Living With A Cancer Surgeon : Glimpses From The Passenger’s Seat

Note by Dr Suraj Manjunath : This is a guest post by Haripriya Suraj. Haripriya is a wellness practitioner, author and early childhood educator. As my better half, she has been my source of support and inspiration through our years together. In this post, Haripriya shares an aspect of her journey alongside an oncologist and the personal growth she has had through her experiences.    

As a child, I witnessed a few relatives and a dear neighbour succumb to cancer. In the 1980s and 90s, almost all discussions on cancer were centered on how it was a dreadful disease that was almost guaranteed to end life.

Fast forward to the 21st century – there seemed to be a sudden shift. People I knew were still getting cancer. But the key difference was that not as many were dying as in the previous decade. A significant number underwent successful treatment and are leading healthy lives even today!

I didn’t give much thought to advancements in cancer treatment until I married a cancer surgeon.

Suraj exposed me to the rapid advances that have happened in modern medicine in general, and oncology in particular. During the days of our courtship, I marveled at the kinds of complex lifesaving surgeries being performed. I was particularly in awe of the surgeries where a portion of the body could be removed and then reconstructed with a completely different part or organ, such as when a surgically removed esophagus is replaced by a new one created from the stomach.

Being an early childhood educator and a wellness practitioner, I mostly interacted with bubbly children in school or with happy adults in wellness circles.

After our marriage, I got to witness a rather contrasting world.

Living with a cancer surgeon meant I often heard (or overheard) news about what was happening in hospital. While the number of people being cured was impressive, the fact remained that some could not return to good health. I felt depressed when I heard of sick patients in the ward or of terminal patients. At one point, I told Suraj I didn’t want to hear any more accounts of cancer patients, directly or indirectly.  From then on, I closed my ears (and my mind) to all things related to cancer!

A couple of years down the line, Suraj had a meeting to attend in the busy government oncology institute where he had trained. I was on my way home from work and stopped there to pick him up. This was my first visit to the place. As I waited in the parking area, the scene I witnessed there left me gaping – dozens of little children undergoing treatment for cancer were running around in a little play area. They had lost their hair and looked weak and pale. Yet they seemed to be playing happily with all the energy they could muster!

Being a child is a blessing, for children are naturally happy, resilient, and concerned only about living in the present moment. I sometimes wonder how it would be if we could carry our childhood strengths into adulthood! Watching these cancer-afflicted children led to an inner shift within me.

I contemplated that if children could be so happy despite having cancer, I had absolutely no reason to run away from even hearing about it!

A few weeks later, I went to the pediatric oncology ward at St John’s Hospital, on a Saturday – Suraj (who was working at St. John’s at the time) had told me about a group of volunteers who were going to interact with children dressed as clowns.  I was amazed at the sheer joy on the children’s faces when they saw these clowns and received simple gifts.

I gradually accepted the fact that while there has been tremendous advancement in cancer treatment and cure rates are higher than ever before, there are times when a cure may not be possible. This acceptance helped me open up to the world of oncology and its diverse stories. The stories I have heard over the years have evoked a plethora of emotions in me – some have moved me to tears, some have warmed my heart and some have touched my soul.

Today, I can say with confidence that being married to a cancer surgeon has transformed me in many positive ways. I sincerely appreciate the good work being done by many specialists in this field and wish each one of them growth and success.

Last but not the least, hats off to the innumerable cancer patients – children and adults – who fight challenging battles with courage and strength. Here’s wishing you robust health and happiness. May you light up the world with your beautiful stories of healing!

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