Naweed Sikora, a University of Michigan Business School alum and a former Michigan Daily sports editor, died last Friday morning at the age of 27 after a two-and-a-half-year battle with testicular cancer.
Sikora passed away in Los Angeles, surrounded by his parents, younger brother and close friends. His family held the burial that afternoon.
Throughout his experience at the University, Sikora balanced his business school workload and 40 to 50-hour weeks working as a Daily sports editor, according to one of his closest college friends and the Daily’s managing sports editor during Sikora’s time there, Brady McCollough.
Aaron Suh, one of Sikora’s housemates and best friends at the University, said Sikora wore many different hats: that of a deeply religious Shiite Muslim, an “ever passionate” Wolverine fan, a sharp editor and an intensely dedicated student.
This complexity, Suh said, is reflected in the various pronunciations of his first name. “Naweed” can be pronounced “Nah-weed” or “Nah-veed,” although, on the first day of their freshman year of college, he asked that his friends call him “Weed.”
McCollough, who now writes for The Kansas City Star, said that although Sikora was talented enough to work in the field of journalism, he ultimately entered the business world, working for the consulting firm Ernst and Young immediately after graduation. He then moved to Hong Kong, working for a “small, growing business” based in Orange County, Calif.
While in Hong Kong, Sikora started feeling pain in his lower back and received medical attention. In the spring of 2007, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. After a constant, aggressive battle with the disease, Sikora’s last month was well spent, McCollough said.
McCollough said Sikora’s family had been contemplating a trip to India to visit a prominent spiritual leader since Sikora received his diagnosis in the spring of 2007. They were finally able to fly to Mumbai this September.
“Naweed met with (the spiritual leader) for just a couple of minutes because so many people are meeting with him every day,” McCollough said. “Apparently it was a very emotional experience for him and this spiritual leader gave him some peace about his life.”
Suh said the trip to India was a huge personal accomplishment for Sikora.
“Millions of people want to meet this man and only a few get to,” Suh said. “He felt better about (that trip) than probably anything he had ever done in his life.”
McCollough, along with another one of their friends and Daily co-workers, Seth Klempner, visited Sikora in Los Angeles soon after the family returned from India. McCollough said Sikora’s trip to India seemed to bring positive change to his condition.
“I expected him to be house-ridden and in pain but he looked great,” McCollough said. “We went to an Angels-Rangers game (and) Naweed wanted to go to Hooters before the game so we went to Hooters. We were just 27-year-olds doing 27-year-old things.”
Hopeful that Sikora would be healthy enough after that visit, McCollough arranged for Sikora to attend the Michigan football game versus Penn State this weekend and to be brought down to the field.
“The last time I talked to Naweed, I called him and told him that and he was speechless,” McCollough said. “He was so happy.”
Starting in February of this year Sikora maintained a blog called survivor journey, where he posted details of his fight against cancer, like his experience receiving radiation treatments for the disease and updates from doctors visits.
In April 2009, Sikora posted an audio clip from a phone call with former head football coach Lloyd Carr. In the call, Carr encouraged Sikora to stay strong, calling him a true “Michigan man.”
In his time on campus, Suh said Sikora was the glue that held the members of their house together.
“We each individually considered Weed our best friend,” Suh said. “He was and still is a source of inspiration for us.”
McCollough experienced the same feeling of inspiration, especially near the end of Sikora’s life. He said that during a conversation he and Sikora had while watching the Angels game, Sikora talked about how he should spend the little time he had left. He decided that volunteering at a homeless shelter felt the most appropriate.
“It totally blew me away,” McCollough said. “This is the last person who should be thinking about anybody but himself. But that’s the kind of guy he was.”
McCollough said Sikora’s family is planning a memorial service in Ann Arbor on Nov. 7. The location has yet to be determined.