“I never broke anyone’s heart”: Inside a cancer ward

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This Saturday marked twenty days since my maternal uncle landed in New Delhi for his cancer surgery. Anji, as we lovingly call him, was diagnosed with the dreaded disease two days after Eid-Ul-Fitr.

For our family, the joyous festival turned into a sombre one after doctors in Srinagar informed that he had a very rare form of tumour that had engulfed his stomach and that it was in fourth stage.

Anji, who is a very religious man was initially taken aback as would everyone else in that situation, however, his deep faith in God soon helped him overcome the initial demons of the disease that kills millions of humans every year.

His positive attitude and smiling face would soon galvanise all the family members to have more faith in his recovery and hence act swiftly to save his precious life. He is just 55 and has three daughters – all of whom are students.

With no treatment available in Kashmir, doctors suggested we take him to Indian capital while warning us that it would cost over a million bucks with 60 percent chances of survival.

The family, which includes his brothers, wasted no time in deliberating but instead made the decision to get him the best treatment available in India. By last week of June he was in Delhi, accompanied by his brother, nephew, sister and myself.

The temperatures here had soared to 43 degrees celsius, but they were not enough to break Anji’s will nor ours. He was operated upon on 23 June and the surgery was a gruelling one, taking the doctors over ten hours to remove the cancer from his body which had also spread to his liver.

He regained conscience after 24 hours and was at his positive best reciting prayers and thanking God. The doctors congratulated us and said he was on his path to recovery.

Less than a week into his surgery, he was discharged from the hospital, with the surgeon saying his recovery is well on course and that he won’t require chemotherapy.

At home in New Delhi, he was doing well and expressing gratitude to family members who had sacrificed so much for him and how he wanted to host them at his home for a month.

However, the relief did not last too long and on the fourth day he developed pain in his belly; his stitches started to leak a yellow fluid. He would soon vomit yellow liquid, his pain was unbearable to witness. For someone who has been considered as one of the most patient people among the relatives was shrieking in pain. It was something one could not tolerate. His condition further worsened and we were really worried when he vomited a green liquid. It was both scary and painful to see.

He was soon shifted to hospital again, this time to a cancer ward. It is a 12 x 15 feet room with four patients being treated. Also now, he was no more cheerful, nor positive, he was instead scared and his thoughts had turned negative, “I won’t survive now, don’t try anything now,” he told me and my cousin as the green coloured liquid continued to come out of his mouth.

His body had turned frail, he looked twenty years older to his age and despair had made way on to his face. He had stopped talking and worry was written large on the faces of all the family members accompanying him.

Inside the cancer ward, the beeping sound of medical equipment occasionally made way for a cry or a painful moan. Patients usually stay silent, however sometimes a Bollywood number blares out from some patient’s phone out of nowhere, religious songs also break the monotony of shrieks and sound of medical equipment.

Among the patients the most jolly is a grandmother who doesn’t stop talking and she doesn’t get tired despite being on chemotherapy.

She talks about how all her life she never had medicine, yet ended up having cancer. She does not complain when a nurse asks if she was hurt on being injected with a chemical,

“What will happen by crying?” the elderly woman asks. “There is no point crying, would it change anything, it has been ordained by God,” she said. “It is more painful than the usual injections,” the nurse tells her son who also attends her.

Then she asks a question, “I have never broke anyone’s heart, don’t know why I got cancer,” she said with a heavy breath which lead to the nurse to break down.

Right on her side, my uncle recites his prayers. His story is similar to the woman’s; he never complains nor shows pain. I am also reminded of the fact that he was never a big fan of medicine. “Medicine should be avoided, he had once told my father, it becomes a habit otherwise,” he had said. Today as he stays reclined on the hospital bed I can’t help but ask why he got cancer?

There is another patient, just besides my uncle. The patients and their attendants can only hear each other as the beds are covered by curtains giving much needed privacy to the people.

The man, according to his conversations on phone and with his wife, is a rich businessman. He receives a number of calls daily – most of them asking about business consignments. He also gets calls from friends seeking reports on his condition and how he can get better treatment overseas.

“I have children and I want them to live their dreams, can’t spend so much money on my treatment overseas,” he tells one of his friends.

While all the patients writhe in pain and agony, common among all of them is an urge to defeat the deadly disease that is tearing them apart. There also is a feeling of tolerance, everyone is busy in their thoughts, only them knowing what they are thinking.

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