Beyond Fear: The Lady Who Defeated Brain Cancer
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande About a year ago, a young man came with the MRI reports of his 64 year old mother, Mrs. Vijayalakshmi, who was then in Bijapur. She had developed paralysis on the right side of her body, could not speak, and was losing her consciousness fast. The MRI looked bad, a big tumour was compressing much of the left side of her brain. It looked cancerous, and needed immediate surgery as a life saving option. Otherwise the tumor could damage the heart / blood pressure and respiratory control centres in the lower part of her brain, that risked life. The situation could turn into an emergency anytime now. The family was devastated. They brought her to Pune. She was sinking fast. Required investigations were done, and we explained the facts to the family. The surgery could risk life or also cause permanent disability, including permanent loss of speech. Her husband, Mr. Venkat Babladi was always by her side, with his hands folded, and had only one thing always to say every time any doctor visited her: “Please save her doctor, do everything possible”. She was operated. Her husband, son Mr. Anand Babladi, and his wife all stayed in the hospital, taking turns to attend her. The tumor was sent for analysis. On the third day, the report brought the bad news: it was a type of cancer called primary central nervous system lymphoma. These tumors have a high death risk, with or without treatment, especially after the age of 60. “Tell us doctor, where can we do the best treatment for her? We want to do everything” her husband and family kept on telling us. She was still in critical care, but had started now to speak a few words. Our oncologist Dr. Minish Jain and his assistant Dr. Yuvraj Rangam took over, and started high dose chemotherapy. She developed many complications, some related to the medicines, but her family always stood firm. Every day, her husband sat by her, holding her hand, and telling her that she was going to recover, that he will ensure all was well. Her son and daughter in law arranged for all expenses and logistics, not by staying away and sending money, but by attending her every day after their respective jobs. After few days she was discharged with advice to continue chemotherapy. Unfortunately, Mrs. Vijayalakshmi had a fall while walking at home, and fractured her hip, she had to be operated. Her chemotherapy had to be stopped. It was resumed after she recovered from the fracture. Then in few weeks, radiation therapy was started. As a rare complication, she developed life threatening brain swelling, and had to be shifted to critical care unit. She lost her speech again. Her husband, who was now on the verge of an emotional collapse, met us outside her room and with tearful eyes, asked only one question daily: “She will be ok na, doctor?” Medical treatment is mostly standard all over the world, but the affection and care of one’s family is not. Hundreds of doctors treat thousands of such patients, many patients get cured of cancers and other dreadful diseases, a simple statistic that is never made public by those who perpetually talk against medical professionals. Equally unrecognised is the fact that a caring family makes a huge difference in the patient’s recovery, this has become very rare now. After a year, we repeated her scans recently, and told her the ultimate medical good news: she had defeated brain cancer! Her scans did not show any tumor activity at all. She comes smiling to the OPD now, her husband holds her hand on one side, and son on another. The most beautiful gift she gave me this time is that she learned two new Hindi words specially for me, because everytime I saw her I asked her how she was, and could not understand her answer. This time, her husband poked her, then she smiled and said “Achcha hai”. Those two words were the winning roar of a simple, middleclass woman against a dreadful killer disease! © Dr. Rajas Deshpande PS: Thank you, Babladi family for the kind permission to share facts. Please share unedited.
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande
Bruises everywhere, black, blue, purple, red and swollen. Especially groins, buttocks, thighs, breasts, back, neck and face. One cut on the forehead. Dried blood on lips.
She was sobbing, speaking in a muffled voice: “Can you imagine they beat up a woman like this?”
Single postgraduate woman, staying alone in a metropolis, in a building near the police station. Operated for a brain tumor, on medicines, occasionally gets spells of abnormal behavior and symptoms like staring, imbalance, speech arrest, slurring or passing out. Disowned by family because she had fallen in love outside their caste. The guy later abandoned her, married in his own tribe.
She is jumping jobs, never accepted for long at one place when they realize she gets such spells. Being young, tall, beautiful and fluent in English, she usually gets too much attention from men. She quit some jobs because her bosses made advances.
She often faced lewd comments and received “offers” from men in and around her society, whenever they found her alone on the stairs , elevator etc. Her angry responses and retorts offended many. Her “seizures” or blank spells were thought to be ‘witchcraft’. Her window panes were broken down, the landlord refused to help, asking her to leave. She could see faces in her windows at all times, especially at night.
Once when a local lady politician’s husband tried to hold her hand, she slapped him, unable to control anger. Within a few minutes, the politician, along with some other women and men, mobbed her flat. She ran out.
There in the open area outside society building, they all beat her up : grown up men and women together, alleging her of witchcraft, of theft, of ‘stealing their men’, of ‘luring men and children’ etc. This continued for about twenty minutes.
She limped to the police station. She was arrested as someone had just registered a complaint against her. The mob reached the police station with the politico, who alleged her of theft, violence and use of foul language. She was taken to the government hospital, After dressing her wounds and splinting her hand, she was locked up. Released next morning with a warning.
She had come to the our hospital next morning, asking for a new prescription as she was scared to go to her own apartment.
After the nurse offered her water and a tissues, I examined her. The wound mark of the brain tumor surgery was not affected, but there were bruises around it.
“Did you have vomiting? Did you become unconscious?” I asked.
“No, but my body is aching everywhere. I don’t have any money left, you had told me not to miss any doses of antiepileptics. So I am here”.
I offered her free admission in the hospital (My boss usually helps). She refused. She also refused to do any tests or to let me call her brother living in a nearby town.
“If he didn’t understand my love, he won’t understand my pain” she said, “ I will leave this city in a short while, that politico lady has threatened me with more thrashing if I am seen around again”.
As we arranged for the medicines for her, she sat there, hands around her legs, intense anger in eyes, chin resting upon the knees, her sobs shaking our faith in humanity.
On the day prior to her major brain surgery, she had said “Doc I am not afraid of death at all, it is people who scare me.” I understood it now.
We all are grown up with almost similar training: that civilized men never hit women. Our parents, teachers all always taught us the same thing. Where does it all vanish? How is it possible to kick the delicate parts of a woman, knowing that it will inflict agonies worse than death? The men and women who beat her up were almost all from a middleclass society, at least half must have been educated. In a country that worships so many goddesses, how can women be treated like this by mobs? Every single woman, whether normal or suffering from mental or physical illness, risks lust and violence even among the most educated and civilized. Where do we start to stop the mob cultures? Women’s Empowerment has remained caged in the umpteen videos and messages that circulate all over, while women are abused by the “Manly Men” and mobs alike.
The nurse and receptionist packed her some food, a month’s dose of medicines, and we offered to arrange a taxi to drop her home. With single depressed patients, the doctor must always think of a possibility of a suicide. I urged that she please call her brother or mother.
“No thanks Doctor”, she said with the most bitter smile I have seen: “I will not kill myself because people are bad. I want to live and enjoy life. I will go where people will understand and accept my illness… and respect me as a woman”.
She limped away accompanied by her own sobs.
I wondered for many a restless nights: where can she go?
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande