Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Let us combat cancer..........

Can one woman’s survival against few simple odds can be called success story?

Success Story of sorts…

It was more than 14 years ago (18th April 1996) that I heard the doctor saying “You have been diagnosed with invasive breast cancer (III grade) and you need to undergo surgery followed by other treatments. You have to be prepared with strong will power to fight and survive. You are young at the age of 29 and have small kids. You have life ahead of you. Initially you may find many things about you have changed but finally someday you will find that nothing much has changed”. All I could think then was “My two kids, my two small kids!!!!!!

Losing a breast did not mean much to me when I thought of my two lovely kids. Specially my daughter. I spent an hour or so feeling sad (short time huh?) and then I got up with a smile (a forced one, which formed on my lips)and went into the doctors chamber again. I had finished with all the questions like “why me?” and decided no one is going to answer them and anyway answers were not so important. I told my doctor “Doctor, I am sure of what I am saying and I need you to listen to me carefully. I want to live. Yes. I am willing to compromise on quality of life I will have. I am not much bothered about it. Concentrate on quantity. Just get me as many years as possible to be with my kids. I need to get my son educated and want to see him grow beard, struggle with shaving, learn swimming, learn cycling and become a good human being etc. I want to make sure my daughter is safe and will be cared for even after me. She needs me to know love. I can’t make my parents suffer losing two daughters within a short period (I knew my sister had just few months left as she was terminally ill with breast cancer progressing steadily, though my heart refused to believe that we were going to lose her). I have not yet seen life. I want to be myself someday after finishing my duties. So give me years. You can cut me, fill me up with medicines, prick me with needles and can be sure I am praying for you all through it”.

He said we should discuss about the surgery the next day. I agreed. When I came back home and told everyone I was supposed to go the next day to fix up my surgery, everyone was shocked. All were of opinion I was making a hasty decision. They wanted me to take some more time and see if there was any other option.

I went the next day exactly 10 minutes earlier to my appointment and my doctor was a bit surprised. He said I looked like a kid going on a picnic. Eager and excited LOL. We set the surgery for 28th April. He explained to me with diagrams what to expect from mastectomy, radiation and chemotherapy. He told me to get myself mentally prepared for the coming days. I had 9 days left for my surgery. That was quite a lot of time and I said I could prepare for a degree exam within that time. I wished him good luck for that was the first independent surgery the oncology surgeon was conducting. I had to choose between total radical mastectomy or lumpectomy. I wanted to be on safer side and opted for Mastectomy. I remember what the doctor said later because it really made me happy even during the stressed out time “It was nice talking to you. It was more like we are fixing up to have a dinner in some restaurant than fixing a date for surgery. I don’t know how good I am but I will be doing more than my best and I know you will live long with your will power to survive not only cancer but many other tough times. You will make me popular” I trusted him totally because he had concern for me. His wife was a pediatrician in the hospital where my daughter was being cared for. They both had known me and my daughter for quite some time and knew what I was actually going through. At the time I was diagnosed, I already had too much on my plate. My sister was in the last stage of her fight with the same demon, and I was fighting to find a solution for my daughter's rare kind of challenge she faced. Doctors were saying she would not be able to see, talk or walk. Her brain had atrophied. I was 29 and my children were 11 months and 4 years respectively. I was worried about the emotional trauma my son was going through. I had to prepare my him for the coming days. I told him my breast has been behaving bad and because I have already finished feeding my both kids I am not going to keep her anymore. He said I was lucky that it was just the breast that I was sending away because it was of not much use. If it was my leg, hand, eye or ear then it would be worse. Especially if my tongue behaved bad and I sent it away than he would be at loss. KIDS!!!!!!!!!! It was hard and tough thing to do. He was at a stage of life where he could both understand and not understand what was being said around the house. He was in a state of panic when I started because he had heard my family discuss about me seriously. My efforts did not go in vain but I couldn’t totally put him at ease. My 11 month old daughter was a bit cranky because I suddenly stopped breast feeding her and I had hard time managing her.

My husband came on 27th morning and tried to stop me from going for the surgery. He argued there should be some other easier way. To my horror my family joined him. I was firm and even after long arguments I stood my ground. They couldn’t persuade me away from my surgery. I went into the hospital just a simple person and came out of it as a Breast Cancer Survivor and it has been nearly 15 years of survival. All I can say about life is that it has been adventurous. Like a roller coaster ride. Ups, downs, fear, screams and fun.

