Cancer: just wants to be…

Categories: Care, Opinion, and People & Places.


‘‘I did not ask for this! I certainly do not deserve this! The last thing I want is to take support from someone else and lose my independence’’ she blurted out as she also sobbed softly.

The nursing staff continued to prepare her chemo port needle for insertion by cleaning and painting the surrounding skin with betadine first and with spirit next.

Could that solution also clean the ugly stinging wound in her heart and soul caused due to the recent diagnosis of a solitary brain metastasis, post a year long fight against breast cancer?

As the tears trickled down her chubby cheeks, I couldn’t tell if she was angry, sad, confused, fearful, frustrated or just broken.

She had always been strong and independent as she always came for the chemotherapy sessions alone and kept travelling with her friends.

I wondered, if a 2 cm collection of cells in the left cerebellar lobe of brain could change one’s life so drastically and turn everything so upside down? Or could it actually?

‘’I cannot arrange for anyone to stay with me tonight…’’ she retorted when we enquired on who would take care of her at home in view of her wobbly gait. The tone of her response indicated her inability to hide the agitation of coming to terms with the gradual loss of independence, which was probably the one thing that she really never wanted to lose.

But then the cancer unfortunately does not ask you what it can take away from you, and what it cannot.

Cancer cells just proliferate and multiply and metastasize. These cells also want to be like the rest of the cells of the body. They must propagate their kind; tirelessly and endlessly. That’s all they know and that is all they do. Once they found a suitable and cosy place to multiply, the dark warm cavern of the brain gray matter, they stuck to it began duplicating their genetic material and threw off progeny after progeny. One of those progenies with a slightly mutated genetic material will become stronger, more robust or enterprising even, as they will run away and find newer places in the body to colonise, to multiply, and to just be. It is just that plain and simple; but the impact they leave on the human body, mind and soul cannot be measured by any simple means or ways.

She had had a difficult childhood. Her father had abandoned her after her mother’s death and her stepmother did not care to get in touch with her. She was divorced and her only son was at a boarding school in another country. She returned to India after living in Singapore for 20 years, with a broken marriage and a job lost.

Despite all these challenges, the one thing that she was maybe proud of, was her independence. She liked being on her own and looking after herself. That kept her going in the face of adversity!

I then again wondered, Is life all random and screwed up? Why is there so much pain? Why do some people have to go through such testing times?

I am a palliative care physician. I want to alleviate pain and suffering. Yet, I am also a very sensitive human being whose heart aches and cries in when I feel helpless or when the suffering seems overwhelming.

I believe that no one has it easy in this life. We all must go through our share of sufferings in some way or other. You come into this world crying and unable to communicate to anybody, and from the comfort of the womb to the harsh reality of the world where one has to struggle constantly to survive. Each moment while being born is a survival challenge!

However over time, we learn to live with what we have. We adapt, adjust, acclimatise and accommodate ourselves to get used to things and move on. I feel that this is what human existence is all about. Either in the happiest of moments or during the lowest of them, we find our way and move on. To exist and to be.

Isn’t that what cancer cells also do?

About the Author:

Dr Ruparna is a Consultant, Palliative Medicine, at HOPE Oncology Clinic, Hauz Khas, New Delhi.




Note: This article is a republication from the August edition of the Indian Association of Palliative Care‘s free monthly e-newsletter.


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