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When cancer struck so close

By Mohamed Guleid | January 9th 2017

On a flight to London recently, I watched a 2006 movie, ‘The Last Holiday’, acted by legendary singer and actress Queen Latifa. The story is about a young female shop assistant who was diagnosed with a terminal brain cancer and who had six months to live.

In the comedy, the actress wanted to spend her last moments having fun and travelling around the world including a tourist experience at the Swiss Alps. She literally wanted to blow her mind away in the last days of her life.

While ice-skating on the Swiss Alps, she decided no inhibitions would stop her living her life to the fullest.

Queen Latifa (Georgia in the film) checks into the Presidential Suite, buys designer clothes in expensive boutiques, makes extensive use of the hotel’s spa facilities, attempts snowboarding and bungee jumping off of a dam, enjoys delicious meals prepared by world-renowned Chef Didier (Gérard Depardieu), and wins a small fortune playing roulette in the casino. There was nothing stopping her.

Weighing heavily on my head as I watched this hilarious film was the reality of my wife’s condition. She had been diagnosed with an advanced ovarian cancer nearly three years ago.

The film offered a catharsis of sorts. The journey has been long and painful for our family. She has undergone chemotherapy treatment three times and once went through radiotherapy.

We noticed that the chemo had taken a toll on her. The multiple bacterial and viral infections made her require a very strong dose of anti-biotics, which only accentuated her agony.

Last November, her team of doctors decided that any further oncological treatment would have no value. They decided to stop the chemo and said they would continue managing the infections using a cocktail of strong antibiotics and very strong painkillers to manage the unending pain.

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Around the Christmas holidays we received the sad news that the disease had spread to other organs and managing the cancer was no longer possible. That was the doctors’ subtle way of saying death was imminent. It is disheartening that despite most modern forms of research being commissioned, no cure is yet to be found for cancer.

The devastating news crushed our spirits. In my mind, just imagining a life without the woman I got married to 24 years ago was unimaginable.

All I could say was that the doctors were giving an opinion and that theirs was not a final verdict. My feelings were synonymous with someone hoping to go for an appeal to a higher authority to decide otherwise. To take her mind off, I described to her cases of people who survived even after getting such sad news.

However much we tried there was no escaping the sad reality. Yet the hope I hang on came from none other than my ailing wife, one morning while visiting her, she greeted me with a smile.

I saw a sign of hope.

She was taking all in her stride. I felt partly relieved that at least she was happy. Then she said: “Look, don’t be sad. You neither control nor can save life. What is meant to be will be...”

“God is the giver and taker of life,” she added. That to me was a powerful message coming from someone who just received the most disheartening news in her life. Ever since that morning, we both became defiant. We refused to accept the bad news from the doctors to determine our feelings.

My wife is so far the strongest in this. Despite the physical ailments she refused to accept to suffer emotionally. Doctors were, of course, surprised that we neither showed any emotion nor showed any sign of giving in to the fear of death. The truth of the matter is, cancer is deadly and it has no cure. This reality dawns on me at times especially when I am alone and have to think about what could happen.

I have observed the number of people diagnosed with cancer rise. I often wonder whether the causes are due to the modern lifestyle or whether the availability of advanced diagnostic technology has made it possible for doctors to detect the presence of the cancer cells in our bodies.

In my younger years, I never used to see so many patients affected by this deadly scourge. Fortunately, modern medicine has also made it possible for doctors to detect and treat patients beforehand.

In the case of ovarian cancer, unlike breast cancer where one can regularly perform a mammogram or like in cervical cancer where a pap smear can be performed on a patient, this strain is hard to detect and more than 70 per cent of the victims only discover after the cancer has advanced.

Even in the case of my wife, it had already spread to other organs by the time the doctors discovered it. No doubt, early diagnosis of cancer can save many lives.

Though bleak our prospects are, that is a lesson I take from this painful journey. As for me, we are just hanging on in there hoping for the best.

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