Before my father was diagnosed with Cancer, we only knew it as an abstract concept. It happened to other people, and it sucked.
I could read books about cancer victims relatively dispassionately, feel for the deceased author in the moment, put it down and move on. After all, we had no family history of cancer, we were perfect strangers to each other. Which is probably why we missed the signs when they first emerged — we didn’t know that the frequent fevers, fatigue, and loss of appetite should have set our alarm bells ringing. We even missed the lumps on his neck, but then again, so did the many neighbourhood doctors we consulted — after weeks of antibiotics had little effect and my father continued to feel very weak, we had to move him to a hospital. The doctor in the hospital noticed the lumps immediately and had a worried look on her face when she asked us to get a biopsy done. After a more thorough diagnosis, she told us it was a toss up between Tuberculosis and Cancer.
We were now in the unenviable state of praying for TB. He had it once before, maybe it was a recurrence of the same disease.
My sister called me in great, hacking, sobs — she had flown in from Australia to cover for me after I completed a week’s visit and had to fly back for work. She was on a phone call outside the hospital when the doctor, heading out of the hospital on her scooter came up to her and broke the news — “It’s cancer”
The reports had come in and everything pointed to my father having Lymphoma, a type of blood cancer that affects lymph nodes.
Now what ?
I was in a daze for a while. I booked my tickets home immediately and took a walk around the block with my wife.
I knew nothing about cancer, and started to look things up online. There was enough on the internet to give us cause for optimism.
- Lymphoma was a relatively common and curable kind of cancer.
- There were two subtypes, Hodgkins and Non-Hodgkins (the latter being more common, we eventually found my father had Non-Hodgkins)
- It came in 4 stages — the earlier we detected it, the better. (Later, we found out my father was at stage 3 — the lymphoma had progressed to different parts of his body — not a good sign)
We had hope, a specific subtype of hope that exists purely by virtue of lack of information. The less we knew, the better his odds. He had pulled through an aneurysm a couple of years ago and managed to do so without any need for surgery — we hoped that this would be similar — it would be a rough patch, but one we could get over. I started to visualize bald kids in hospital gowns.
We couldn’t tell mom or dad either — they wouldn’t be able to take it. We had to keep them positive. In retrospect, there is probably a case to be made for not hiding anything from them — “If it were me, I’d want to know” but I don’t doubt what we did for one second.
Now that we knew what we were up against, everything we did was not infused with a sense of urgency. Cancer spreads. Every day counts and we couldn’t afford to waste a moment.
The clock was ticking.