20 November 2019 02:09 AM

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RASHMI OBEROI | 22 SEPTEMBER, 2019

Come September

It is not always easy to see the gift in adversity


Come September… And along came news that rocked our world. Autumn’s ashes… Summer’s embers… The fiery heat cascading a molten path that would change our course.

A routine visit to a dentist for an irritant my Dad was dealing with, led to a biopsy being taken. A week later, my mother walked up to my room and thrust the results in my hand. I am a fast reader so I quickly glanced through the report… As the words ‘Carcinoma’ swam before my eyes, I felt a high-speed train rushing towards me. Did I hold my breath for too long or did I stop breathing for a while… I don’t remember.

In seconds, I was back in control again…forwarding the report to my husband who is a doctor and other doctor friends. Reassuring my mother and children, it was time to galvanise the next course of action. Since his diagnosis, we have waded into the world of cancer advocacy, spinning his circumstances into new purpose. The word cancer often ricochets around my head…bouncing off the walls of my brain, pinging my senses, flashing messages and what not.

I have never had someone so close to me diagnosed with cancer. What made it worse was that of anyone in my family, my dad was the least I expected to be touched by this horrible sickness. We’ve always had a special bond, so this news hit me especially hard. Perhaps what hurt most, though, was the irony of the fact that my father being a war wounded soldier – a battle casualty of the ’65 war was undeserving of any kind of illness.

Work and daily chores the next few days day were a fight. Nothing seemed to matter except the fact that my dad had cancer. I was so distraught that I couldn’t even say the word cancer. But I had to mask my emotions. It took me a week to be able to tell even my closest friends what was happening, and even then I couldn’t do it without a huge lump in my throat. I didn’t tell many. I couldn’t. As much as I knew it wasn’t true, I couldn’t help but think that not saying it kept it from being real.

My dad finally had surgery, with my mother, husband, and daughter around. My son and I were miles away…across the ocean…in Singapore, settling my son into his new life of pursuing an MBA. Life moves in an exhaustive and all-encompassing way at times. I made it back in time just as he was shifted out of the ICU into a hospital room with my sister and brother-in-law following.

We did our best to distract my dad while we talked or walked, ever so slowly. We didn’t want him to think about the pain, so we babbled ever so often and kept up a steady stream of chatter. Before he left the hospital, he knew he would fight this till he had the better of it. I feel half the battle is won when you have a positive attitude and realise there is no great calamity that cannot be overcome and no battle that cannot be overpowered.

I know that many others who hear the word cancer aren’t that lucky. Thankfully, his case was caught early. Life, as they say, is also messy, and this time period was no exception. I learned how to rely on family and friends, and to truly appreciate every moment that we have together. Our family bonded together, supported each other, and made the most of the experience. It showed us that in times of darkness, you can find light, and that light is what you hold on to. That light is what makes the darkness bearable. I would never have survived this experience without my family, and having them constantly on hand made it doable. We knew that the only thing we could do was to laugh, and so we did, as long and as often as we could. Cancer is not fun. It is not fair. But it is not going to break us. At the end of the day, life — even a cancer-stricken one — was better because we were in it together.

"I have cancer." Just like that in three words, lives change forever. My core reason for writing this story with you is to highlight the gift of this experience. It is not always easy to see the gift in adversity, but my dad gave me the best gift he ever gave me in those few days. The will to be strong…positive and in high spirits. He accepted it in such a way that held no sense of blame or worry. He exemplified that he had a choice in that moment. He had the strength to accept what life presented him and decided to choose courage. He demonstrated incredible restraint and power in these trying circumstances. He took it all in with confidence and hope.

It is imperative to look at all that life throws our way with a new awareness about our choices in life. You have a choice to accept what happens and move forward anyway. Realize that you have a CHOICE. You have a choice in how you react to life's challenges.

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