My very first encounter with the word 'cancer' was circa 1957. My grandmother was diagnosed with 'cancer'. I was five. All I remember is mama's silent tears as she read a letter that was delivered to her through the weekly diplomatic bag. We were in Rabat where my father was posted. In those times there were no dial up phones or internet. News from India came once a week in the 'bag'. Sometimes later I was told my Nani had 'cancer'. I did not know what 'cancer' was. I only knew it made my mama sad and sometimes made her cry. cancer was a bad word. That is what the little five year thought and went with her life. On July 13th 1958 a telegram arrived. Telegrams were often bearers of bad news. My Nani had died. 'Died' was also a bad word as it made mama cry and papa sad. She had died of cancer. Now the little girl was sure that 'cancer' was a very bad word! I did not know then that it would become my greatest enemy with many battles lost!
Life went on. Between postings across the globe, we always spent time in India in Meerut where my grandfather lived. For the little girl it was her Nana and Nani's house but this time there was no Nani. She had died of cancer. I had memories of her, memories that still linger in my mind today and bring a smile on my face; memories of baths taken together, of mangoes eaten under the mango tree, of delicious food my Nani use to cook sitting on a charpoy
under the same mango tree. As I grew up, my mama told me many stories about my Nani and I realised what a special woman she was.
The word cancer would reappear in my life as I grew up from child do adolescent. Mama had a lump, mama needed surgery and a biopsy. But then all would be well when the results came in. Cancer was always a fear that kept cropping in and out of our lives. But mercifully till 1989 it remained just that: a fear quickly allayed.
But things were to change forever. On a sunny afternoon in the summer of 1989 a phone call from my father changed my life forever. We were in Prague on a posting. My parents were in Paris and had promised to visit us. We were all excited at spending some time together in the city where I was born. The call was from papa. Mama had had an opacity in one of her lungs and had had what looked like a stroke as she seemed to have lost her recent memory. I rushed to Paris and was shocked to see a woman who in no way looked like my mama. She was lost in her own world and frightened like a child. In hindsight that was the day I lost my mother. The last year of her life she had been hijacked by the opacity as we were not allowed to use the word 'cancer'. I do not know whether it was instinct or vanity but mama never visited a doctor, never wanted any treatment, never agreed to pain management. She bore it all with rare dignity and great courage. She died in my arms living life to its very end.
It was hard on papa and I but we respected her decisions even though her hearts broke each time we saw her smile through the deep lines of a pain she tried to hide. I wish I had known about alternative therapies, about nutrition, about the many ways the beast could be fought. But we were greenhorns papa and I, and only knew about medical treatment that shred every ounce of dignity you had. We had ignored the beast as that was what mama wanted and he took her away.
As papa and I sat licking our wounds and missing her smile, the beast decided to strike again, this time it was papa. Had he somatized the ailment that snatched the love of his life. I do not know. What I know is that one fine morning papa complained of a bleed. It was the beast again, the one who had kept me in fear for half a century. This time we went for the medical 'protocols' that translated into a mutilating surgery that robbed my father of his dignity and will to live. It took just 29 days.
I was told that I was high risk, and that I needed to be checked every year. This was unacceptable to me. I would not live my life in fear of the beast but instead of trying to avoid it by nor naming it and letting it run wild, I would learn every thing about it. I read books and more books, survivor stories, alternative therapies, different options. I learnt about nutrition that could prevent it from attaching and put myself on a diet. I began to exercise, meditate, do yoga, gi quong. I had to take the bull by its horns and rid myself of the fear I had nursed far too long. I was ready for it should it attack.
But it had other plans. Surreptitious and insidious ones. It again attacked a loved one in the most unexpected manner. But what it does not know is that I am prepared. First of all I am going to give it a name of my own and address it directly. Zozo is what comes to my mind and Zozo it will be! So Zozo, you want a fight, you will get one and remember David conquered Goliath.
I do not know why you have been given an exalted status. People die of a myriad of illnesses but no one says a malaria survivor, a leprosy survivor or a dengue survivor. Death comes at a given time, and you are just the chosen bearer. Maybe you serve the interest of pharmaceutical businesses and commercialised health care. And too many fall into your trap. I to did once, but not anymore.
I am ready for you in every which way possible. I will make informed decisions, I will use an arsenal you cannot even begin to imagine. I will chose each and every weapon I have mastered over the years. I will starve you giving you all the things you hate. I will hit you with targeted bullets of all shapes and sizes. I will not leave you a moment of peace. This is a battle where if needed David will die before allowing Goliath to win.
Let the battle begin!