Updated: May 5
We boasted of being the 'perfect family' befitting the bill laid by our own society.
I am a software architect, she a leading doctor and we were blessed with two beautiful children - a boy and a girl. There was nothing that we yearned but could not achieve. We were contend, living life in the fast lane till that obnoxious day in last spring when our world came crashing down, crumbling to the last bit. We both went into oblivion... All our dreams shattered. I finally gained strength and asked the doctor, "It's curable, right? We can start with the treatment right away that will stop the spread". With no change in his expressions doctor said, "Its third stage but yes Miracles happen everywhere. You be strong".
In last one and a half decades of being married, it was the first time I realized what a strong woman my better half was. Her quite strength gave me goosebumps. No drama, no crying, no emotional melt down. Very graciously she stood up, shook hands with her doctor and said, "I will go for the surgery immediately. I need couple of days to break this news to my family and specially my kids. We can start preparing for the commando surgery right away."
It all started with a small boil in her mouth after a root canal treatment. All supplementation, antibiotic courses, betadine gargles and glycerin ointments were used against it but it refused to go. It was then that she mentioned 'the boil' to us and we both rushed to the oncologist. I knew it wasn't something trivial coz till that day I had never bothered to know about any of her health related issues. After all, she was the doctor. By the time we reached the right diagnosis, three weeks had passed. That boil had by then had become a hideous, much dreaded, often fatal monster - oral cancer.
My biggest regret today is not paying heed to her health. I actually took her for granted. I know she won't like me sharing this part of our lives with the world but why I am doing this is to shake lot of other spouses like me from slumber before it is too late.
As recommended, we got on with our surgery plans which were to be followed by the face reconstruction plastic surgery but God was all out to test our grit. After the first commando surgery of the lower jaw and some part of throat, the monster came back to haunt our lives within a week. Thankfully, it had not metastasized. She was physically drained and extremely weak but she braved another commando surgery to nip the monster in the bud. This time round face reconstruction surgery was completely ruled out. Her lower jaw was gone forever. Part of throat was partially removed so Ryle’s tube feeding was put in place to help her eat. Not to miss, she won't be able to speak till complete recovery happens and thereafter, voice physiotherapy will go on for a very long time. The war had just begun.
Vanity was never a high point in my wife's life; she has always radiated inner beauty of her thoughts and feelings. Yet, to see her in this shape was overwhelming and very hard on us. I broke down that night and my biggest fear was that I didn't want anyone in the house to know what a weakling, I actually was.
On family front, my mother stepped in to chaperone our children and look after the household. Honestly, mom became my knight in shining armor. I wonder now how and where from these women get so much of strength to fight all kind of odds. Our high school going daughter matured overnight, I was amazed to see the role reversal unfolding in front of me. She stepped into her mom's shoes without much ado and became the caregiver, the emotional anchor and her mother's voice.
On office front, things started to get tougher. Fall and hundreds of your own people will leave no stone unturned in snubbing you down further. A falling man makes the best stepping stone, I learnt. I was pointed out for my leaves. Work from home option was handed out as a huge obligation. Moving out from office in between for few hours to accompany her for chemotherapy sessions were quoted and requoted. Yet, I needed this job badly. Now I was the sole breadwinner. I did not have liberty to put in my papers. The monster that we are fighting as a family eats into finances ferociously. My corporate health insurance was the only armor I could don for fighting this tough battle. I need it real bad.
While I can go on about my plight, I don't want to divert attention from the real 'hero' of my story, my wife. Amongst the entire physical catastrophe, even today she is one helluva mother. In between chemo sessions, she finds strength to make some pasta for the kids. She is in complete sync with their school curriculum and supervises their study hours. She is trying very hard to keep things as normal as possible. There are times; I want to reach out to her inner thoughts. I want to know exactly how she feels and how she would like things to be but she has dexterously locked that part of herself within. Mistake is mine; I never ever tried to reach out to her heart's innermost corner prior to this phase. Now I don't have the map or the key. Men, please don't put yourself in my situation. Talk to your lady love and revel in the softness of her voice till you can. Life is a bitch! You never know what awaits you at the next junction.
To cut the long story short, our battle with cancer is ongoing. Every moment in past one year, I have been living in fear of losing the love of my life yet I am grateful to God for giving us the strength to move forward from one day to another. Past one year had taught me to value life like never before. The three women in my life have made me a better human being. I don't take anything for granted now. I borrow optimism, grit, dedication and resilience from my female counterparts every passing day and what surprises me is that they still have the inexhaustible treasure of all these personified adjectives.
Pray for us because I now believe that honest prayers are always answered.