As usual I make my weekly call to my parents living in India and my mother picks up the phone. She sounds really cheerful at hearing my voice and starts chatting away. Though she is trying really hard to suppress a cough it does sneak out every now and then and slowly becomes too frequent. I ask her what the matter is and she brushes it aside saying it is because she has been in the kitchen frying something.
She is a stage four cancer survivor and the cancer has spread from her breast to her spine and lungs and hence the incessant cough. She is a strong willed person and never likes admitting that she has let cancer take over her life. She always says that she has cancer and that cancer does not have her. She is thankful to God for every sunrise and sunset she gets to enjoy and has brilliantly overcome the wraths of radiation and chemotherapy.
This note is not going to be entirely about her. I want to write about my father who has been a pillar of strength to her and has stood by her at all times. We often hear touching stories about survivors, but the people who support them and play an equally important role often get left out. I want to pay a tribute to all those who have stood by their loved ones through trying times and given them the courage to take life by the horns.
Once we found out that my mother had cancer, my father did everything in his capacity to get her the right treatment. I must mention that he has had a cardiac bypass surgery himself. Despite his own health limitations he escorted my mother to every health checkup and treatment she needed to undergo. He patiently waited endless hours outside her chamber while she was prepped and underwent chemotherapy and radiation and greeted her with his usual charming smile and whisked her off to dinner that he had lovingly prepared for the two of them.
He gave up his job that he was so passionate about to be with my mother and to attend to her every need. He acted as though life was normal not once making her feel the impact this disease had caused to her life. The cancer left her right hand incapacitated and he cheerfully assumed the role of her right hand. She would sit at the table for a meal and spill food all over the place while attempting to eat with her right hand, but that would go unnoticed and once she left the table it would be promptly cleaned up leaving no traces behind. In an attempt to chop vegetables, my mother would often bruise her hand and blood would ooze all over. He would chide her gently, tend to her hand and take over. He has been doing everything from clipping her nails to plaiting her hair. He even used to drape her sari for her till she mastered the art of doing it with one hand.
It has been 5 years now and they are enjoying life as usual. Each time I call home I make it a point to enquire about my father’s health and thank him for everything he has done. In my eyes, he is a cancer survivor too.
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