Suddenly Cancer is everywhere. The disease, not the Sun sign. Please forgive this hopeless attempt at humour in a post that I wish could camouflage what I want to say. But it can't because its very second word is the dreaded C word - the disease that brings images of gaunt, sickly bodies and hairless heads to our minds.
So, yes, suddenly Cancer is everywhere. I've met more people who have been impacted either directly or indirectly by the C word in the past few months than I had ever before.
Today Pune Mirror carried a story that said Bollywood actor Emran Hashmi's 4 year old has a malignant tumour in his kidney that is being treated in Canada. Four years old!
The other day I was at an event organised by a cancer centre and at the dessert counter I bumped into a lady whose son is best buddies with mine. We would often meet each other when our boys were younger, and when we lived in the same housing complex. Two years earlier we'd moved and then I meet her, out of the blue, in the most unexpected of places. After exchanging pleasantries I asked her what she was doing at the event. She smiled and replied, "I am Dr K's patient." Dr K runs the centre and is a renowned Onco-surgeon from Pune.
I was shocked, still am. All I could tell her was "I never knew!" She went on to tell me that she is fine now, had had 8 chemo sessions before she'd beaten the dreaded C, and was at the event to express solidarity with other 'survivors.'
Then she asked me, "What are you doing here?"
I said, "I am here to express solidarity too. My daughter's classmate, 14 years old had a tumour in her abdomen which was recently removed. I am here with her parents."
And that really is the story of my post on this day - 4th February - which I later got to know is World Cancer Day.
My daughter's classmate and bestie D, a perfectly healthy, happy and regular teen suddenly developed a fever on New Year's eve. Two weeks later she had a horrible stomach ache which turned out to be a malignant tumour that weighed 4.8 kilos.
From May last year when she had taken a scan of her abdomen for a menstruation issue to January this year, this tumour had appeared and grown faster and bigger than a baby grows in the womb in nine months.
After I visited her at the hospital when she was first admitted and discovered the gravity of the 'growth' in her tummy, I came home shell-shocked. Couldn't sleep the night knowing that this little girl, this child, was to be operated upon to remove the cancerous tumour and that the dreaded chemo would follow.
My faith in God was shaken.
There was no reason, not one single reason that could convince me why a happy, normal girl, who had a normal and happy childhood had to be put through such trauma.
I questioned His sense of right and wrong... His lack of conscience... Justice... Humanity... Lamented the loss of Innocence... The utterly unnecessary baggage of the C word... The trauma...
Today I visited her at the hospital where she is back for the chemotherapy. Watching her brave the pain of the continuous drips was heart rendering. Worse still was knowing that this is the beginning of the inevitable loss of hair, that to a teen means much more than it does to us.
But today I saw it. More clearly than I have for the past three weeks as I have interacted closely with her parents; giving support, logistical help in whatever tiny way I can and more than all else, trying to understand how a dad and mom keep themselves sane in the face of such catastrophe.
Today I saw what keeps them going.
Its H O P E.
In these three weeks I have learned more lessons in courage and faith than I have in my entire life.
The laughter that resonates through the room as someone invariably cracks a joke, is real, not contrived.
The happiness on the face of D as another bottle of the ghastly medicine reaches its last drop, is the happiness of success. And of victory.
The smiles we share as we watch D imitate her classmates and the doctor are straight from the heart, knowing that she has the fortitude to see this through; because she can smile despite the pain.
The ease with which they discuss the entire medical process, in plainspeak, without resorting to hyperbole, is indicative of the strength they've gained from acceptance and reconciliation.
Her hands are bruised, but her spirit isn't. Her hair may go, but I know her confidence won't. Her fight will end, and she will go back to being the regular teen, but somewhere, something would have changed forever, and something tells me that it will have been for the best.