Sharp Pain. Dull Pain. Slicing Pain. Hopping Pain. Spiralling pain. I have had caesarean section deliveries in the past. But this is worse. And, no baby either.
But I have learnt, suddenly, to be grateful for being alive. It’s a soft, beautiful feeling that pats me on the cheeks and wakes me every morning. Nothing negative matters now.
India loses match. I am grateful for being alive.
Arnab yells from the wall-mounted TV in the ward. Still grateful for being alive.
Kamal R Khan has more money than me. Still…yes…still grateful for being alive.
The first three days are unbearable. My head pounds. After-effects of seven hours of anaesthesia. Maybe. I have tubes coming out my body. They are attached to containers that look like Chinese lanterns. Five sets of tubes and lanterns. I can’t move much.
I lie propped up. The bed is curved under my knees. It helps. But, still, I have not been in so much pain since the time I watched Barfi.
Miss the kids. Have not been away from them for so long ever. I talk to them on the phone. Hospital food. Home food. I have choices. But not the appetite.
Just one bite. Ok, don’t. Just try the soup. See this biscuit looks so nice.
They baby me. I hope they don’t start with –
Look baby, see aeroplane. See, see, crow.
My husband – let’s call him Alok – he responds to this name. Sometimes. So, Alok loves the hospital soup — their clear tomato soup.
‘It’s the best I’ve had since the tamatar dhaniya shorba at the Taj during our honeymoon.’
I think he needs a psych-eval now.
So, the tumours are out. Reconstruction has gone well. Dr Shetty and the Plastics Chief, both are happy with how it went. They got good margins around the tumours. They say I will be fine. I try to search their faces for any tell-tale signs. I can’t make out.
The doctors are fabulous. The rest of the staff, ummm, terrible. The nurses have to be reminded to give me medication. The ICU nurse comes within 12 hours of my discharge from the ICU to claim the ICU bedsheet.
Hospital rules, she says.
ICU sheets need to be in the ICU.
How do I remove that bedsheet when I can’t move?
Alok tries to work out a solution. Polite, steel-township-raised guy. Thankfully, there is my Allahabadi friend there with me. She tells them what she will do with them and the bedsheet if they ask one more time. It does not sound very practical. Or very polite. They retreat.
Now I am not a very cancer-researched, google-obsessed person. So, my knowledge is sketchy. But, what I have certainly learnt is that early-detection is crucial. If caught in time, there is complete cure. Dr Shetty tells me –
Breast cancer can happen to anyone –
You cannot blame it on a lifestyle, a diet or anything. There is no research to prove that [Note: so don’t believe all those dumb forwards about deodorants causing breast cancer. That is not true.]
Get annual mammograms done if you are above 40. Don’t just read this line and move to the next. Internalize it. Okay?
Why does it happen? We don’t know for sure. There a type of breast cancer that is familial. Then there is the other kind. No one knows why it happens.
Cancer remains a mystery even after path-breaking advances in medical science. Reports say cancer cases in India will increase to 19.3 million a year by 2025. There are 2-2.5 million cancer patients at any point of time in India.
Siddharth Mukherjee’s book in his book, ‘The Emperor of All Maladies’, which is a ‘biography’ of cancer, was awarded Pulitzer in 2010, says that we cannot blame plastic bottles or cell-phones or microwaves or stress is a nonsensically straightforward manner to cancer.
He says that we will, as a generation, need to learn to live with cancer, than keep fearing death from it.
As I recover, I have to deal with the first obstacle – removal of the catheter. I am just not able to pee in the diaper. I ask for a bedpan. The nurses are inept. They spill. I lie in my own urine. I weep with discomfort.
Next step – I have to walk around. It hurts. I carry those lanterns around as I do. My back is sore. Massages help. The Plastics chief inspects the harvest and reconstruction sites. He is happy.
Parents have finally been told. They are shattered. Which parent can bear to hear this news? My mother visits. She looks like she has aged. My father can’t bring himself to visiting me in hospital.
Friends want updates. A friend manages an efficient WhatsApp group for this. I smile brightly for the photos. I pose with ‘V’ signs.
The worst is over, they say.
Is it? I don’t know. It seems that the biggest thing I fear now is my own Judas-of-a-body. I am not sure when and how it will betray me next.
I get discharged on Day 8. I am so excited about meeting the kids. I have not let them come to visit me in the hospital. Don’t want them to see me with those tubes and pipes.
Neighbours and friends welcome me lovingly. Cake. Wine. Balloons. Streamers. Cards. Banners. That is so sweet!
In two weeks, I go out. Shopping. Office.
Some people who know about my surgery stare. Long, unblinking stares. Now, here is a tip – medical technology is quite advanced. You cannot tell the difference between the original breast and the reconstructed one. Staring won’t tell you. Groping won’t, either.
So, just stop it, will you?
Next : My Breast Cancer Diary : #4: The Chemo decision