Detection/Diagnosis of Oral Cancer
It was in 2017, when we had just returned from a holiday in Singapore. On returning home, we got to know that my father was facing some discomfort in his oral cavity, that is, his mouth. So, we decided to get him checked. We were told it was oral cancer!
It was the most shocking news for us, because my father was the healthiest person we had known. He never smoked or drank or engaged in any other such habit forming consumptions. Therefore, it was beyond our capacity to understand how such a thing as oral cancer could happen to him. We were in a state of shock and had no idea how to cope up with it.
Treatment of Oral Cancer
We asked doctors about the course of action and best oral cancer treatment options. We were suggested to get an operation done. Based on that, the growth and oral cancer treatment route could be determined.
So, my father underwent surgery. The doctors informed that the cancer had not gone so deep, so there was no cause of worry. He would be one of the oral cancer survivors in India. It was Stage 0 oral cancer. I thought that I would be a successful oral cancer caregiver in my life.
We were asked to return for check-ups every two months. We did that. As a cancer survivor, my father used to visit the doctor along with my mom. No chemotherapy or radiation was given to him. Everything seemed to be under control. I almost began to cherish my days as an oral cancer caregiver.
It went on like this for ten months. Suddenly, dad had started to lose weight. He was even having difficulty in swallowing. We got the blood test done and to our surprise it the white platelets counts was very high. Maybe, these were oral cancer symptoms again? So yes, we went to get him checked. That’s when we came to know that the cancer has reoccurred.
When the biopsy reports arrived, we were informed that the cancer had reappeared. This time it was in the GE (gastroesophageal) junction. It was a classic case of oral cancer metastasis to liver.
This means, his cancer had now started to form in his liver. You must be knowing, that cancer cells are aggressive. They may invade other body parts. Usually, cancer cells replicate themselves in these new locations by swimming along with the blood flow.
So, my father’s cancer had metastasized into the liver, and it was Stage 4 already. He did not have any cancer symptoms other than just weight loss and problem in swallowing. So, we could not even imagine that the cancer would enter Stage 4 so early.
That was the end of my journey as an oral cancer caregiver. Now, I had evolved into another type of cancer patient caregiver – one who was not even sure how many days of survival her patient had remaining.
Doctors said that nothing really could be done anymore, as the cancer had metastasized into the liver. Also, my father was so thin, that they said that the only possibilities were Palliative Care and Chemotherapy. After three chemotherapy sessions, we could have a PET scan done, and his response to these treatments could be analyzed.
During all this, we gained a fair idea of how things would shape up in the future. The worst was inevitable. We did not tell him that he was in Stage 4. However, he did get some idea of what was going on.
We had no one in Mumbai. So, we shifted to my sister’s place in Raipur. From there we began palliative chemotherapy treatment for his cancer. Initially, he responded fine to chemo. Gradually, the situation deteriorated. Although he would try to comfort us by saying that he is accepting the challenge positively, we all knew the course his cancer would take finally.
After the third chemo session, he developed problem while eating. Some foul smell was also detected. Probably, it was due to liver metastasis and swollen lymph nodes. So, we approached the doctor and suggested if we could feed him through the tube. Unfortunately, we were told that because his condition was incredibly serious, anything could happen.
It was just me and my sisters at that time in the second hospital where we had to take my dad for his checkup. My elder sister had gone out for some chores. Our mom was already waiting for dad at the first hospital where he was initially admitted. At that moment, the doctor asked me what our decision was, as the next moments could be very unpredictable. The moment when this was told to me I completely blanked out.
After my sister arrived, we decided to put him in IICU. My father always wanted to be in his hometown in Madhya Pradesh. So, in the early morning we decided to take that journey to M.P.
The doctors did ask me that should anything happen during the night, then will we be willing to put him on a ventilator. Trust me; as the cancer patient caregiver, that was the hardest decision to make. We decided to not put him on the ventilator, and accept whatever fate had in store for us.
So, we headed for M.P. in the morning in an ambulance. You see, that was what he had always wanted. In the initial hour he was responding properly. Gradually, he started experiencing some difficulties. So, my brother-in-law took him to another hospital, where we came to know that he was no more.
Learning to Heal from your Loss to Cancer:
Losing my father to cancer was a great deal of loss for us. Especially for my mother, since he meant the universe for her. It took a toll on her to witness him not being able to sleep in the night.
My father had seen all this coming. So, he had started writing files, including the certificates that would be needed after his demise. We did not display any negativity before him. Rather, we showed him denial that nothing of that sort would happen. A cancer patient should not be treated as a cancer patient, after all.
Did you know that humans believe in miracles when they’re in despair? We too hoped for one. It never occurred. In September 2018, we lost him to the greater forces.
A year and a half have passed. Yet, it feels just like yesterday. Now that I think of it, I realize that maybe the miracles and blessings we sought, lay in his diagnosis. We are thankful that his Cancer was detected in the first place. If his death had happened instantly and without warning, probably we would never overcome the shock. I won’t say “trauma”, as the trauma of his loss is still fresh in our minds.
Although my father could not be an oral cancer survivor, he is still a cancer survivor in his own ways. His fight against liver metastasis was not easy.
My father was like my best friend. So, it’s definitely tough to accept that I lost him to cancer. Rather, it’s better to think that now he is relieved from its pain. The thought that he is in a better place now, is assuring in itself.
My family and I have this vacuum that no one will be able to fill. However, we are able to open our hearts out without being judged. We speak, we discuss; it helps all of us. This is what I understand is the healing process of losing your loved ones to cancer.
I am currently in a phase that every individual undergoes, which is to take one’s own time to heal from the loss, and finally come to terms with it.
I just want to suggest all the cancer caregivers, including oral cancer caregivers, to take one step at a time. Each day is a new day. It’s okay that the cancer has happened. You cannot question why it had happened to you or why you are facing all this. It’s pointless because that is not important anymore. What is important is that you were there for your loved ones when they needed you. And your support is what a cancer patient or cancer survivor requires.
Cancer caregivers should have that space for themselves, where they can just unwind and relax. Take out some time for yourself; ensure self-care no matter what it is. Spend some time where you can channelize your thoughts and calm yourself down. No one else can do it for you. Rejuvenating yourself is vital because that brings positivity within you. Also, your calmness would be assuring for others dealing with cancer.