Rauana Akbar is, in a word, a warrior.
The branch manager in Concord, California, has been with U.S. Bank for 12 years and has always been a top performer, racking up several awards for employees who go above and beyond in their jobs. The people who know her well describe her as intelligent, competitive and tenacious – a dedicated employee who has successfully opened several branches in the East Bay area.
Rauana [pronounced Rayahna] Akbar, 35, is also battling grade four Glioblastoma (GBM), an aggressive form of brain cancer that has no cure. When she was diagnosed in September 2016, the news was a shock to her U.S. Bank colleagues because she was such a healthy, vibrant person. Akbar’s co-workers have rallied around her, providing everything from meals for her and her family to extra help in relearning bank processes and procedures after her seizures and surgeries.
Now, she wants to share her story to inspire others who may be facing challenges in their lives.
Akbar’s journey since her diagnosis has been difficult. The first oncologist she saw gave her four to six months to live. In the 18 months since then, she has undergone three brain surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy, and is now in a clinical trial for an alternative treatment involving injecting a virus directly into the brain to kill the tumor.
“I can’t let it go. I’m determined to continue with life,” Akbar said recently, on the day she chose to return to work part time after being out for several months. “I truly believe I am going to be better. Even now.”
She was excited to be going back to work, even though it’s meant going to speech classes to relearn words. She has put puzzles and other apps on her phone to exercise her brain. And she is going to Orangetheory, a high-intensity workout, nearly every day.
“I never really thought, ‘Why me?’” Akbar said. “I always thought, ‘It could be worse. Let’s come up with a solution to beat this.’”
For her family, friends and colleagues, her courage and dogged determination is inspirational.
Julie Hilt, senior vice president and regional manager for Northern California, has seen Akbar grow from working at a branch part time while she was in college, to senior banker, assistant manager and in-store branch manager. She had recently begun to manage a traditional branch and was in training to be a district manager when she first started showing symptoms of glioblastoma.
During her U.S. Bank career, Akbar has been not only a top performer, Hilt said, but “a great teacher and coach. She opened three new branches for us. We knew if we had Rauana in there from the get-go, the branch would be successful.”
Akbar’s sister-in-law, Sabrina Hamidi, said one of the first things Akbar said after her second surgery last year was, “In three more weeks, I get to go back to work.”
“I don’t know what it is about U.S. Bank that she loves so much,” Hamidi said. “She really does love you guys a lot.”
Hamidi has been with Akbar throughout her many medical procedures, and each time, even when a tumor came back, Akbar has always kept a positive attitude, she said.
“No matter what pain or suffering this girl had, she never showed it on her face to her parents or her loved ones,” Hamidi said.
Akbar stresses that she doesn’t want anyone’s pity, said Suwandi Tandjung, her district manager.
“I asked her why she is going so public with this,” Tandjung said. “She wants to be a role model for others to continue fighting whatever battles they have. We know she has the fire.”
Janie Gomez, also a branch manager, has known Akbar for seven years and took her to the hospital the first day she showed signs of brain cancer, suddenly unable to speak coherently after a meeting.
Gomez recalls when Akbar returned home after her first surgery, she was supposed to be resting. Instead, she started vacuuming the house, had another seizure and had to go back to the hospital. Now that Akbar’s back at work, Gomez has been the friend to tell her to slow down and let her body heal.
“She is always on the go. You can’t hold her back,” she said, pausing for a moment to fight back tears.
“Please tell people that Rauana is a warrior. She is the definition of warrior.”
Heather Draper works in public affairs and communications with U.S. Bank.