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Table of Contents
Year : 2020  |  Volume : 3  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 60-61

The experiences of a cancer patient: A son's perspective


Date of Submission12-Dec-2019
Date of Acceptance26-Dec-2019
Date of Web Publication24-Feb-2020

Correspondence Address:
Manish Ayushman
6 Comstock Circle, Condido Village, Miller 323B Stanford, CA 94305, USA

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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/CRST.CRST_115_19

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How to cite this article:
Ayushman M. The experiences of a cancer patient: A son's perspective. Cancer Res Stat Treat 2020;3:60-1

How to cite this URL:
Ayushman M. The experiences of a cancer patient: A son's perspective. Cancer Res Stat Treat [serial online] 2020 [cited 2021 Aug 5];3:60-1. Available from: https://www.crstonline.com/text.asp?2020/3/1/60/279073

When my mother was first diagnosed with lung cancer, I was in the 10th grade. This dates back to about 10 years ago now when cancer to me was something of the likes of an obscure nightmare, something you don't usually imagine yourself encountering in the closest sphere of your life. About 10 years ago, I was urgently woken up one morning by my aunt at our home in Kolkata, telling me that my mother had coughed out some blood. We rushed her to the hospital and she was initially diagnosed with tuberculosis. She was made to stay in the hospital for quite a few weeks, but things did not seem to match up very well. Nonetheless, she continued being treated for tuberculosis.

My uncle, who is a pediatrician, had his suspicions about the diagnosis. Following his directions and a referral from the consulting physician at the hospital in Kolkata, we eventually ended up visiting Tata Memorial Hospital (TMH), Mumbai, where she was finally diagnosed accurately with lung cancer. This was followed by lots of tests to determine the nature of the condition and to come up with a plan to address the condition accordingly. My parents and my uncle ended up staying in Mumbai for months, while I had to stay at home in Kolkata, under the care of a few relatives, because of my 10th grade board exams. My mother is the strongest and the most courageous person I know. She has had a dozen health issues before this, ranging from a massive uterine tumor, appendicitis, gall bladder inflammation, multiple hernias, to diabetes. She had suffered a lot in terms of her health prior to her diagnosis of cancer, but she was never scared of any of her treatments or conditions. However, this was the first time I realized that she was actually scared of the treatment procedures. She tried her best not to let it show, but at times it did. She was particularly petrified of bronchoscopies. The procedure hurt her a lot. I remember one time she had just been brought out of a bronchoscopy session, when she was immediately again told that she'll have to get it repeated right then. She ended up begging and crying for some time, requesting to delay the procedure a bit because she was in a lot of pain. But, eventually, after persuasion from my uncle and my father, she finally went through the procedure right at that time. I had seen my mother dauntlessly taking on surgeries and procedures for more than a decade of my life. But, that was the first time I realized she was scared.

She eventually ended up having a bilobectomy. She was discharged from the hospital just a week after the surgery, which was considered miraculous. Her motivation of trying to leave the hospital as soon as possible, in this case, was to come see me at home in Kolkata. It had been quite a few weeks since we had seen each other. So, she worked extra hard doing laps to try and leave early to be able to come see me. Her doctors were very pleased with her efforts. She came home and things eventually started getting back to normal. She started gaining her strength again and went back to being how she was. We then used to go to TMH, Mumbai, every 6 months to get a checkup to ensure that things were fine.

However, on one of her routine checkups at TMH in June 2016, it was found that she had a relapse and the tumors had grown to quite some extent. I happened to not visit Mumbai with my mother for this particular checkup because of my college. I had just finished my 2nd year of undergraduate study then. From what my father told me, who was there with her at the time, her face fell in disbelief upon listening to what the doctors had to say about the relapse. It took her some time to recollect herself, but then, she was again back in her spirit of a fighter, ready to take on what lay ahead for her. We, her family, who were at ease for some time, also went back to our vigilant selves. None of us were aware of her prognosis post the relapse. Those few weeks were very hectic and exhausting. Not knowing the full picture added significantly to the distress. A biopsy was done to check if she qualified for targeted therapy. We were informed in some time that she did not qualify for the therapy. We were also informed that her relapse was terminal and that she would have to be administered palliative chemotherapy. The doctors then gave us a time of about 6 months to less than a year before she passed away.

This was followed by the next stage of her treatment: chemotherapy. This was a stage of particular concern to me initially because of all the visible side effects associated with the treatment, and how they would manifest in the case of my mother. My mother is very beautiful and likes to take care of herself in terms of her appearance. That is something she invests quite a bit of herself in order to feel better. Hence, I was very concerned about the possible side effects of chemotherapy and how would that in turn affect her spirit. Would she start to break if she starts losing hair? How would she react to these potentially rapid changes in her appearance? We got her many pretty wigs and beautiful scarves to try and prepare her for what might lie ahead. It has been more than 3 years since and my mother has had 57 chemotherapy sessions. She has one every 3 weeks. She, very fortunately, has not had any significant hair loss or changes in her appearances. She visits TMH, Mumbai, every 3 months for a checkup. The doctors are surprised to see her every time. Funnily, she also gets interrogated by other patients there in TMH who suspect her of not actually being a patient, because she does not look like one, but nonetheless, claiming a seat in the waiting area.

With almost every visit, her tumors grow marginally. Some very rare number of times, they also decrease in size marginally. We all have sort of accepted this as our life now. There are many ups and downs, more skewed toward the latter. But, nonetheless, we try to make the most out of what we have. We have tried to adjust into this pattern now and tried to normalize things as much as we can. We take short trips. We took a 10-day trip to Kashmir last year, in October 2018. We are a family that likes to travel around a lot. So, she really enjoys the trips. However, she does fall sick after such trips, but again recovers soon.

I recently graduated (May 2019) and moved to the United States to get a PhD in Bioengineering at Stanford University. It'd not be an overstatement to say that most of my career choices and decisions of getting into medicine-related research have been influenced by her health and her life over the years. However, leaving her behind at home has been the hardest thing I personally have had to do. We all realize that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and my mother is the happiest among anyone I know. She takes a lot of interest in my work and I make it a point to tell her about any new thing I do in my research. However, there always is a ubiquitous looming uncertainty pertaining to what the future holds and how things will unfold. Questions about how is she actually doing back home, how will things be in the future, will I be able to get to her on time if/when she needs me, and so on. I am extremely attached to my mother, which certainly does not help given the current situation. I tell her all about my work and life multiple times everyday despite being 12000 km apart. So, I often end up wondering how would my life change too in the future. As much as I am attached to her, she is attached to me too. She gets lonely at home nowadays with me gone.

Nevertheless, we are making the best out of what we have. If things remain the same as they are currently, we plan on getting her to visit me here in the United States in March 2020. A lot of this has been possible solely because of the doctors, the caregivers, and the medical staff at TMH, and we genuinely cannot be more grateful to them for that. I shared quite some trivia about our life in hopes to elucidate on how the life of a cancer patient is from the perspective of a close family member. We are a highly optimistic bunch and I strongly believe that this mentality helps a lot. It has kept us sane and joyful over these last 10 long years despite some very arduous and unfair times, and I hope it would keep helping us all through the even mightier challenges that await us.

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There are no conflicts of interest.


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