Nisha* narrates her cancer story that spans over sixteen years and two countries.
Many of us, as young girls, look forward to our wedding. It’s what we often day-dream about when we play dress-up with our friends, or when we attend weddings of friends and relatives.
Apart from the glitz of the trousseau and the apprehensions of adjusting to a new way of life, a wedding is also a sort of gateway to the responsibilities of adulthood for many of us.
I was no different. I had the same hopes and aspirations that any young girl has about marriage. But my life was to undergo a few twists and turns, and I had no clue about it at that time.
The Twist in the Tale
Seven months into our marriage, while everything was still new to both my husband and myself, and we were still learning more about each other each day, a devastation entered our lives.
I developed severe stomach pain. We rushed to the hospital and the doctors immediately suspected appendicitis. Little did we know then that the final diagnosis was going to change the rest of our lives.
After running some tests, I was told that I have stage 1 colon cancer. The doctor said that I had to undergo surgery. My condition was so bad that they advised us that the next 36 hours were very critical.
What? How? When?
It was inconceivable! I was healthy till a few days back and now I had cancer. We were newly-wed, and had our whole lives ahead of us. But we were given 36 hours.
All sorts of doubts, questions, worries, disbelief rushed around our minds. My husband was unsure how to comfort me, afterall we had never faced a problem together before this.
He called my brother, who rushed to our side. My brother helped us get multiple medical opinions on my condition. We consulted different specialists and all of them confirmed the diagnosis.
At that time, I was working with a pharmaceutical company and this gave me the benefit of being in touch with several doctors. One of them always treated me like a daughter and was very kind to all of us. I trusted his opinion firmly. He suggested we continue with chemotherapy on completion of the surgery.
That’s how my treatment went ahead, after much consultation and information gathering.
Physical, and Mental
Apart from the body, cancer also affects all our relationships. It’s something we never think about until we actually face the situation. My siblings had to provide immense emotional support to me at this time.
My husband was as affected as I was. Cancer is not an easy word in our part of the world. Neighbours and relatives often do not know how to react to our diagnosis and some choose to stay away from us completely.
I saw the pain my husband underwent, even while I was undergoing my treatment.
I even suggested that we break up, so that he can live. happier life. But he was clear that he would not leave me. No matter what other doubts and frustrations he had in mind, he was very clear about this one thing: that we would be together, no matter what. In this way, cancer became as much a part of his life as mine.
Coping with Cancer
I completed 12 cycles of chemotherapy. The doctor told me that I was now in remission but I should not have children for the next three years. Accordingly, we decided that I would focus on my career as it was one of the things that gave me happiness.
I began working for a reputed multinational corporation. After five years, I got an opportunity to go abroad for work. Both my husband and I were very happy. He too applied for a new job in the same country, and we began to plan the next phase of our life.
Before leaving India, I took the mandatory health check-up. My blood count did look a little bit abnormal, but it was a marginal change. Of course, having had cancer before, such reports can be alarming. But I decided to stay positive and move forward with my life.
I didn’t want anything to come in the way of the happiness we were experiencing now. We were planning our future and a marginal change in blood count was not going to hold me back. So I chose not to dwell upon the report and went ahead with my plans.
New Land, New Hopes, New Worries
Life together, in a new country, was a break we really needed. They say America is the land of the free, and we were free from all our worries, busy with our new jobs, figuring out life.
Within three months, I found out I was pregnant. That was the news we were both eager for.
Finally the pieces were falling into place and a beautiful picture was appearing before us. But it was short lived. Life had yet another twist in store for us, and it was the worst twist we could have imagined.
I was diagnosed with colon cancer for the second time. The timing was most dreadful for me, for my husband, and for our relationship.
Only someone who has had to go through this situation can understand the enormity of it. It’s like a ton of bricks came crashing down on the delicate dream we were building together. I had to forgo my pregnancy in order to start on my treatment for cancer. It’s something I cannot talk about without feeling disturbed, even today, many years later.
Emotionally, I was in a very dark place. My only comfort was my sister. I would call her in India and talk to her for hours. The phone bills would be astronomical but those calls were my only solace, the only way I had of making it through my treatment.
Treatment provided to me in the US was free of cost. Often I would go for my scans and chemo sessions alone as I had no one to accompany me at that time.
It was a difficult time but I had to keep moving forward with the treatment. I had no choice. I completed my treatment successfully, and it was an achievement in itself.
The saga that started when I was 26 years old, and lasted for 16 years. That was when the doctor told me that I was finally cancer free. He said my file was closed. I was free to go and live my life now.
Life, after all of this, cannot be the same. Cancer changes life. But it is upto us to pick up the pieces and make the most of the hand we have been dealt.
Change is Constant
Cancer changed how I looked, how I felt and the expectation I had from life. I lost 15 kg in six months and was unrecognisable.
I now suffer from arthritis, but i say to myself, “If I can face cancer, then what is arthritis?” Cancer prepares you for whatever else comes your way.
How did I make it through this journey? I will say it is because of my faith in God. I clung to God in my toughest moments asking for comfort and peace.
All the things that hurt me, the lack of understanding, the lost opportunities, all of these become bearable when I pray.
It’s true what they say about life; we do not choose the difficulties that come to us, but we choose how we deal with them. I have chosen to stay positive, to love what I have and who I have in my life. The rest is not in my control, and I do not waste time worrying about it.
*name changed to protect the narrator’s identity
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