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Table of Contents
Year : 2020  |  Volume : 3  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 671-673

The other side of cancer

Aarya Clinic; Sterling Hospital; Lotus Multi-Speciality Hospital, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India

Date of Submission23-Sep-2020
Date of Decision01-Oct-2020
Date of Acceptance03-Oct-2020
Date of Web Publication25-Dec-2020

Correspondence Address:
Sunila Mohandas Nagvekar
Aarya Clinic, Shop No 1, Ganjawala CHS, SVP Road, Borivali West, Mumbai -400 092
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/crst.crst_295_20

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How to cite this article:
Nagvekar SM. The other side of cancer. Cancer Res Stat Treat 2020;3:671-3

How to cite this URL:
Nagvekar SM. The other side of cancer. Cancer Res Stat Treat [serial online] 2020 [cited 2021 May 5];3:671-3. Available from: https://www.crstonline.com/text.asp?2020/3/4/671/304971

Isn't your husband depressed seeing cancer patients all the time?” a dear friend asked me the other day.

This started a train of thoughts.

Till date, multiple books have been written by or about patients afflicted with cancer.

The Emperor of Maladies” is one such book written by an oncologist about his experiences. A decade ago, I had read the “Interpreter of Maladies,” by the Pulitzer prize-winning author, Jhumpa Lahiri.

Thankfully, the malady in this book was not the big “C.”

Hollywood has adapted a number of books about cancer such as “The fault in our stars” and “A walk to remember” into blockbuster movies. Closer home, we have the legendary movie, “Anand.”

Cancer, in its tragic journey, has all the elements for a melodramatic movie.

However, surprisingly, I have never read a book giving a bird's eye view about an oncologist's own life.

Now, after a decade of being married to an oncologist, I think it is high time someone gives a sneak preview into life on the other side of the table.

We had a typical arranged marriage.

The only thing I remember about our first meeting was my hubby telling me about Madame hematology, who had “cold” and “hot” forms. He was as verbose about Madame as someone speaking about their first love.

Since I had disappointed my family by choosing pediatrics over medicine, they were happy that finally they would have a physician in the family who would treat their “BP” and “sugar” – and a gold medalist to boot.

Imagine their disappointment when my husband, who was training in transplants at that time, upfront refused to treat these comorbidities saying, “Me BP ani diabetes baghaaycha sodla.” (I do not treat BP and diabetes anymore.)

My second tryst with Madame hematology was a stem cell harvest which caused my hubby to miss my birthday – the first one after getting affianced.

Thankfully, the enthusiasm of courtship gave him the impetus to make the journey between two cities three times in 24 hours just to wish me at midnight, literally “Mumbai-Pune-Mumbai.”

After transplants came a fellowship in clinical hematology in Kolkata. Our first anniversary involved either a plane ride to Kolkata or celebrating it in different metros. After two years of trips between Mumbai, Pune, and Kolkata, I thought that we were finally coming to the end of the training.

Meanwhile, I had come up with a few stock sentences to explain to my nonmedico friends and family about what diseases my husband would treat when he finished training.

Unfortunately, the awareness among the general public about hematological diseases does not extend much beyond the frontiers of blood cancer. However, thankfully, because of their awareness about dengue, a few people also knew about the “platelets.”

Once, I made the supreme mistake of uttering the word, ”anemia,” and I was counter questioned, ”Tyala tar fakta iron chi goli ghyavi laagte; tyaat evdha paach varsha kaay shikaaychay?“ (That only requires an iron pill, what is there to study for five years in that?)

Among all of this, a close relative of mine got afflicted with polycythemia. The minute my hubby prescribed phlebotomies, it was as if he had committed a capital offense. People just could not wrap their heads around the fact that blood can simply be removed and, worse, thrown away without being used for transfusion.

Then the icing on the cake: after three years of me religiously advocating the importance of Madame hematology, my hubby decided to train in one more specialty, oncology.

And my first thought, “Chalo, at least I won't have to explain what it is everyone knows what cancer is, and everyone knows the Tata Memorial Hospital whew.”

His four years at Tata changed my vocabulary in many ways.

Now when someone says head-and-neck, I no longer think about “Volume 3 Textbook of Anatomy, Chaurasia,” rather I automatically think about “Unit 2.”

