When The Sky Fell Down

Rajat Majumdar – Kolkota, October 2007

Cancer is a difficult word to live with…

It was a cool afternoon in the spring of 2003 and the holy river Ganga was flowing calm; small rippling waves moving into the sea, 40 km away towards the south. The broadened riverbanks showed the eternal eagerness of the river after a long travel to meet the sea. I was sitting alone on the eastern bank, looking and thinking of the endless messages this holy river has carried through the ages. At this point my cell phone rang. It was my daughter from Chennai; to whom I had sent a routine blood report on the previous day. I casually said “Hello” and asked about the report. From the other side the reply came, “Bappu (dad), don't get upset or scared. Your blood examination has identified something, which no one on this earth likes to hear about…. you have got CML- that means you have got Chronic Leukemia.” The sky fell on my head and for a moment my breathing stopped. I saw the setting sun suddenly disappear on the horizon. A gloomy fear covered my body and mind. I sat totally vacant.

On the cell phone I could hear, “Hello, hello! Can you hear me Bappu, are you ok?”I came back to my senses. “Yes, I am ok,” I replied. “Don't worry, it is treatable, come down to Chennai to-morrow.” That evening was the second darkest evening of my life. The first one was when I lost my wife a couple of years ago. The western bank of the river turned deep grey with dejected melancholy. The golden color of the setting sun appeared to have gone forever from my life. What remained in front of me was the evening star, just glittering dimly. I sat quietly for some moments in the darkness as a few dry leaves fell from the tree carelessly on the ground. That glittering star conveyed to me some meaningful message. My spiritual study and practice of religion helped me to bring strength to my mind and body like the old man and the sea. I felt that the Devil was after me.

I took a deep breath and murmured to my mind, “You got the wrong fellow. You may not believe in life, but I don't believe in death.”

Next day my second daughter, who had come for a holiday to my place, escorted me to the airport and got a ticket to Chennai. She was mentally strong but was not aware what was going to happen next. She bid me farewell in the domestic terminal with tears in her eyes. Upon reaching Chennai, my elder daughter made my job easy. She told my close relatives about me. I noticed how carefully she told me about my sickness. I needed sympathy and care and love. I received all of those so I considered myself fortunate. From the airport I went straight to the hospital. A number of tests and bone-marrow biopsies were done. My son-in law stood by my side all the time. Next day all the reports were available. In the evening I was advised to see the doctor. I sat in front of the doctor, Dr. Ramesh, Director- Oncology Department. His first question was, “Why did you go for a blood test? Who advised it?”

“This was a routine test that I get done every year. In fact I was feeling slightly weak.” The doctor said, “Like many CML patients, you could not make out that you were seriously sick. But it was good that you had the test. My bone marrow showed Ph-chromosome positive. The WBC was 1, 80,000 counts. The doctor prescribed Hydrea-500 on 8th of August 2003. I took that for 4 days. The WBC counts came down like a miracle. He told me to continue for 4 more days and then start local Imatinib tablets 400mg and they had to be continued for a long time. The cost of medicines worried me but the WBC count came down to 4,500. I was surprised to see the result and the simple treatment. No radiation therapy, no hazard, no pain and no trauma. I felt relieved and relaxed. I did not know what was waiting for me because the Devil did not leave me then. The next two weeks passed without any serious events. All my blood counts were normal. I was mentally preparing to go back to my hometown so I asked the doctor about my return. The doctor told me, “Let us observe for another week and then you may proceed.”

I started the preparation for my return; my bags and belongings had to be organized. Being a person of active habit and involved in special hobbies, those few weeks made me restless. I was looked after very well by my daughter and son-in- law and my precious grandson gave me pleasant company. I could see the young green leaves appearing on the nearby eucalyptus tree and the streets of Gandhi Nnagar looked brighter. Once again the Besant Nagar beach rejoiced with dancing waves. Next week the blood report showed a downward trend. The WBC came down to 3,900 and the Platelet was below 1, 00,000. The doctor said, “Up to this is ok. It is the residual effect of Hydrea. Please wait for a week and visit after four days with the blood report.” I returned home with serious apprehensions. The next three days passed like endless moments. On the fourth day I collected my blood report. I was anxious to put my eyes on it. Oh God! The counts had declined further. The WBC and Platelet were 3500 and 60,000 respectively. I could see the hardened cheek of the doctor and the raised eyebrow. Imatinib was stopped for four days and I was advised to go for a check up on the fifth day. I did not know when I came out of the doctor's chamber. The heat outside was brutal and I was sweating heavily. I shook my head to knock loose the sweat collecting at the tip of my nose. Bad health or good health, the impact is felt across individual, family, community, work organization and at the national level. The Devil was after me. That evening I prayed for a longer time to get more inner strength.

One day passed and then another. I ate, drank, and bathed. I looked around aimlessly. I exchanged greetings with the gatekeeper of the building without any purpose. My brain and body directed themselves without emotions. I tried to think of my late wife but to no avail. I could not sleep on the fourth night. I gave my blood sample in the morning and in the afternoon visited the doctor. The report was with the doctor. It appeared that the Devil had ultimately won.

And just when I had given up hope, I got back my wonderful world.

Dr. Ramesh looked at me in full confidence and advised me to start the Imatinib tablets 300 mg. The report showed improvement. This was the turning point. Gradually things improved and I was put on 400 mg. I returned to my hometown after two weeks and began to live like a normal person. My doctor assured me and told me to consider this as BP or blood sugar. “Don't worry, we are here to take care,” he said. What else could one expect from a doctor? After one and a half years my disease went into complete remission without side effects. But the cost of the drug made me helpless. It was simply not possible to live at the mercy of others. This time I came to know about GIPAP and Max Foundation. My doctor advised me to meet Dr. Jose who arranged for the drug Glivec-free of cost from Novartis. I started living with honor, dignity and peace of mind.

Today the Victoria Memorial looks golden under the evening sky. In front of me is the lush green maidan in all its beauty, the children full of life playing in the park opposite the Academy of Fine Arts and on the wooden benches few young couples talk cheerfully. I am on my way back home after enjoying a people's drama. I am a happy and healthy person. This has been possible because I received emotional support, compassion-generosity and a humane approach from my family. I needed care and love. I received all those in a glorious way. I have so many friends of Max and Amma. I have a doctor who is more than a friend. I have a profound respect for them and I love them all. The Devil, yes the Devil is defeated.