you’re losing your hair, your energy, your fluctuating with your weight and again, not anything a teenager is prepared for.
Influence Digest: If your 15-year-old self came to you before the whole situation, what type of advice would you give him?
Faizal Khamisa: Don’t get that haircut man, that was bad. Like the mushroom cut was not a good look. *Laughs*
I don’t know. 15-year-old me was so care-free. I literally thought the world was my oyster and the best is yet to come. I think it’d be interesting to go back and remind my 15-year-old self that life can change just like that. And 16-year-old me learned that pretty quickly. I don’t think being prepared for it would have changed any of the thoughts I went through that day, but I think just having a better perspective would have been important.
There’s people who go their whole lives without getting a sense of perspective and a sense of how to compare obstacles versus obstacles in life. I had that reality at 16 years old. I think the younger you’re aware of that and the younger you know how to put things in that perspective, the better you are to deal with challenges along the way.
Influence Digest: Do you fear uncertainty anymore?
Faizal Khamisa: No, because I think I’ve gone through the worst.
I feel like the most uncertain thing in life happened to me and there was a coin flip between living and dying. Here I am doing what I love to do and trying to make change as a result of it. So, there’s no point in thinking about the uncertain or the unknown because it’s not going to help me. I’ve tried to live the past decade or so with this positive attitude and idea that whatever happens, we’re going to take it and go with it. To think about the worst case scenario just wouldn’t be beneficial to me.
Influence Digest: Most people struggle after traumatic incidents like that. You, on the other hand, are exuberant and happy. How have you been able to look at life so positively after such a big experience?
Faizal: I’ll admit it’s been an up and down decade since the diagnosis.
So, there have been moments where I start questioning why all this has happened to me. You know, you go through the cancer and then a year later, you go through the double-hip surgery and six years later, you go through a hip replacement. So, you wonder, when is it going to stop? To me, I just need the positive to latch on to. I needed that spirit to infect other people as well. What’s the point in being negative and questioning things? It’s not going to change what’s going to happen.
I took that illness, which was the worst thing in my life and turned it into the best thing in my life because it brought me to where I am today. You know, I don’t know if it’s me consciously trying to stay positive, but it’s something that’s ingrained in me and sort of all I know.
Influence Digest: You obviously know by now that you’re an icon in the Islamic and sports community. There never used to be a lot of “brown” news anchors before. How does it feel to be a spearhead in that movement?
Faizal: I think it’s important for kids to have role models.
Growing up, we didn’t have south Asian anchors to look up to. It’s important to have role models who look like them so they can believe they can go and do something that seems unattainable. If I looked back at eight-year-old me wanting to do what I’m doing right now, I would never have thought it was possible. That’s why I applied to study psychology and business at school instead of doing this after I finished my undergrad.
It’s why you question if you can make it within an industry that not many of your type have made it. To be part of the change is so important to me. Influence and being a role model to that younger generation is important to me in any capacity.
Influence Digest: So, going back to what you said about Sick Kids. I heard you raised $20,000. Do you feel as though you have an obligation because of your story?
Faizal: It is absolutely my duty to use whatever influence I have to make a change.
I am very fortunate to be in the positive I am. I wake up every day to talk about sports. They pay me to talk about something I think talk about anyways. I could easily be arrogant about it and use whatever “Fame” comes with being on television every day, but it’s so important to me to take whatever power I have to evoke positive change. I totally feel the responsibility, which is sometimes stressful, but it just shows how important it is to me to live as positive as I can. It’s one thing to say you’re going to be positive and be the change, but it’s another thing to actually take action.
Influence Digest: Can you tell us about your route to getting to where you are today?
Faizal: The first opportunity I ever got to speak about anything was actually in my first year at Western University.
My residence advisor at the time asked me to come speak about my story to a bunch of grade 12 students who were getting a tour. When I did it, the room was full of tears and they were really moved by my talk. That’s when I realized how it important it was for me to share my message and perspective to kids who often don’t have one. It sparked me to start a motivational speaking company which took me across the country. The more and more I shared my story, the more confident I became with speaking.
This lead me to think about what I love speaking about the most, which is sports. After my undergrad, I decided I was going to try this and it ended up working out for me, which I am fortunate for. It all started with that diagnosis and decision at 16 to make life as positive as it can be.
Influence Digest: What was the biggest mistake you’ve made along the way?
Faizal: Thinking that I can do it all.
