What Cancer Taught Me

The word Cancer is one of the most dreaded word in the English vocabulary. It’s a word that people refer to as the “disease” or “the same thing that Louis Armstrong has.” It’s such a word that many find it hard to even speak it let alone even think about it. People merely don’t like saying the word ‘cancer’ as it often evokes a feeling of finality, in other words, a death sentence.

When my father was diagnosed with cancer, it was very difficult to process it in my mind.

Through the five years, he lived through with cancer, we all learned a lot from the entire experience of having a loved one battle cancer.

Cancer

So here are the top five things I’ve learned from my father’s cancer, and am sharing them in the hope that those who are struggling can seek some help and reprieve.

ACCEPTANCE

This is the probably the most difficult aspect to deal with. Accepting that one has been diagnosed with cancer, or a loved one for that matter, is extremely hard to accept. It feels like a death sentence has been pronounced (for some, unfortunately, it is a death sentence).

Then there are those whose cancer is detected early and thus given treatment to slow down the spread of cancer. Either way, cancer is cancer and it’s human nature to be in shock and deny the reality- “no, it can’t happen to us!”

I had to accept that my dad has cancer. It took me a while though. I didn’t know how to deal with the news though. I wept at the traffic light on my way to work the day I was told. I didn’t know what to do or what to feel. What’s the correct way of dealing with such a news? Random thoughts did go through my head: when will he die? will he survive? will he lose his hair? will it be painful? what if he’s gone too soon?

There were no two ways about it. My dad had cancer. Simple as that. Of course, I wish he didn’t have it, but reality bites. I could either go into denial about it, or accept this fact, and in the process try to help my dad in coping with the disease.

Like anything that affects us, which is beyond our human control, such as death or a child’s physical deformity at birth, life becomes somewhat more bearable when we accept the reality. So in the same manner, it will help the person who has cancer, as well as their family members, to deal with cancer more proactively once the reality is accepted.

Staying in denial will only be detrimental to the healing process. Often times, the nature and severity of cancer will determine how quickly one will accept.

Bottom line: Accepting the reality that one, or a loved one, has cancer will enable one to deal better with the treatment in the long run.

EDUCATION

Once I accepted that my dad has cancer, within a few days, I sought to educate myself. It became imperative to know more about cancer. I had zero idea how cancer occurs, how it spreads and how one can slow down the spread of cancer cells.

We had a meeting with the oncologist and the CEO of Shaukat Khanum hospital where my dad was eventually treated. We asked 101 questions and we received 101 answers that only brought up 101 more questions. It is a confusing path- with all the medical jargon being uttered, it was not easy to process.

We picked up literature from the hospital to educate ourselves. We spoke to friends who have/ had cancer and understood from them what it meant to have cancer. Every treatment meant we had new things to learn. What is chemotherapy? How does it work? What types of radiation treatments are there? How do cancer cells multiply? How do medicines kill cancer cells? Can cancer cells spread from one organ to another? What are the side effects of the medicines?

We all realized very quickly that the internet is not always the best avenue to educate oneself. I remember one time when my father was prescribed a new medicine, we went online to check the side effects. Websites like WedMD would more often scare us to bits. Rather than get some knowledgeable information, we would be more stressed and worried. Time only taught us to not rely on the internet, and the best source of information would be the doctors themselves or medical literature.

On a side note, it also helps to not seek multiple opinions. Professional advice should come from your oncologist only, as others opinions and recommendations will only plant seeds of doubts, which is actually detrimental to the healing process.

One very important thing that we all realized was that along with my dad, the rest of the family members were also affected. They say dealing with cancer is a psychological challenge, and having been through it, I can testify that it is indeed a challenge to deal with a loved one who has cancer. I may not have cancer, but my dad did. Every trip to the hospital meant I would also witness him getting radiation or an MRI scan and then waiting for the results. Every trip meant witnessing my dad spend hours getting chemotherapy. So in one way or another, the entire family is affected, which meant that it became all the more imperative for everyone to educate each other as well.

By educating one another, we would actually understand the entire situation better. For example, when we realized that a certain medicine had a rather nasty reaction, we would completely understand when my father would react in a certain way. Since we would know why we would work around the situation to not let it affect us.

Bottom line: Educating oneself on what cancer is, and the various treatment options, will allow one to be more aware of what’s going on thus avoiding any confusion, doubts and grey areas.

