Sunday, December 2, 2007

Humour that tumour

Pearl was being a good hostess. She was vivacious, considerate, sensitive and charming. I remember her throwing her head back every time she laughed, and then hurriedly clutching at the red woollen hat as it began to slide off her bald head - she wasn’t used to it. For a moment so brief you could miss it, the smile and the colour would disappear, and then the old Pearl would be back, laughing, entertaining and ensuring that we all were having a good time. But all evening, the hat kept sliding off and each time, Pearl seemed to take a little while longer to get her composure back. That was about a year ago, mere months after she had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She was in her early 50s then, with an active corporate career, a devoted husband and a brilliant son, who happened to be a dear friend. The fact that doctors had given her mere months to live, seemed impossible. This woman was bursting with life. Everything about her, except for what chemotherapy had done to her hair, seemed so ‘normal’. That night at the party, as we watched her hat constantly remind her of her illness every time she tried to drown it in her laughter, I told my friend that the doctors had to be wrong. Someone so beautiful, so happy, so alive couldn’t possibly die. She was bound to pull through.

I was wrong. Like a time lapse image, the brave and beautiful Pearl crumbled and in the span of a few months, the head she would throw back and laugh was being placed gently on a pillow in a coffin that now held her lifeless body. At the funeral, somebody said, “cancer... it’s a death sentence!” And I wondered if he was right. Dr. Biswas had said the same thing about my grandmother and he was right. They said the same thing about Bob Marley, about Nargis Dutt, and they were right. They must’ve said the same thing about someone you know and they must’ve been right. And maybe they said the same thing about you. They might’ve also said that subject to the type of cancer you have, you might have a survival possibility of anything between 3% (for pancreatic cancer, the kind Pearl had) and 96.5% (for testicular cancer, the kind Lance Armstrong had). Statistics also suggest that nearly half of all men and almost as many women will get cancer of some sort. Which means, either you, or me, dear reader, probably will get cancer, and if you’re getting all smug and thinking ‘it couldn’t be me’, well then in all honesty, so am I. But then it’s only human to hope, so no offence meant, and I hope none taken. But are they right? Irrespective of whether it’s you or me, is the one who does get it, bound to give up the ghost?

If you ask a doctor, a Dr. Jerri Nielsen that is, she’ll tell you that ‘impossible is nothing’ isn’t just a handy cliché. Dr. Nielsen was stranded at a research station in Antarctica where she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Being the only doctor at a station cut off from the rest of the world by bad weather, she had no choice but to self-treat, and did so successfully. If you ask adman Anup Kumar, he’ll tell you that he only really began living after he faced death when he was diagnosed with lung cancer (last stage) and was given just four months to live. Anup did not believe the doctors. He willed himself into believing he would survive and survive he did. His survival story took the shape of a book - The Joy of Cancer, a book that is both armour and sabre, a sublime inspiration, in the battle against the disease. And if you ask this sinewy fella in bright tights on a cycle called Lance Armstrong, he won’t tell you his story. He’ll tell you instead about young Hugo Gomez, about a not so young Samantha Eisenstein and a rather old Perry Rothaus, and about hundreds of others like them, who have beaten cancer and lived to tell the tale. Now through the Lance Armstrong Foundation, they are sharing their experiences and helping others like them beat the dreaded C.

Moral of the story: You and I are at least as likely to get the disease as we are not likely to. And if we do get it, our survival depends on one thing, and one thing alone – our stomach for a fight. So let’s prepare for battle today, for tomorrow we’ll have to fight, either for ourselves, or for someone we care about.

Myths about Cancer

Cancer, like any other terrifying and usually inexplicable phenomenon, spawns myths. They are a way to cope with the terrifying indifference and often a downright contempt, the disease shows for human life. Myths however, have a life of their own and often end up doing more harm than good, i.e., the myth that cancer is contagious often results in the unfortunate patient being left to fend for oneself without the support of family or friends, at exactly the moment when one needs them the most. There are others too, and they range from denial (oh it only happens to older people) to pushing the blame (it’s the result of all the man-made chemicals that we inadvertently consume) to being rather illogical (small breasted women don’t get breast cancer!). The list goes on, but the important thing to realise is that, nobody, as of now, is absolutely sure what causes cells to go cancerous. Bottom line: If you avoid tobacco (and other known carcinogens) and still get the dreadful news someday, the main thing to remember is that instead of thinking about the ‘why’, you’re better off thinking ‘how’ and ‘then what’.


1 comment:

  1. story is a real account of what faith can do .
    our mythology is full of such account.
    i am confident faith works.

    t n bhatnagar