It all started when my father was diagnosed with Lymphoma back in May 2016. At the time, I was in Hyderabad, and my mom told me that Dad was feeling Pain near his collar bone. When I spoke to him, he brushed it aside, saying that it was due to lifting some heavy luggage. After some days, he started feeling mild Pain in his throat, neck, and armpit. By the time I returned to Kolkata in a week, my Dad had begun feeling lumps in those areas.
We decided to check with my uncle, a doctor, regarding what could be the cause of the tiny lumps that were now visible at my Dad’s throat and neck. My uncle recommended visiting a surgeon to get the lumps examined. My Dad was anxious about this problem and began searching for reasons behind the lumps on Google. After referring to various online resources, he decided that it was best to get tested for thyroid.
We went to our family doctor with the thyroid reports. He urged us to meet a surgeon right that day and went ahead to call a surgeon acquaintance of his and get an appointment for us. By then, we sensed that the situation was not ordinary. There was some serious health condition that we were about to encounter. When the surgeon examined Dad’s three swollen lumps around his throat, neck, and armpit, he said that it could either be Lymphoma or tuberculosis, but a Biopsy had to be done for confirmation. We were shocked beyond words, more so, because my Dad has always been a health-conscious person who regularly exercised, had good food habits, and kept himself fit. We had no idea how this could be happening to us.
My Dad was very apprehensive of Surgery as he had never even had a stitch in his life before. We thought of taking a few more opinions. At that point in time, we were also in denial and would have given anything to forget the whole episode as a nightmare. The second surgeon was apathetic to us and told us we might already be quite late – it could be a very advanced Lymphoma stage. My mother started crying in shock at the hospital hearing this, while my Dad, who is generally a very happy person, went into a Depression and isolated himself from other people. After much convincing, we got Dad to agree to consult a third surgeon who happened to be my mother’s distant relative. He was an ENT surgeon. He explained to my Dad with a lot of patience that even if it was lymphoma, there were very good treatment options available, but the Biopsy had to be done for confirmation. My Dad was convinced, and the doctor agreed to do the Surgery for Biopsy himself since my father derived a lot of confidence from his words.
The Biopsy reports confirmed it was Follicular Lymphoma Grade III-A, a kind of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
The surgeon suggested seeing an oncologist friend of his, who was a radiologist. The oncologist discussed the problem in detail with us for around 1.5 hours, explaining treatment options, its type, and how it could be countered. We were further referred to a haemato-oncologist. Our doctor was empathetic to our situation, informed us well on the disease, and encouraged us to ask questions to dispel our fears related to the disease. This gave us new hope to look at the disease “cancer in a different light. He explained that there was no need to worry yet. This type of Lymphoma was slowly progressing, and we would have enough time to get the treatment done. The doctor suggested following a “Wait and watch approach for my Dad, and if the situation aggravated, we could opt for Chemotherapy. Dad was very scared of Chemotherapy because his best friend, who was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer in 2013, could not cope very well with chemotherapy’s side effects and passed away within a week. We decided to opt for the wait and watch approach.
I had to visit South Africa for some work, and in India from December 2016, my Dad started taking herbal treatment to avoid ever undergoing chemo. The lady who was giving him the herbal medicines placed many limitations on his diet. But eventually, his lumps started swelling up even more. In January 2017, during his regular checkup with the haemato-oncologist, the doctor recommended Chemotherapy because the lumps were growing fast. My father still decided to continue with the alternative herbal treatment believing it could help him get better. But by February 2017, when I came back from Cape Town, he couldn’t even wear a shirt because his hand was so swollen. We could see it was a terrible situation.
I argued with him for two or three days about refusing the correct course of treatment. Deep inside, he feared that something might happen to him if he started with chemo, just like his friend. But his condition was fast deteriorating. He couldn’t sit long beyond 10-15 minutes at a stretch, and one night, he couldn’t even lie still from the Pain in his neck. It was unbearable Pain. We had to call his oncologist in the middle of the night and get him admitted to the hospital right away. The doctor was very supportive and made quick arrangements for us at the hospital.
The next morning, on seeing my Dad, the doctor first treated him for the Pain. They carried out two doppler tests on his hand before the chemo to know whether they needed to amputate the limb. Some veins in his hand were blocked. The doctor said that if we had delayed Chemotherapy any further, his brain’s blood circulation would have stopped within a couple of days. His Chemotherapy started that evening, and his swollen lumps started reducing gradually. The hand’s swelling subsided over the next three cycles and took over a few months to get back to their normal size. We went through 6 cycles of chemotherapy, each occurring every 21 days from the previous one. Throughout this process, our family and friends were incredibly supportive.
The chemo’s side effects put my Dad under a lot of strain, both physical and mental. We persevered and took good care of him to sail through the situation. The situation in our home back in 2017 was much like it is now, during the COVID-19 pandemic. He had to wear a mask and whoever came into our home to visit had to sanitize their hands. He was not allowed to go out in the market. Chemotherapy weakens your immunity, so it is paramount to keep yourself away from getting any infection from the outside that can pose a threat to the healing process. His diet was also restricted and based on home-cooked food. My Dad started showing promising results with each chemo cycle. After a few months, he recovered well.
What I Learned
What I learned from my father’s situation was that we could not just give up at any moment. We should be self-motivated and not surrounded by fears. The caregivers should be supportive and understand the condition of the patient. In our case, we were apprehensive about the disease, its treatment, and the Pain we were facing at that moment. But with positivity, patience, and perseverance, we were able to overcome the hurdle and emerge from the end of the tunnel just fine.