One of the strange things about cancer is that it doesn’t affect just one person. It affects the entire family.
This was what happened to Mukta’s family when her six-year-old niece was diagnosed with blood cancer. The parents of the child, both doctors, were struggling to understand what the best way forward was with the treatment.
The grandparents were struggling with being away from their grandchild for the duration of the treatment, yearning to be by her side, worried and praying for the outcome to be good.
The aunt, Mukta, took the first flight in to stay with her niece through the entire treatment.
Every family member put their life on hold to be there for the youngest child of the family.
And even though it’s been years since the child successfully completed her treatment, Mukta still chokes up when she recalls that period of their lives.
The first signs of childhood blood cancer
The first signs of cancer are often so mild that they are easily mistaken for simple tiredness or a bad mood. Particularly so when it comes to children.
When Mukta’s niece began to eat less, they did not suspect anything untoward. Most children fuss to finish their meals. Most children go through phases of not eating as much, only to start eating well again during a growth spurt. Nothing unusual in that.
The parents did what most Indian parents would. They forced the child to finish her meals. This sometimes led to vomiting. Again, most children who are forced to eat might vomit. So it was not taken to mean anything more than that.
The first time the family felt something was unusual about the child was when they found her lying down while watching TV. On being asked why, the child had responded that she was too tired to sit up and watch.
That was when the family felt that the child might be sick. They assumed she might have a stomach infection that was making her weak. They decided to do a routine check up.
Four days of agony
As each report came in, the situation began to look worse than before. There were lesions found in the lungs. The family hoped it was tuberculosis, because they didn’t want it to be cancer.
When it was confirmed that it was cancer, they hoped it was the type that could be cured.
The four days after the first test report were the most difficult. As each report brought new findings to light, the family struggled with facing the undeniable: a diagnosis of blood cancer.
Mukta says nothing can prepare you for this. To think that a six year old child has a life threatening disease is not only unexpected but it is difficult to come to terms with.
All their friends in the medical field were contacted to gather as much information as possible about the best course of action; the best treatment, the best hospital, and the best oncologist. All treatment options for childhood cancer were weighed before they zeroed in on the treatment plan.
Within four days, they began treatment. They knew that cancer is not a disease to wait on. Treatment cannot be delayed without consequences.
A lot of time
Mukta comments on an aspect of cancer treatment that is less talked about: having lots of time. Since cancer treatment tends to stretch over months, the family that put their life on hold for it, found themselves waiting for the most part of it.
Keeping a young child occupied through the long and boring days of chemotherapy is not an easy task. Mukta took it up as her responsibility.
From devising little games, to learning up the dialogues of the TV serials they watched over and over again, they found fun in the simplest of ways.
They had decided not to tell the child about how serious the illness was because they were afraid she would be scared. Even so, she was not happy to be missing school. She also missed her grandparents and her elder sister.
To keep her spirits up was Mukta’s first priority. For that, she had to learn to keep her own spirits up.
From reciting the Gayatri mantra, to singing Jagjit Singh’s songs out loud, Mukta did whatever it took to calm her nerves.
Learning to accept
Mukta’s one advice to all cancer caregivers is this: accept the situation. You cannot change it by being angry or sad. Cancer cannot be wished away.
Since you have to go through the treatment, you might as well do it cheerfully. Having a better attitude can make the entire experience easier for you and for those around you.
Giving her own example, Mukta says she has always been a moody person. If she was upset, it took days for her to cheer up again. She has been protected by her family all her life, and has never had to cope with difficulties.
Mukta says that if someone like her can be a cancer caregiver, then anyone can. Cancer has a way of teaching you how to manage the ups and downs.
While her eyes still get teary when she recalls those days, Mukta feels that it’s important to keep the hope and look for anything to motivate you through your cancer journey.
Knowing that it is possible to recover, speaking to others who have recovered from cancer, can help you feel more motivated.
Our cancer support group Talk Your Heart Out was started for this purpose. To connect cancer fighters with others who have already conquered cancer.
Speaking with cancer survivors can be an immensely enriching experience for most cancer patients and their families.
Knowing this, Mukta has decided to open up and share her thoughts on the most difficult phase of her life. She feels that if even one person benefits from hearing her experience then it will be worth it all.
If you are a cancer survivor, consider speaking with other cancer patients about your journey. Your experience can fill them with confidence and see them through the dark, long days of cancer treatment.
To attend our support group, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also join us on facebook.