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First Person Account by Ms Sonal: Rising above challenges

Surviving Cancer: Straight from the heart

It’s 8:30 am and I am sitting in my hotel room staring at the scanty streets of Vellore, thoughtless, waiting to get to the hospital. The gaze often broken by a bout of incessant cough and body pain because of high temperature, something that I had for a month. This, triggering a trail of thought of what could have gone wrong. After a long wait of two hours, it was finally time to go.
As we reached CMC (name of the hospital), my gaze only got grimmer, greyer and morose. I could only see a sea of people with tear stained eyes and expressions that were strained of hope. My eyes were probably projecting my own feelings on to the colour of this world. I had to get my blood test done and there was a long que before it would be my turn. It almost felt like a relief camp where everyone seemed to have lost something in life but were yet hopeful. I was eager to get done. After waiting for close to 3 hours it was finally our turn to meet the doctor. It felt like judgement day, was it road to heaven or hell?
By now I had begun to feel that there was something seriously wrong, I guess it was my way of just preparing myself for the worst. The conversation that followed next between the doctor and me was as straight as it could get

Me : Am I dying

Doctor : The blood results are not looking good. This could be a case of leukaemia. We still need to do more tests but right now it looks like that.

Me : What is the treatment?

Doctor : it’s chemotherapy?

Me: How successful is it ?

Doctor : This is a standard treatment, but we don’t know how your body will take it. What about your job?

Me: what about my job? I don’t care. If I have to leave it so be it.
My mom held my hand as I spoke to the doctor. The conversation that followed next between the doctor and my husband is completely blurred in my head.
We went back to Bombay the next day and I was admitted to Kokilaben hospital. The moment I entered the hospital, for a flash of a moment it was like an oasis, away from web of emotions I was entangled in. The grand chandeliers, amazing decor, a cafe, Internet area, hair salon, classy and comfortable furniture, my room on the 13th floor with its beautiful view of the Arabian Sea, the sun set, of airplanes taking off and landing and just about everything took me away from my current state. But not for long before reality struck with a triumphant wheel chair staring right back at me.

As soon as I entered the room, I was given hospital clothes and within a day’s time I had an ultrasound done, my heart checked up, been operated on in the ICU for my central line to be set up and for a drip to be attached to me 24/7. I now looked like a patient, and it was there for everyone to see and assimilate. But I could never be one with this identity. I was ready to fight the disease that put me here today.

For treating leukaemia I went through 5 cycles of chemotherapy where my body was crushed, each time it built itself back again. Pain and body discomforts were my constant company throughout the 6 months of my treatment.

However not all days were bad. Life has its ways of maintaining some balance by sprinkling humour, hope and happiness into it. We dealt with my intense hair loss by celebrating the moment. I certainly didn’t want to cling on to the last strand of hair that would be left of it and decided to shave. I wanted to look fashionable and my husband and parents bought me the most exquisite hats. We took snaps and had a great laugh as I adorned them.

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Amongst all this turmoil of emotions of pain, humour, love we clung on to everything that gave us hope. I would feel a gush of positive emotions and peace every time I would hear and recite my prayers. We also celebrated good food during my intermittent stays at home. It was probably our way to let loose and gather some moments of happiness and reenergize ourselves for the next cycle of chemotherapy. Since outside food was not allowed, I had the most sumptuous homemade food ranging from Sizzlers, biryani, eggs with cheese, buttered sandwiches, cheese sandwiches, caramelized nuts and everything sumptuous one could think of. We were all on a high on food.
I learnt then, that to be happy, one does not have to try too hard. It’s important to naturalize yourself to the present context of your life so that you don’t feel out of place in your own world. There is nothing called pursuit of happiness, it’s a state of mind that exists right now, this very moment and we are empowered enough to choose the states that should prevail.
Being in the hospital, restrained to a single room, with little flexibility to move, since I was on a 24/7 drip, and with limited social interaction was extremely boring. I had to keep myself busy to keep all negative thoughts at bay and hence I decided to practice maths and play board games. The last leg of my treatment was the toughest as it took a lot of time for my blood counts to bounce back to normal levels. Finally, on the 19th of September the doctor walked in and it was time to go home. I wanted to open my room windows and breath the air outside, I wanted to walk down the hospital isles carefree without another deadline in my head, without any form of mental preparedness for the next few cycles. This was THE END and I wanted to go home.

I have moved on and lead a very normal mainstream life. I had a baby two years after my treatment and my husband continued to pursue his entrepreneurial dream. No one made any course correction in their life, in fact this incident only reinforced our belief in our ability to deal with any form of calamity and to live life on our own terms.

…Contributed by Ms. Sonal

Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it. Helen Keller