SUPPORT

Support becomes the end all and be all of everything for the cancer patient. There are multiple kinds of support. The important thing I realized was that it’s all right to reach out to others, not just the person who has cancer, but the family that surrounds the cancer patient. I finally reached out to close friends of mine who would keep me strong, which allowed me to stay strong in front of my father thereby helping him.

One of the crucial factors in my dad’s reason to stay in his hometown to get treatment is the fact that the home environment would allow him to stay familiar with his surroundings. He had the privilege to move to New York or Houston to seek treatment but then he felt on foreign lands, away from his hometown, would cause him to miss his home and a familiar lifestyle. I cannot stress how much of a mental support it was for him after each chemo treatment to come back to his own home, sleeping in his own bed, having home cooked meals and being surrounded with family members.

Staying in Lahore to seek treatment allowed my father to stay close to my mom, myself and my sister. We kept him busy with our work stories and problems. We kept his mind occupied with whatever was going in our lives. We would make sure to join him at various political rallies and meetings. He allowed himself to keep himself further busy, thus giving him very little time to wonder why he has cancer.

While he received a lot of support from loved ones around him, he also received an incredible support from those living abroad. Life is so full of surprises indeed. When word spread around that my father has cancer, an unusually large number of people reached out to show support.

I would like to acknowledge the vast number of relatives who showed utmost support to my father. Two instrumental people, however, are my cousins Fouzel Dhebar and Omair Hussain, who went out of their way to give medical as well moral support to my father all the way from the States. They approached some of the best oncologists in the US and would have them read my father’s medical reports to ensure proper treatment is being given.

Bottom line: Seek support in all forms and manners, whether it’s from people close to you or people living abroad, just as long as you seek support.

POSITIVITY

There is nothing better than to have a positive mind. When my father was diagnosed with cancer, he had two choices. One was to revel in misery about being inflicted cancer and slip away into depression. The other choice was to be proactive and battle cancer head-on. He chose the latter. The doctors had told him they predict he will live for three years. My father defied the odds and lived for another two years more. The doctors would tell us that my father’s positivity was infectious and gave them a reason to not complain about anything.

My father was positive, he spent a lot of time doing things he enjoyed, namely work with the party workers and senior leaders to bring about a change in the country. This would give him a very strong reason to get up each day and do something for the country. He would be up and about, traveling for days at the end all over Punjab.

He also spent time traveling and our last family holiday trip was a weeklong trip to India. He had his bouts of extreme pain as he was strong medication, but he still made sure to visit the Taj Mahal and Jaipur Palace. His thirst to seek adventure and learn something new about different cultures never dried up.

To occupy his mind, he started reading a lot, mostly autobiographies of influential leaders and politicians. He would impart knowledge to us as a family, as well as to those who worked with him.

He also never forgot to be a human being too and would attend weddings and funerals. He made sure to help people from unfortunate backgrounds. He had made his life a life of service and that took him a long way.

He could have done all this due to his positive frame of mind. The bottom line is that whatever adversity one may be inflicted with, it becomes important to develop a positive mind to overcome any adversity. It’s easier said than done for sure, but it can be done. Patience, gratitude, humility are some of the characteristics that need to be nurtured to develop a solid positive state of mind.

Bottom line: Having a positive state of mind increases one’s chances of healing faster and deal with adversity in a much more powerful way.

FAITH

Finally, having faith instills positivity. All of us have something we believe in. Whether it’s God or the Universe, there is something we all like to keep our faith in. This is only a human’s basic need to help them feel safe and secure.

My father had a strong belief in God, and it was evident in his lifestyle. Others may have a faith in an elder. Some may have faith in the universe. It doesn’t really matter where your faith is, but just as long as you have faith. Studies and research have shown that those who have a religious/ spiritual belief, their bodies heal faster and quicker.

Having faith becomes a multi-faceted aspect of one’s life. It becomes connected to stay positive, dealing with adversity, staying strong and rely on a force higher than that of man.

Bottom line: Having faith allows one to stay positive and better deal with adversity.

The above points may be seen very basic and elementary to some of you. However, I’ve seen that it’s the simple things that make the biggest difference. If you are someone who has cancer, these few points will go a long towards your treatment process so you can come out of it. For those of you who know a loved one who has cancer, it becomes imperative for us to be there for them.

 

 

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