I now understand that though you can say “solid tumors,” you never use the logical corresponding term “liquid tumors.”

Being an ardent feminist, God actually gave me the opportunity to say for six years after marriage, “Uski abhi bhi padhai chal rahi hai.” (He is still studying). I imagined this is what the spouses of underaged girls must have said in the days of yore. The only difference being, we were in the fourth decade of our lives.

The norm for most doctor–couples is that the husband begins his practice first, and a few years later, the wife joins in an already established practice network; but in our case, the opposite was true.

I still remember a hilarious incident from my initial days of practice.

I was speaking with a senior general practitioner and when he heard that my husband took admission into the DM course after marriage, he asked me in an extremely disgruntled tone, “Aapne aapke husband ko shaadi ke baad padhne kaise diya? Meri biwi ne toh mujhe shaadi ke baad postgraduation bhi nahi karne di.” (How did you allow your husband to study after marriage? My wife did not even allow me to pursue my postgraduation.)

Unfortunately, I was too stumped and naïve at that time to come up with a retort.

I had planned my pregnancy during the 2nd year of my husband's DM, thinking that it would enable us to spend the maximum time together. To my chagrin, he was posted in hematology, which was supposed to be the heaviest rotation.

After this hat-trick with Madame hematology, I asked my hubby to show his face to the gynecologist, at least in the last antenatal care visit, so that he knows the father.

Fortunately, Madame released her claws briefly on Doctors' Day, the day of our daughter's birth, and hubby won a reprieve from my lifelong nagging by being present during my labor.

On the day of my husband's graduation from the Tata Memorial Hospital, I felt as if a jail sentence had come to an end. He had also picked up my fifth anniversary gift, the gold medal in DM.

Then began a new era in our married life. After six years of marriage, we were finally going to be living under the same roof, but I did not know that my husband's first love had just changed her alluring form.

3 am – tring… tring… !

Sir, patient ko bukhaar aaya hai, Crocin de doon?” (Sir, the patient has a fever, should I give Crocin?)

Patient ko urgently hospital mein admit karo aur uska CBC karo.“ (Admit the patient to the hospital urgently, and do a CBC.)

Being a pediatrician, if I got the same phone call, I would just say, “Baby ko calpol de do aur sponge karo; kal clinic leke aana.” (Give the baby calpol, sponge her, and bring her to the clinic tomorrow.)

As a pediatrician, any investigation involving a needle prick has to be well planned, keeping in mind not just a crying baby but sobbing parents.

In the initial days of my ?t?ryst with onco-hubby, I used to wonder why he was so aggressive about investigating patients on their first spike of fever.

Then, Madame introduced me to her evil avatar Madame febrile neutropenia.

As we moved along our marital journey, I learned Madame's whims and fancies… where she likes ensnaring leukemias and lymphomas with her charms.

She requires expert exorcists such as “?Monsieur Meropenem” and “Monsieur Tigecycline.” Plus, they have to hit hard and hit fast.

Now, after a decade of marriage, I have renamed ”Madame first love” as ”The first mistress, who always engages his attentions much more than I do.

So now whenever the phone rings in the middle of the night and the person on the other hand utters the word “fever,” the first question in my history taking is “Baccha hai, ki Sir se baat karni hai?“ (Is it a kid, or do you need to speak to Sir?)

Likewise, the word “daycare” has diametrically different contexts for both of us.

I have finally understood the importance of a good pathologist and laboratory backup.

I have understood that a simple CBC holds the key to a host of illnesses – if you just know how to interpret it.

I have understood that oncology has progressed way beyond the “TNM” classification which was taught to us during our MBBS training.

I have learned that though an oncologist may learn to dissociate himself from the mental and physical pain of his patients, a lot of it is still absorbed by sheer osmosis. This is just reflected in different ways, whether it is watching cartoons mindlessly or eating a feel-good calorie-laden meal to forget the loss.

Most importantly, when I see my husband try his best, equally for all his patients, and encounter great outcomes that are beyond the wildest imagination, as well as results that fail despite all modalities; I am always reminded of the famous quote by Hippocrates,

Cure sometimes, treat often, comfort always

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Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.


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