Living with a cancer patient: My father has sidelined fear to enjoy his present | health | Hindustan Times
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Living with a cancer patient: My father has sidelined fear to enjoy his present

Cancer as a disease requires tremendous physical and mental strength from the patient as well as the caregiver. In the first of a five-part series, a daughter writes on how to build that strength and accept reality instead of giving into fear and pessimism.

health Updated: Mar 05, 2018 08:42 IST
Mariyam Raza Haider
This article is the first of a five-part series on  the journey of a caregiver and a cancer patient.
This article is the first of a five-part series on the journey of a caregiver and a cancer patient.(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

“It’s cancer,” are the two words one never wishes to hear in a doctor’s room. The diagnosis brings shock, desperation and a sense of pall for the patient and the family. Cancer as a disease requires tremendous physical and mental strength from the patient to overcome it, but it also demands emotional competence from the caregiver to help the patient throughout that journey. My father has been a cancer patient for nearly five years, and as a family we have seen trying times along with significant victories and encouraging lessons.

This experience has made me believe that cancer is not simply a disease for the patient but a crucial experience for a caregiver demanding resilience and strength. The strength to handle the patient, challenge one’s weaknesses and above all evolve through the crisis.

‘Acceptance of the disease does not lessen its presence but makes room to live beyond it. Recognising one’s ability to live through it, summons the courage to fight. I learn that each day from my father as he tackles the disease yet continues with life.’

And for me, the first step towards building that strength comes from accepting the reality, i.e. – the onset of the disease. When the doctor confirms a biopsy report as positive, the mind dives into flight versus fight mode. A wave of numbness washes over you, sweeping into fear and helplessness. You wish to escape the present and at the same time, hold your loved one’s hand, hug them, maybe even cry with them.

I write below some of the steps one can take to navigate through the news, and somehow reconcile into a calmer mindset.

1. Let the news sink in: There is perhaps no easy way to do it but it is extremely crucial to take your time in adjusting to the development. Face the magnanimity and seriousness of the disease and its consequences. There might be a rush of emotions you’ve never felt before, including anguish, moral dilemma or vulnerability. Letting your guard down to accept the circumstance helps in relieving the anxiety and makes room for thought clarity.

2. Erase the ‘why us’ syndrome: One of the first thoughts that envelopes a cancer patient is, “Why me? Why my family? Is it some form of karma?” In a crisis like this, fatalism has a unique way of entering even the most rationale minds, causing the patient to lose sense of purpose and direction in life. As a caregiver, you must initiate dialogues that prevent such thoughts from settling in. Survivor stories often help uplift the patient’s spirits and disable negativity from taking root in his/her mind.

3. Study the case, do not speculate it: Cancer invokes deep-seated fears around it, making us misconstrue the real picture. Taking negative cues from other cases and reading too much on the internet builds worst-case scenarios, not develop better understanding. With the oncologist’s help, the caregiver must study the case and prevent the patient from falling into the trap of fear and dogma around the disease.

‘My father has been a cancer patient for nearly five years, and as a family we have seen trying times along with significant victories and encouraging lessons.’

Cancer has the vile ability to divert the attention towards itself, and that’s primarily because we fight very hard to deny it. We hope it isn’t cancer, then we hope it wasn’t cancer; and that vicious loop never ends. But the moment we address it, the scope of its fear shrinks. We no longer live in denial, rather begin thinking through the situation.

Acceptance of the disease does not lessen its presence but makes room to live beyond it. Recognising one’s ability to live through it, summons the courage to fight. I learn that each day from my father as he tackles the disease yet continues with life. He goes to work on weekdays, and prepares savoury dishes on weekends while listening to Mohammad Rafi’s songs. He has sidelined fear to enjoy his present, and that’s what has made all the difference.

This article is the first of a five-part series on the journey of a caregiver and a cancer patient. The author writes on decoding positivity as her father fights through aggressive oral cancer on mariyamrazahaider.com.

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