Rahul & Monika (Lung cancer): “Cancer chose the wrong person”

Patient and caregiver with their daughter

In 2016, my wife and I had completed almost 4 years of our marriage and we had a two-and-half-year-old daughter. We were both working for multinational companies, and like any 20-something couple in New Delhi, we were thinking about our future.

One day, however, my wife discovered some nodules on her neck. We didn’t think much of it and went to our local GP. After the tests, it was diagnosed as Tuberculosis and she was put on a 9-month ATT treatment course. In a couple of months, her nodules disappeared and she was absolutely fine but after one month she had a severe and persistent cough. We went to the National Institute of TB and Respiratory Diseases, New Delhi to figure out what was wrong. That’s when we were told that my wife might have something more serious than we thought of. Tests and biopsies were done and our worst fears came true, it wasn’t TB, it was grade III-B metastatic non-small cell lung cancer adenocarcinoma. My 29-year-old wife had lung cancer that had spread to other parts of her body.

I didn’t know what to do, I remember calling my boss and telling him that I won’t be able to make it to the office for an indefinite period. The doctors said my wife would need several rounds of chemotherapy. We began all the treatment instantly. After two rounds of chemo, she’d started to feel better, her breathing had improved and there seemed to be signs of hope. However, the improvement was short-lived and after the third cycle, her health deteriorated. A fresh set of CT scans showed that her tumor has increased in size.

But my wife still hadn’t given up hope. She kept telling me, “Rahul, cancer has chosen the wrong person, and I am going to fight it.”

She started looking up other treatment options, that’s when she came across immunotherapy. We weren’t sure whether it was available in India, so I asked a couple of my friends to help me find out the cost of going to the United States. I’d never really lived away from home, so I didn’t know much about going abroad, but I wanted to explore every option for my wife.

Meanwhile, we discovered that Immunotherapy was available at a hospital in New Delhi. We got started with the process and it was decided by the doctor that she would need 6 cycles of immunotherapy. The treatment was expensive and I was running low on funds. I needed lakhs of rupees a month. I managed to raise the money via a fundraising campaign.

We’d pinned our hopes on immunotherapy, but by the third cycle, my wife couldn’t walk by herself. Her natural immunity had been destroyed. When we asked the doctors what was happening, they told us that it was all a part of the healing process.

It broke my heart to take her to the hospital in a wheelchair; her medical files weighing almost 2 kilos. Meanwhile, my barely 3-year-old daughter kept asking “where is Mumma?”

After Diwali, her fourth immunotherapy cycle was complete, but she hadn’t gotten any better. On most nights, she couldn’t sleep because she couldn’t breathe. She would just keep standing because lying down made things worse. We took her to another hospital where they advised against immunotherapy, they said her body’s natural defense mechanism had been destroyed. We listened to them and stopped the therapy.

A few days later, we admitted her to the hospital after her oxygen levels dropped and she couldn’t breathe. My wife though still hadn’t given up, she could barely breathe or speak, yet, she told one doctor to make sure she got better so she could go back home to our daughter. These were days I would go to a corner and cry; I didn’t know what else to do. I feel like I had tried every option but nothing was working.

I remember it was the 8th of November, her condition had improved, her oxygen levels were better, her breathing had improved.And although her hands were all shriveled and bruised by injection marks, I had hope.

The next day, I woke up at the hospital as usual and called to ICU to know the status of Monika. They told that she is sleeping; I went to the washroom and got ready to visit Monika in the ICU. When I got back, they told me that we had put her on the ventilator and after a few hours she passed away. My 29-year-old wife had died after a battle with lung cancer for 4.5 months.

It’s been two years now, and I am trying to be a mother and a father to our little daughter. My message to every caregiver out there would be: don’t believe in everything the internet says. Also, don’t give in to blind faith and superstitions, I regret doing that. Monika is gone now, but on the bad days, I try to remember how she told other people in doctor’s waiting rooms to not give up hope. She’d tell others like her to keep the faith and not let cancer win.

Rahul continues to live in New Delhi with his parents and 4-year-old daughter.

caregiver with his late wife
Rahul Sharma with his wife Monika