Advanced Cancer: A Daughter’s Perspective & Six Life Lessons

Note by Dr Suraj Manjunath: This is a guest post by Debashree Bandyopadhyay, an author and teacher currently based in Amsterdam.  She recounts her personal journey of dealing with her father’s advanced-stage pancreatic cancer and the life lessons she learned from that experience.

Back in 2007, the term “Cancer” was almost synonymous with death for average masses.  Of course researches and treatments were ongoing during those times as well but in a middle-class non-medical household in Kolkata, “detected with Cancer” was perhaps the most dreadful phrase imaginable. My father, then aged 59, was overall a healthy person, maintaining a healthy lifestyle with the exception of being a smoker. When he initially complained of a little backache or occasional acidity, almost everyone thought it to be his age or his long sitting hours to be the culprit. But as time flew by, the pain and acid refluxes turned to be much more frequent and intolerably excruciating. Post the series of tests (I must mention his initial biopsy report came negative), he was operated on for a tumor near the pancreas and during the surgery, with the frozen biopsy reports doctors confirmed that he is suffering from Pancreatic Cancer, medically diagnosed with Stage 3 Adeno Carcinoma.

The journey began.

For most teenagers, crossing the threshold of 17 and reaching your official adulthood at 18 holds in the heart, not just a million dreams but also a plethora of emotions.  I was no exception to this. Amidst my new journey of expectations and uncertainties of becoming an official adult, little did I know that life was going to unfold for me in the most horrifically unexpected way possible.

Cancer became our unwanted guest for the next 23 months. In fact, Cancer came into the house with two of his rogue friends: Despondency and Fear. With the new 3 musketeers in the home, our lives almost came to a standstill. Priorities changed. The ambience of the entire home became grim.   Life was all about the uncountable visits to the doctors, innumerable tests, medicines, chemotherapy, looking for the best oncologist in town. Even daily basics like food, sleep, and family talks – everything suffered.  But my father’s death on July 12th, 2009, and his tight battle with cancer gave me certain perspectives which shaped my entire life.

The lessons which I learned the hard way round:

1. Trust: An attitude of trust helps not only to de-stress us but also helps in our inner growth during challenging times. We live in an era of information. It comes to us easily. But we need to understand that our google knowledge doesn’t suffice for the experience of a doctor who has devoted his life towards the particular study. Trust in our doctors is extremely crucial for a condition like cancer that doesn’t get cured in two days. In my understanding, only when a patient, his family, and the doctor work in synchronicity, a hard battle gets easier to fight. Furthermore, trust in the universe or the higher power always helps to ease out a lot of anxiety that builds up during these times.

2. Living in the moment: Whenever life throws challenges to us many of us usually start cribbing. We tend to live either reminiscing our past or anticipating our future. In the process, we miss out on the present.  No matter what the situation might be, if we intend to make the best of that situation, trust me we will have no regrets. Life is the most beautiful gift that we have. Make every moment count.

3. Attitude of Gratitude:  We all can complain and doubt about any situation which is not favorable to us. But how many times do we actually feel thankful for the times that have been in our favor?   If we practically see on a daily basis there are at least a million little reasons for us to be grateful for, which we usually just take for granted. If we can develop an attitude of gratitude to the higher power, to everyone and everything, we will automatically notice a lot of the tension draining away especially during tough times.

4. Do not procrastinate:  If there is something that needs your attention, give it. Don’t wait for tomorrow. A sorry, a thank you note, a phone call long pending, a coffee, and a little break that you were craving for long- anything it can be. Don’t leave it for tomorrow.  Life is short and unpredictable. We might have to face things which we least expect to come our way. But let’s not forget that these incidents help us grow in life.

5. Expectation kills: The shortest and the easiest way to suffering is building on our expectations towards other people. Especially I often see during tough times a lot of relations fall apart due to this. But we need to understand that every being is different and they always act to the best of their capacities.

6. Health is Wealth:  I cannot stress this enough. Developing a lifestyle that is healthy is extremely important. Just like healthy food and exercise have absolutely no substitutes, similarly, we need to focus on our mental health as well. A well-balanced physical, mental and spiritual life is the key to avoid Dis-ease and live at ease.

Remember that tough times show up in our lives not to crush us up, but to make us strong. And particularly fighting a disease like cancer both from the perspective of a patient or an immediate family member throws at us cues to pick and heal inside out and grow holistically beyond the disease.  I wish you all a happy and healthy life!!!

Please let us know what you think about this article