Wednesday, November 27, 2013
I call him for an appointment and hear his enthusiastic voice. He says he has not yet been to Chutney Chang so that is where we could meet for lunch. I reach the restaurant a bit early and sit down to wait. I see a gentleman with thick moustache walk in briskly with no signs whatsoever of being ill, the neck support brace the only give away of an ailment. He greets me cheerfully and we settle down for an elaborate lunch and chit chat……….
He grew up in a large family of seven brothers and five sisters. He joined air force as an airman in 1960 at a very young age of 19 and worked hard to go up the ranks. Around that time his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Even though surgery was performed followed by cobalt radiation, she passed away in 1963. Later his three sisters were also diagnosed with breast cancer. Two of them succumbed to it. The third one was diagnosed when her son was 12 years old but she lived up to an old ripe age, a grandmother of 15 year olds and eventually died of heart attack. Having seen so many cases of cancer in his family, he considers it as any other common illness.
He lives alone as his wife passed away few years ago and his son who is doing extremely well in his job has been posted overseas.
It was 2009 when the initial symptoms appeared. He was passing blood in stool and there was lot of pain. He took painkiller which did not give him much relief. It was increasingly becoming difficult to sit properly due to the pain. On his visit to the doctor, a tumor was detected. After the biopsy was performed, he was informed that he has colon cancer.
Radiation was initially done to reduce the size of the tumor followed by surgery. Doctors advised him to get Colostomy done. His son was alarmed and was uncomfortable with the idea of a bag hanging from the body all the time. But he took it in the stride and told his son “So what? I do not mind”. This is his attitude. His caring son made sure that he got best possible treatment in a well known and prestigious hospital.
The next step was to go through chemotherapy. This did not get him worried or worked up as most people would after hearing the word “chemo”. He insisted on handling it on his own. He hired a taxi with driver on a permanent basis and went all by himself to the hospital for chemo. While in the hospital he kept his good humor alive by cracking jokes with the nurses and attendants on duty bringing a smile to everyone around him.
He took all the adversities on a war footing and found a way to combat it, so like an air force person! To make chemo more effective he was asked to take another medication. This caused severe dryness and rashes on the skin and scalp. He found a way around it by applying aloe vera on the skin and coconut oil on his hair for relief. To reduce the side effects of chemo (nausea, vomiting), he ensured that he had a good breakfast before leaving. And above all his positive attitude helped him tide over the difficult situations.
Managing the disease
To him being independent is of utmost importance as that is the best way to stay active. So, even though relatives were advising him to get help for cooking and cleaning, he decided against it. He does his own cooking, experiments with making exotic dishes, and sometimes even invites neighbors for a meal. His son is a great source of strength for him as he visits him often and is around whenever needed. He also spends time overseas with his son every few months.
For him exercising, eating a healthy meal and meeting people is the key to staying fit physically and mentally. He goes on long walks regularly and has a great rapport with all age groups in his apartment complex. If anyone around him is feeling low or depressed, he extends his helps by counseling them.
He hasn’t stopped doing some of those things which he enjoyed even in his youthful years, such as riding bikes and travelling. He says he will continue to ride his motorcycle till he has confidence. Every year he travels with his son and has a great time in the beautiful beaches of Goa.
He looks at positives in everything and has no regrets. He feels that people afflicted with cancer should not tell a sob story about their illness and demoralize people around them. Instead, he would rather tell everyone how to face it. There are some people afflicted with cancer who don’t want to talk about it and there are some who do not even want to reveal or accept it. He feels that this is not the right attitude. The more someone feels afraid, the worse it could be for them.
He is very blunt when he says “Who wants to die? Do I? No! But you must reconcile to the fact. One day everyone has to go, so why think of tomorrow, enjoy your today.”
His son had called in the morning to check on him. He told his son that he was going on a date! Well, actually I thoroughly enjoyed my “date” and at the same time felt inspired by him. When I insisted on paying the bill, he did not allow me. He smiled and told me that it was his birthday and it was going to be his treat. I wished him a very happy birthday and we said our goodbyes. I hope to have another date, next year? on his birthday?…..