That I was going to go to university despite having a year of chemo left in me. Despite having my hips operated on the summer before leaving and starting to walk two days before going to first year. I felt so determined to want to live the normal life that a teenager would do that I lost track of actually taking care of my body for a while.
First year was not good. It forced me to re-evaluate how I go about doing things. If I could go back, I don’t know if I would have deferred my acceptance, but I think I would have handled how I dealt with university a bit differently and would have been more cognisant of my body and slow down a little bit. I felt like I had to do it all. When I was at Western in first year there was a pressure to well…be at Western in first year. My body was just not ready to do that. I wish I would have slowed down a little bit because academically I would have been off a little better, but I’m very happy with where I am today.
Influence Digest: Is there anybody you model yourself off at this point in your career?
Faizal: Not industry-wise, but my parents are the models for me.
They’re both immigrants in Canada that were forced out of their respective countries in East Africa and had to find their way here despite different paths. They found a way to succeed and make a life for my two sisters and I. They never complain about what they had to go through or question why it happened to them. Those values were passed on to me and that’s why I think it was so easy to remain positive at 16.
Influence Digest: For kids who look up to you, do you have any advice for breaking into the industry?
Faizal:It’s so fickle right now. It’s so hard to get a sense where this industry is going. We know television is losing its luster because everything is turning more digital. but sports is still one of the few live television events that people sit around and watch. This industry is still vulnerable, but is strong enough to sustain some of the hits that other industries are going through.
I started a sports blog in my final year of undergad, which was the final stepping stone to lead me to applying to the College of Sports Media. We have the technology out there today to put videos out there, record podcasts and get a sense of how we can improve on this. The more stuff you put out there, the more vulnerable you become. The more vulnerable you become, the more you’re wanting to be less vulnerable.
To be less vulnerable, you want to be better. So, I started out by putting out videos to start and they were terrible. By taking advice and feedback from other people, I used it as a means to get better. And that was over eight years ago. So, the technology is way better today and so much easier to access. There’s no excuse. If you want to be in this industry, you should just start a channel and try to get better. There are also good college programs out there that lead to success in this industry.
Influence Digest: What about haters? As you grew and made yourself more vulnerable, how do you deal with them?
Faizal: The more you’re in this industry, the more you develop a thick skin around it.
There are things I’m cool with. You can criticize me as a talent, but when I see the racist and personal stuff, it does still affect me a little bit. I get people calling me a “terrorist” or saying “stick to cricket” all the time, and I literally know nothing about cricket. It just comes with the industry.
One thing I’ve been told is that there’s so many people in this country that would love to be doing what I’m doing. I’m doing what people spend their time talking and hating about. So, it doesn’t’ really matter to me. There are things that make me laugh at times, but there are also things that make me think, as a country, we just have to be better. It becomes less and less now, which is very optimistic for me, but definitely something earlier on, it was something that bothered me a bit more. I try to live a life that’s conducive to being positive and not piss off anybody. So, the hate is just because people are ingrained to just hate. You can hate my job and the way I do it, but the personal aspect I feel comes from just hating for the sake of hating.
Influence Digest: Are the raptors going to the finals today?
Faizal: Yes, I’m pretty confident in that. I feel like they have the tools this year to get past Cleveland.
I feel like that is the only deterrent right now. People are scared of Philadalphia, Miami and Milwaukee, and I’m just really not. I think the team’s good. They’re not reliant on two guys like they used to be in the past. They have a super bench that will play minutes in the playoffs. The rate at which that bench is going makes it impossible to not play them. They’ve saved the team so many times this season and I think there will be similar tactics in the playoffs this year. I think this is the year.
Influence Digest: Who’s your favorite player on the bench mob?
Faizal: I love the bench mob so much. I think Pascal Siakam is my guy.
He’s such a grungy guy and you look at him and be like “who are you?” And then he just runs game. He runs point, runs post, he can shut you down. He’s a scrappy guy who’s gone through a lot to get where he is and I appreciate what he brings to the team.
Influence Digest: Is there anything you want to leave our audience with?
Faizal: I think the biggest thing is to tell people not to be afraid to change things up.
Life can be simple and safe, but sometimes the most fun in life is being unpredictable and living on the edge a little bit.
I took this huge risk in trying this thing that not many people succeed in, but I’m living proof that you can do it if you push yourself, believe in yourself and work hard. No matter the obstacles and challenges, just push yourself to where you need to go and I firmly believe you can get there.
Here if the full Interview with Faizal Khamisa in 1080p: