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Table of Contents
Year : 2020  |  Volume : 3  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 495-497

Be the master of your own destiny

Lieutenant Colonel (Retd), Indian Army , Kerala, India

Date of Submission17-May-2020
Date of Decision25-May-2020
Date of Acceptance26-May-2020
Date of Web Publication19-Sep-2020

Correspondence Address:
M K Surendran
Fourfs Villa, Anchampeedika Post, Mottamal, Kannur, Kerala - 670 331
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/CRST.CRST_205_20

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How to cite this article:
Surendran M K. Be the master of your own destiny. Cancer Res Stat Treat 2020;3:495-7

How to cite this URL:
Surendran M K. Be the master of your own destiny. Cancer Res Stat Treat [serial online] 2020 [cited 2020 Oct 21];3:495-7. Available from: https://www.crstonline.com/text.asp?2020/3/3/495/295541

I have always believed in the phrase “Be your own judge” and lived every bit of my life according to it. That is probably why I have emerged a winner whenever my destiny chose to strike me.

I was born in a poor and uneducated family. As a result of my father's early demise, I had to study and start earning at the young age of 18. It was then that the opportunity to join the Indian Army as a jawan fell into my lap. The “judge” in me encouraged me to shape and enhance my destiny with hard work and dedication, and that is how a young boy, who joined the Indian Army barefoot, went from being a sepoy to retiring as a lieutenant colonel after 38 years of service. For the first time ever, I left my hometown, totally unaware of languages like English and Hindi.

As soon as I completed my training with the Indian Army, I confronted my first challenge, which was to master the English language. I kept with me a book called “Rapidex English Speaking Course,” sent to me by my brother, and an English–Malayalam dictionary. I used to learn at least three words per day throughout my daily routine, just like an ill person taking their pills regularly. Thereafter, I gained enough confidence to enroll myself in a correspondence course at the Calicut University to obtain my bachelor's degree. I sacrificed my annual leaves to prepare and appear for the exams.

It was quite difficult to obtain a bachelor's degree amidst all the constraints of a jawan's duty looming over my head, but I was determined to change my destiny, and I certainly did it. Thereafter, I appeared for the Army officers' test and got commissioned to the rank of second lieutenant. Pleasure and excitement coursed through me as the seniors I looked up to now respected and saluted me. I could aptly call this “changing my destiny.”

However, my feelings were momentary. After being commissioned to the rank of lieutenant from the Officers Training Academy, Chennai, my first posting was in the Siachen glaciers, the highest battlefield in the world. This is where my destiny ambushed me once again. Siachen is located around 18,000 ft above the sea level at the line of control (LOC) between India and Pakistan. It takes around 4–5 days to reach Siachen from the base camp, and the oxygen levels there are very low. The temperature dips between −20°C and −40°C, making clothing for extreme cold climate and mountaineering equipment essential for acclimatization. One has to fight not only against the enemy across the border but also against the weather to survive there. It was like living in a huge freezer for months together, as all we could see around us was ice. We could only sleep in huts and sleeping bags, and even something as mundane as bathing was impossible. To cook, clean, etc., we had to frequently heat and melt the snow to water, which would turn back into ice if we kept it out for too long. Even a knife would not pass through raw vegetables; the water inside a coconut would be frozen, and if someone threw an egg at you, it would not break, but would leave you injured.

The glacier was quite an experience, but it came with several unfortunate casualties. In the late 90s, we used to face regular border firing across the border. Even a win for India in a cricket match would prompt firing from Pakistan; we had to be prepared for both direct and indirect firing with various weapons and ammunition.

On November 10, 1997, having completed 6 months of service as an officer, we were preparing our weapons for firing as artillery shells rained on us from the enemy's side, just like ripe mangoes dropping from trees owing to heavy winds. It was at around 12 noon when a long range sniper rifle from across the border shot at me on the right side of my chest. I immediately fell unconscious. I regained consciousness later when my teammates sprinkled water on my face. First aid, though temporary, was my only recourse as no doctor or medical personnel was available at the LOC. As mountaineering equipment was required for any kind of transportation, evacuating an injured person over 6 feet tall, all the way down an 18,000-feet-high mountain, was a daunting task for the infantry jawans. I offered to help, but was unable to move my body. I could tell that I had lost a lot of blood, which was in all likelihood the reason my movement was restricted. With so much going on in and around me, I decided not to surrender because I wanted to change the ill-fated course of events and be the master of my own destiny. They laid me on a sleeping bag, and with my feet tied to a rope pulled me through the snow down the mountain to the spot where a doctor and medical facilities were available. Tugging me was a particularly difficult task for the infantry jawans because of the lack of oxygen. They had to make numerous stops on the way to catch their breath and rest. After 10 hours of heaving, we finally reached the doctor who gave me some painkillers and dressed my wound.

I survived the night with very little blood left in my body. The weather conditions during the preceding 3–4 days had been rather hostile but cleared up just in time making it possible for a helicopter to evacuate me. So, the next day, a small helicopter named “Cheetah” (for armed forces' operations) flew me down to a small army hospital called “Field Ambulance” at Partapur, which is about 130 km from Leh. By this time, my right hand was completely immobile due to brachial plexus injury. I was later transferred to the Army Command Hospital, Chandigarh, followed by the Army Hospital R&R, New Delhi. By now, my right wrist had been severely affected with frostbite due to the cold weather, leading to the amputation of some fingers later on.

When the hope of survival started slipping through my fingers, I started writing letters to my family and friends with my left hand. However, after three surgeries and 4 months of hospitalization, I returned to my life with 80% disability.

After 38 years of Army life, I retired in January 2019. After a few months of retirement, my destiny attacked once again, and this time with a blow of utmost magnitude. On an ill-fated evening, I was diagnosed with cancer. It came to me and my family and friends as an extreme shock as I was considered an ambassador of health for all, had never indulged in drinking or smoking, led an active life (practiced yoga, pranayama exercises, and walked 10,000 steps daily), and had good eating habits.

Even though it has been traumatizing for all of us, once again, I decided to fight, and this time against the disease. People who know me, believed in me to fight hard; I believed in the doctors and medical science because I could not fight the evil cancer without trusting them. Now, the cells in my right lung had turned against me and were fighting me from the inside. This had me devoting my trust to my doctors once again.

As I mentioned earlier, I am my own judge, and tackling challenges that life throws now comes easy to me. Something that I have learned while battling through all my problems is that whenever something unfortunate happens to us, we grieve about it and question why it happened to us. However, when we read about a mishap in the newspaper, we never question why it did not happen to us.

A soldier likes to fight against a strong enemy. That could be the reason why I decided not to surrender despite the fact that I have Stage IV lung adenocarcinoma. For the past 16 years, I have been practicing pranayama and following healthy habits, and it has made me sensitive to even the smallest of symptoms. One day, I noticed a change in my breathing during my fitness routine, and that is when the next battle began—getting X-rays, computed tomography scans, thoracoscopy, positron-emission tomography scans, biopsies, and traveling from one hospital to another in ambulances. On several earlier occasions, I had meticulously given way to a passing ambulance, but now I was inside one, thinking about the unimaginable fate that had befallen me.

The initial days of hospitalization were unpleasant. There was nothing to look at except the four walls and a rotating ceiling fan above me. I had to sleep in one particular position as the pleural effusion required constant removal of fluids with tubes from inside me. Visitors had annoying and tiresome questions. Our phones went off continuously, and after a point, my wife and I had to change our maddening ringtones. Outside the window, I could see the relatives of other patients, doctors, and nursing students going about their day. These scenes were no less than paradise for a patient in a closed room.

What bothered me most was that no doctor could give a solid reason for my cancer. Lying on the hospital bed, I would try reverse calculation. I thought back to the little symptoms I ignored during the last one year, like the chronic cough and breathing problems. Back then, I had automatically attributed these symptoms to my advancing age. I do not know if medical research has confirmed stress to be a cause of cancer, but as a patient, I have come to the conclusion that the mutations in my cells are the result of chronic stress. All of this came to me as an unanticipated attack on my personality, honesty, sincerity, and loyalty. I became a very weak person mentally and surrendered emotionally in front of my loved ones. I blamed myself for some guilty feelings I have carried since childhood.

After being hospitalized for a while in Kerala, I am now being treated at the Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai, which is known to be the country's best cancer care center; I do not want my family to regret any lack in my treatment.

I consider myself a unique person. I want to live a little more, and I would like to set the record for being the person who lived the longest with Stage IV lung cancer. Apart from my medical treatment (chemotherapy), I have made my own combination pack for a better life. I have added a few more asanas to my existing pranayama routine. I heard that doctors from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences have researched and approved these additional asanas for the enhancement of immunity and antibodies. Busy and important professionals like doctors are always giving appointments to others but are rarely taking out time for themselves. I now devote around 6-8 hours of my day to pranayama, yoga, exercise, etc., including Anulom Vilom and Kapalbhati. I have also changed my food habits by taking notes from the social media and YouTube and have started drinking the antioxidant extract from the sacred herb called Lakshmi Taru. I have stopped consuming refined flour, sugar, baked foods, fatty and junk food, etc., Fruits, salads, honey, gomutra, and herbs such as wheatgrass, giloy, tulsi, neem, turmeric, aloe vera, and ashwagandha have become a part of my daily diet.

A student appearing for a competitive entrance examination for medicine, engineering, or civil services is focused on qualifying for it and puts all the efforts and dedication into preparing for the same. I too consider my disease to be an examination, and my only aim is to qualify for it. I like to live and have nothing to hide.

Everything is still not in my favor. The coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic has spread all over the world, and given my condition, I have to be extra cautious. Every visit to the hospital has been a risky affair. Although the number of patients visiting the hospital are coming down gradually, every corner of the hospital, be it the laboratory, outpatient department, cash counter, or dispensary, is a dangerous hot spot of infection for an immunocompromised person like me. Cases of hospital staff getting infected with the deadly virus and being kept in isolation wards have also been reported. Therefore, even using the elevators in the hospital could prove to be dangerous.

Since my casualty from Siachen, I have been living with an immobile hand (right) and now am carrying a 5 cm × 3.6 cm tumor in my right lung. The belief that I had in the doctors after my gunshot injury got me a bonus of 23 years of life. I have accepted all the challenges and will continue to fight like the brave soldier that I am. I am currently living like a prisoner with a death penalty, awaiting the president's mercy. Only here, the president's role is being played by the doctors and my willpower. After all, medicine is the noblest profession. Studies have shown that a patient is more likely to do better if they have faith in their doctor. Trust is the cornerstone of the doctor–patient relationship, and my diagnosis has heightened the importance of trusting my doctors immensely.

I am willing to give my all, with the help of my doctors, to be the master of my own destiny and bend it to my will!

About the author:

I am a 58-year-old retired Army officer (Lieutenant Colonel). I have a bachelor's degree in arts, and my hobbies are making handicrafts and drawing. I am a battle-wounded officer living with 80% disability. I served in the Indian Army for 38 years and have participated in many operations such as Operation Meghdoot, Operation Parakram, Operation Vijay, Operation Rakshak, and Operation Suraksha. I have also led a column in the 2018 Kerala floods. I have been decorated with many medals and citations from the Indian Army.

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There are no conflicts of interest.


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