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Year : 2020  |  Volume : 3  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 758-759

My travels from travails to hope

Department of Electrical Engineering, Indian Institute of Engineering Science and Technology, Howrah, West Bengal, India

Date of Submission21-Jul-2020
Date of Decision03-Aug-2020
Date of Acceptance08-Aug-2020
Date of Web Publication25-Dec-2020

Correspondence Address:
Sabyasachi SenGupta
Indian Institute of Engineering Science and Technology, Shibpur, Howrah, West Bengal,711 103
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/CRST.CRST_252_20

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How to cite this article:
SenGupta S. My travels from travails to hope. Cancer Res Stat Treat 2020;3:758-9

How to cite this URL:
SenGupta S. My travels from travails to hope. Cancer Res Stat Treat [serial online] 2020 [cited 2021 Apr 18];3:758-9. Available from: https://www.crstonline.com/text.asp?2020/3/4/758/304956

For the most part of my life, I have lived in the sylvan surroundings of Kharagpur, West Bengal, away from the bustle and blinding pollution of the big cities. Throughout my student life, I was an avid participant in outdoor sports, which endowed me with good physical strength. I was unaware of my ailment, until one day it became too noticeable to ignore. I intend to present the timeline of my present ailment as I see it.

Toward the end of 2010, I got infected with herpes zoster. Following this, in 2012, I suffered an excruciating attack on my spine. Several months went by before I was diagnosed with Pott's disease based on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and a computed tomography scan. No biopsy or any other test was advised at the time. The doctors at a very renowned government hospital who were treating me said that the reasons for both my afflictions were not very well established. It surprised me that despite my healthy diet and overall wellbeing I had developed tuberculous spondylitis.

For the next four years, I enjoyed living a normal life. Toward the middle of 2015, I started experiencing acidity with concomitant chest pain that progressively increased in intensity. As my electrocardiogram disproved any heart condition, I was not sure what the cause of my frequent pain was. After months of suffering, a doctor prescribed me a heavy dose of an anesthetic antacid gel for my acid-reflux-like symptoms. It worked! In about an hour, I could feel reasonable relief.

Later, in November 2015, I experienced a sudden and intense muscle cramp radiating along the back of my right thigh. I consulted several physicians, both in Kharagpur and Kolkata. Most of them prescribed neuromedicine or physiotherapy for my pain. However, there was one senior physician who suspected something serious, but refused to elaborate, referring me to Kolkata.

Toward the end of April 2016, when trying to teach a neighbor's kid how to play tennis, I had to stretch to collect a return ball. As I did so, to my disbelief, my right femur cracked, flooring me. I was rushed to a reputed private hospital in Kolkata. After a whole galaxy of tests, a plate was nailed/screwed in to repair the fracture. Despite being suggested that such a fracture of the femur was unprecedented, my treating doctors did not prescribe a prostate specific antigen (PSA) test or a biopsy of the bone.

Back at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Hospital, when traces of blood in my urine were noticed, an ultrasonography (USG) was prescribed. The “impression” on the report that read “Prostatomegaly with coarse heterogeneous echotexture” sent a shiver down my spine from the two words “coarse” and “heterogeneous,” even though I understood only a little of it. Nevertheless, the two words remotely suggested a malignancy to me. However, when the hospital did not give much importance to the report, I was relieved. Now in hindsight, I suppose I was right, and the USG along with blood in my urine was a strong indication of my present affliction.

The fractured femur was not healing as was normally expected. The acid-reflux-induced chest pain was also becoming increasingly severe. Moreover, a steady pain was building up from near my left ear to the center of my head. Then, one day, I developed double vision. An ophthalmologist referred me to a neurologist as he could not understand the cause of my diplopia.

Thereafter, in the 1st week of September 2016, while at the Department, I suddenly felt all my pains building up. I rushed back home and immediately left for the hospital, writhing in pain. I felt like I was on fire from head to toe. A copious dose of the antacid gel again reduced my chest pain. The hospital, now realizing the gravity of my situation, referred me to other specialized hospitals. I flew into Mumbai where my brother immediately made appointments for consultation with specialists.

I was prescribed an MRI and PSA testing along with several other examinations. My test results were suggestive of prostate cancer. I then underwent a biopsy. I had already resigned myself to the possibility of something serious. I recalled how my father, who was also an avid sportsman and a hyperactive engineer, with a PSA level in excess of 30,000 tolerated the pain, while his diagnosis remained inconclusive despite a USG and multiple fine-needle aspiration cytologies. He could only be treated symptomatically.

My students at IIT Bombay connected me to the Tata Memorial Center (TMC, Mumbai, India). The following day, I visited the hospital and was admitted immediately.

Initially, I could barely finish my meals. I pleasantly recall the attending nurse telling me that she would not let me go until I finished my food. With degarelix, followed by radiotherapy, many of my symptoms gradually began to improve. My acid-reflux pain had disappeared, and soon even my diplopia was corrected. My appetite improved significantly, and I could finally convince my nurse to release me. I was happier, in spite of my ailment. Most importantly, it boosted my spirits when the doctor told me that my quality of life could be restored. Meanwhile, I underwent an orchiectomy. Later, a positron emission tomography scan and X-ray revealed that my cancer had metastasized extensively.

Once when I was traveling to the hospital for my chemotherapy, I noticed the footpath alongside the hospital. It was crammed with patients and their relatives braving the elements of nature under some makeshift shelter. I felt privileged despite being struck by an identical calamity as them. The hospital was like a temple to all of us, and the presence of several non-governmental and voluntary organizations was heartening.

The chemotherapy weakened me to an extent that I could barely walk 10 meters at a stretch. I developed a disturbing continuous cough, for which I sought online medical advice from TMC. My cough subsided, and in about two months, I was able to walk a hundred meters at a stretch.

I started to enjoy the promised quality of life as my weakness remarkably reduced and I could travel both within the country and internationally. I regained my stamina to drive for reasonably long distances. It was like 2014 again for me.

And then, COVID-19 suddenly changed it all. A sciatica-like pain emanating from my lower spine left me immobile for quite a few days. With medication, I could restore my mobility, but soon after, I had an episode of Bell's palsy. I was prescribed a steroid for it, which required dexamethasone to be stopped temporarily. Once again, the comprehensive advice from my doctors at TMC, restored my hope and mental strength. Presently I am receiving oral chemotherapy as advised, and things are beginning to look up again. Given my condition, I understand that coping with the pandemic is going to be difficult, but I am preparing myself for this challenge with regular advice from my doctors at TMC. Meanwhile, I enjoy evening walks on the terrace and keep myself busy with studying the prognosis of COVID-19.

Recently, I was invited by the Indian Institute of Engineering Science and Technology, Shibpur to assist in their teaching and research as an Honorary Professor. They reimburse my travel expenses as I avoid entering into any remunerative commitments. My twin brother, Dr. Siddhartha Sengupta, lives in Powai, Mumbai. Given our family history, he regularly gets his PSA checked, and to our relief, it is below 1.00. We would be happy to participate in any research conducted at TMC toward the betterment of all those suffering from cancer.

About the author: Prof. Sabyasachi Sengupta is 69 years old. He was working with the Electrical Engineering Department of IIT Kharagpur since 1976 until he retired as a Professor in 2016. He was also the Vice Chancellor of the Technical University of West Bengal (2008-12). He also served as the Chairman of the Eastern Reg Com of AICTE for five years. Presently he is an Honorary Professor at Indian Institute of Engineering Science And Technology, Shibpur.

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There are no conflicts of interest.


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