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Table of Contents
Year : 2018  |  Volume : 1  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 96-97

The enemy within

203/204, Bethany CHS, 15 Pitamber Lane, Mahim West, Mumbai - 400 016, Maharashtra, India

Date of Web Publication17-May-2019

Correspondence Address:
J Barrett
203/204, Bethany CHS, 15 Pitamber Lane, Mahim West, Mumbai - 400 016, Maharashtra
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/CRST.CRST_5_19

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How to cite this article:
Barrett J. The enemy within. Cancer Res Stat Treat 2018;1:96-7

How to cite this URL:
Barrett J. The enemy within. Cancer Res Stat Treat [serial online] 2018 [cited 2019 Dec 15];1:96-7. Available from: http://www.crstonline.com/text.asp?2018/1/2/96/258543

Losing a sibling young, is hard. Losing 2 is unimaginable. I lost a brother suddenly, to a massive myocardial infarction when he was 34 years old. It took me about 10 years to be able to speak about it without tears. Now I face the impending and inevitable loss of a sister. But this time, it is slow and (equally) painful. The cancer came up stealthily and silently. That both were prone to keeping their problems to themselves was perhaps a compounding factor. But with cancer, there is probably no way to win. It is the boss. It decides who is to get off (relatively) lightly, and who can't conquer it, no matter what. It is what it is.

In the past year and a half since my sister's diagnosis, it has been a rollercoaster of thoughts and emotions. Of anger, fear, sadness, guilt (why am I, so far, spared?) compassion, admiration, and much more. I have seen her during this time strong and stoic, yet vulnerable and scared. I feel so very responsible for her, almost like my own child. She depends on me for all things to do with her treatment and medical matters. For everything else, there are those superheroes we call Mum and Dad. They, at ages 76 and 83 are the rocks we depend on. Their parenting job is never done.

There is a book, written by a senior oncologist called 'The Joy of Cancer.' I have not read it. I was told by a friend that his relative, a patient, was encouraged by the good doctor to read the book. She declined politely, saying “Doctor, when you get cancer, tell me about the joy you feel, and then I will read it.” She succumbed, after fighting her illness for 8 long years.

From where I stand, I certainly don't see any joy in this killer disease. But what I do see is a whole lot of love that can be felt, expressed, and experienced at a critical point in life and in the family. My sister was not expressive before. But she now shows her love and appreciation in unmistakable ways. Moreover, it is so easy to reciprocate. Is this an outcome of this illness? Would we have had this kind of closeness without the common enemy? Life in this megapolis gets so busy with the routine of home, children, work, etc. that it most certainly causes gaps in our relationships with our loved ones. But I have seen first-hand, how easy it is to prioritize when something like this hits you. It took a heartbeat to decide to put work and family life on hold to be able to be present for her when she needs me. But there is no right or wrong to this. Often circumstances decide that for you. I am lucky to be able to do it, albeit with its own repercussions in my life.

Another experience that gives her solace and comfort, is prayer. Not something I know for myself or ascribe to, but I wholly support her supplication to the powers that be. Heaven knows we have none against this 'Megatron' of the medical world. To be able to surrender oneself to what has to happen, is a strength of another kind. One I admire and wish I could possess.

For what it is worth, her diligence as a patient and strength as a person have seen her exceed the 1-year survival timeline already. Moreover, while she may not be the same person she was pre-cancer, she is also not what she was expected to be after. After two refusals of surgery by the attending surgeon, and three sub-optimal rounds (and countless cycles) of different chemotherapy treatments, the surgeon then felt her to be a viable case to undergo surgery, with the knowledge that it may not be completely successful. It wasn't. Would that be considered a failure? I guess medically, yes. But to her and to all of us around, we feel it helped improve her quality of life to some extent. Minus the bulk of the largest tumor and uterus, she is moving around more easily and comfortably too. We have celebrated her 50th birthday and another Christmas together, and for that we are grateful. Especially to the doctors at Tata Memorial Hospital (TMH) who supported her decision to keep trying, the surgeon for agreeing to surgery, her medical oncologists who regularly check up on her and enquire about her well-being, knowing full well that she is not going to be cured, and to everyone around who prays, visits, thinks about, and asks after her.

What lies ahead? What is it going to be like? We don't have answers. I guess we can be sure it won't be easy. And time is not unlimited. I have heard of many cancer stories, with different storylines and endings. And I have come to the conclusion that while much on this journey is not in one's hands, what can be in one's control is the choice of how to face, and deal with, this enemy within. It is probably the most difficult battle to fight. And in that respect, with her dignity and strength, my sister is a winner all the way.

Addendum: Exactly 12 weeks after this article was drafted, my sister lost her battle to cancer. She passed away peacefully, and without pain, in the arms of my younger sister, and her own daughter, with our parents near. Her massive heart gave way. She will be missed and fondly remembered. She taught me a lot about loss and dignity and strength.

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There are no conflicts of interest.


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