Burkitt’s Lymphoma Diagnosis
The Pain began when I was very young, around five or five and a half years old. I had frequent stomach pains, and my body experienced excruciating aches. I could not eat anything because as soon as the food went down my esophagus and reached my stomach, it started to hurt.
My father got very worried about my health and took me to a child specialist in the nearby city of Ulhasnagar. The doctor examined me, and it took a couple of days to detect my problem. She did sonography, and a result showed a lump in my spleen, with a part of the spleen swollen. She asked my father to take me to a bigger hospital, which would be better equipped to conduct more sophisticated tests to determine my exact diagnosis.
My father took me to a famous multispeciality hospital in Thane. They informed us that I was suffering from a rare disease, and the diagnosis would be very costly. The tests needed to confirm my diagnosis would cost around two to three lakhs. It was way back in 2009, and I came from a middle-class family. My parents did not have the financial resources to afford such a costly diagnosis.
We were asked to consult a hospital specializing in cancer and went to a hospital in Panvel, Mumbai. There I was diagnosed with blood cancer, or to be more specific, Burkitt’s Lymphoma.
Burkitt’s Lymphoma Treatment
I was very young, and honestly, I do not remember much of it. I was not only diagnosed with Burkitt’s Lymphoma, but I was at Stage 4 the last stage of the horrible disease. I had cancer in my lymph nodes, and the treatment needed to start right away. For diseases such as cancer, time is of the essence, and my parents did not have enough time to seek help from NGOs or other charitable trusts. Getting aid from such organizations is a time-consuming task, and time was one resource that I did not have. My parents started my treatment with the savings they had and funds they could raise on their own.
As my Chemotherapy sessions commenced, I began to lose all my body hair, even my eyebrows, and eyelashes. The laser therapy used in my chemo session to destroy the cancer cells had a downside it also killed many healthy cells that came in the way. As a result, I lost all my body hair. Another painful aspect of the chemotherapy sessions was the injection of fluid in my spine. It was injected at an interval of every two or three months, and it was extremely painful.
The nurses and ward boys used to hold down our hands and legs to keep us from moving or twisting in Pain while the doctor injected the fluid. All the children used to scream and cry in pain, but I got used to it. The whole process used to take around 10 minutes, and the entire time I had to bear the Pain. I refused to shout and cry because I did not want to show everyone I was weak. Maybe it was because I was a child then, and my immaturity pushed me to prove that I was superior to the rest. I even received a bravery award from an NGO for the exemplary courage I showed.
During the first stages of chemotherapy, I developed a throat infection, and it became challenging for me to gulp solid food. There was a strict doctor in our ward, and all of us were terrified of her. I refused to have any solid food, so she came to my mother and asked her to force me to eat the food. She then looked at me menacingly and threatened to take me for a painful bone marrow test if I did not comply. I was horrified and agreed to eat the food my mother gave me.
A Tale of Shared Suffering
Not only did I suffer from my medical condition, but my family also shared my suffering. My younger sister was only two years old when I got admitted to the hospital. My mother had to stay with me all the time, and my worried parents gave me all their attention. As a result, my baby sister never got the love and attention an infant deserved from her parents. She stayed with my grandmother, and my mother stayed with me at the hospital for almost a year.
I was treated like a fragile child, both at home and at school. I was given boiled food and water, and my father used to bring me packaged water to drink. The teachers always took extra care of me in school, and I could not run around and play with other children. It used to enrage and confuse me then, but now I realize that they were trying to keep me safe. The doctors had advised my parents to rush me to the hospital if my fever ever went over 99 Fahrenheit. One of the constant scenes that are forever etched in my mind is my mom carrying me in her arms and running to the hospital ward in tears.
Acts of Love and Kindness
I was fortunate to have my parents, teachers, and relatives who always supported me during the year-long treatment. Not that I was in a position to complain, but the hospital food was terrible. My uncle visited me in the hospital daily, and he came with home-cooked food from my aunt. He traveled a long way from Ambernath to Parel every day to see me, and he never forgot to bring me food.
The End of the Journey
I was lucky to get my cancer treated when I was too young to understand my condition. I was only six, and though I suffered a lot, I could never understand the whole situation. It was a boon for me. If I had been diagnosed later, I might have never made it when I was old enough to understand the implications.
I did not know I had suffered from cancer until I was nine or ten years old. I overheard my parents talking to my neighbor, and there I heard the word cancer. There used to be advertisements on the television and cinema halls before starting a movie about how Tobacco can cause cancer. Little me used to get confused about how I got cancer as I had never consumed Tobacco and wondered whether eclairs or chocolates caused cancer. When I finally asked my parents, they reminded me of how I had to skip school for a year and stayed in the hospital for treatment.
Repeating an academic year
The most challenging part after being cancer-free was facing the fact that I missed a whole academic year. I was in senior KG when I was diagnosed with cancer. I had to skip an entire year of school for my treatment. When I resumed school, I had to repeat a whole year while all my friends promoted the first standard.
Even later in my school years, I had to face this pertinent question. Whenever someone came up to me and asked about it, I dodged the question. I had an answer prepared that it was a very long story, and I was sick. My parents were concerned about my health, and I missed school a lot. So they forced me to repeat a year so that it did not hamper my learning. I did not want everyone to know about the disease I suffered from and always evaded that line of questioning.
The Parting Message
I always believe that to overcome any difficult situation, be it cancer or anything, you need to have faith in yourself. It would help if you firmly believe that you will always emerge victorious. Have that strong faith, and you have already won half the battle.
The moral support of any cancer patient comes from the caregiver. If the person taking care of the patient is not healthy and assured, the patient tends to breakdown during the diagnosis or treatment. I was lucky to have my parents, who constantly supported me during the whole treatment process and always stood by me.
Also, try to empathize with cancer patients and do not offer any sympathy. Very few people knew about my cancer, including some of my parents’ close friends. They always used to come up to me at social events and ask me about my health. I know they were trying to show their concern, but it got irritating and awkward after some time. Cancer survivors are normal human beings, so please behave generally with them.
For fellow survivors and people who have cancer, stay healthy, and believe in yourself. Believe in your doctors too, because they know what they are doing and what is best for you. It is just a challenging phase, and it also shall pass.