I don’t hate breast cancer all together. I know it is wrong to say that when it has snatched my mom and sister from me. But cancer was the magic mirror which showed true colors of people around me. The masks fell down so fast that I had trouble recognizing my own people. It showed me how precious every day is. I take in everyday as a present now. I know the value of the 24 hrs I get to spend on this earth. It was after cancer that I ventured out and met few people who are very good friends and great human beings. Most of the wonderful people I have met are somehow related to my going through breast cancer and so I can’t even curse it……….I got so close to few of my BC survivor sisters that I went with my two kids to USA to meet them. What a sari party we had there! Wow!!

Today I am happy to see that my kids are almost adults and I have simple things like exams, contests, weight, white hairs, etc to worry about. I could even forget that I had fought the battle so hard few years ago because it now looks like a long long time ago that Cancer had invaded my body and demanded that I suffer chemo, go through hair loss and give away one of my breast. I had to do it for my survival and had done it grudgingly. I hated it with all my heart and considered BC to be one of my worst enemies ever. It went on to prove me right by taking away my sister and mom in years to come.

Today after all these years I am sitting here and thinking of personally what did I lose and what did I gain from breast cancer or precisely gain in my life after BC. Loss of one breast. I had lost my hair too but it has come back. Self confidence has grown much more than what it used to be. I value my life more now because I had to fight for it.. and that too with a demon named cancer. I feel my life is something I have earned now. I have enjoyed watching my kids grow into their teens and loved every moment of it (other than few moments like Farheena going through her surgery etc). I would never have known how wonderful my kids are and how blessed I am to have them if I had not fought cancer furiously years ago.

My son has turned out to be exactly the person I wanted him to be. Loving, caring and adapting.

I turned into an extrovert after my cancer experience. It was just too much to keep in my chest and I felt my ribs breaking out. So had to pour out everything and found out how good it is to share our feelings. I have found amazing friends in the past 14 years. Some wonderful people who made much difference to me. They changed me into much better person and also made me realize my own potential and resources. When I had slipped into a great depression, one of the counselor , who used to visit us during my sisters illness suggested I go to helping hand which is a free counseling center in Bangalore. Initially I was very hesitant but when I visited helping hand, I met people who changed me for good and also made me much better person with my kids and all kids in general. I cannot forget how helpful the people at Helping Hand have been for me and my kids. They are the ones who do not give you fish but teach you fishing. I was so impressed with counseling that I completed a course of diploma in counseling skills from their institute.

There have been friends who have made me realize that it is not necessary to be rigid. Sometimes it helps to flow with the tide and enjoy life. I don't know where I would be today without the help from these people. Farheena being a special needs kid, me getting BC and losing my sister to BC all in a span of year made it very tough for me to handle it emotionally. Rizwan (Dear Hubby) was being nasty and was not much of help. He came out with his worst self when I was going through worst period. May be he was not tough enough to handle the pressure cancer brings with it and also he was not willing to accept that he has a special needs child. He was living in complete denial. Strangers supported me emotionally where my close ones failed.

I hear all the horror tales of doctors and wonder where they are because all the doctors I have met so far have been very kind and helpful to me. Most of them are sort of like good friends. I have wonderful friends half way across the globe who I may never have met if not for cancer. I don't like having cancer but when I think what would I have missed in life if not for cancer then may be I don't hate it totally. I have found more friends recently again who have been through this ordeal like me and it amazes me to see how quickly we bond together, even though we have a grand canyon of difference between our cultures and lifestyles.

I know I bitch, groan and moan and also at times squeak and squeal (LOL)at life but then realize how much I have and feel grateful to God. I feel angry at my friends and family when they misunderstand or under estimate me and my values but then I realize no matter what I still love them and I may have lost them. Cancer makes it easy to forgive follies.

I have lived for fourteen years being NED and enjoyed my life with my children, family, friends, books, studies and computer. I am realizing my dream of pursuing higher studies along with the dream of being a teacher. Have loved playing games, tasted new food, dressed in a new ways and become totally non-religious person. I trust and believe in God a lot but realize I am not meant to belong to any religion. The battle has been won and has remained on my side until now and the life after cancer has been worth fighting for.

So to anyone who is fighting cancer -> Kick hard and fight with all your might and will power. Don't give in. I know I will not.....

My advice to people having rough period is don't quit.

So here I cheer up for over a decade of survival (MY!!! What a survival it has been……..) And look forward to sharing my feelings of another decade with everyone which I suppose if I will be blogging after 6 years.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The story of Muniya… the beggar boy.

My Mom had finished cooking a delicious breakfast for all of us and was now busy washing clothes. I was sitting nearby studying for my exams, when a pathetic voice called “Ammmaaaaa………………..”. The tone was so irritating that it made me forget what I was studying. After sometime the voice called out in more pathetic and worse voice which killed Kannada mercilessly, “I am very hungry. I haven’t eaten anything since morning. Give me some food”. My Mom told the person to move on but the voice kept irritating us. Finally I opened the door and found very dirty, smelly and ugly bucktoothed boy standing there with an old milk powder tin box which was as dirty as his clothes, begging for food. He must have been around 11-12 yrs old. My mom as usual felt sad for the kid and told me to hand over whatever was left of the morning breakfast for the boy. I was not the one to put down the book under normal condition, but his pathetic irritating voice had me run inside to do whatever to get rid of him. I did not feel like dropping the food into the dirty tin box so wrapped it in a newspaper and handed it out to him. He immediately sat on our steps and started to gobble down the food. When finished he asked for some more. Mom told me to give him previous night’s leftovers too. So I was serving this boy instead of studying for my exams. I kept cursing him but something about him was sad and it had me serving him rice and sambhar again. In no time he finished all the food and thanked my Mom, though I was the one who had served him.
Time kept ticking away and for some silly reason we found him standing there, without budging or going away on his begging mission. My mom asked him what he wanted and he said he was still hungry. I almost fell out my chair. He had eaten food enough for three men and was still hungry. My mom felt sad for him and asked him if he would work for his food. He said yes. She then had a lengthy chat with him asking him about his parents etc. We were never interested in his story and for short got to know that his parents were both drunkards and took away all his money when he went home. She told him to go home and tell them that he will not be coming home frequently hereafter, but will pay them some money at the end of the month. He went away happily. He was back in the evening. I could not imagine having this boy inside our home and for once everyone shared my feelings. Mom shut all of us by saying that everything turned absolutely clean if you put water on it by reciting “kaleema” and so he was sent into the bathroom with a bar of soap. He had his bath and came out looking as dirty as he was earlier. He was sent back in there again and now was handed coconut coir to scrub himself with. He came back again looking a bit cleaner and was sent back again to clean himself. Finally we saw he was not brown but a very black kid with jet black hair and yellow teeth. Finally mom poured water on him reciting Kaleema and brought him in. He looked totally different in clothes my Mom had given him.
He came from very low caste and people were not happy that my mother was keeping him in our house. But Mom said a person is a person no matter what caste they belonged to and it is the society that made them into lesser human beings than us. My dad was not happy with this decision mom had made but ended up surrendering to Mom’s wishes as usual.
We got to know his name to be Muniya. No one mingled with him much. I was preparing for my 6th std examination and had no time for anyone. My brother and younger sister were sort of scared of a beggar boy who had all of sudden become Mommy’s pet. My elder sister was always busy chatting away with her friends. Unknown to any one of us slowly Muniya had made for himself a special place in my mom’s heart and he turned out to be a very caring person when it came to my Mom. He would always eat dinner making sure my mom had enough to eat. We never knew that at times mom would feed everyone and if nothing was left would go to bed on empty stomach. No one ever checked out how much food she had cooked. At times we would eat more and nothing would be left but sometimes no one ate properly so lot of food was left over. Mom had trouble measuring out tummies and if dad found out that food was being wasted he wound make a huge fuss of it. So mom usually went to bed without food if everything was finished instead of cooking for herself again. It was Muniya who started checking out if she had something left for dinner or not and if not he would not eat his share too. It was time for all of us to hang our heads in shame. We did.
The stray dogs in our locality began to lose some weight, because the ever hungry Muniya would finish up anything that was left in the night. Mom did not have to face the wrath of dad for throwing away food anymore.
All the day he would run around my mom helping her with the work. Slowly we forgot he was a dirty beggar boy and started to treat him with some respect. My brother taught him to ride bicycle. I started to teach him Kannada alphabets. Soon he became a part of our family. Once in a month he would take his salary. We did not know how much Mom paid him but it was good enough to keep his parents quite and happy. They never ever bothered to check out on him. He would have a bath before coming in after handing over his salary.
When the touring studio came to our town he wanted to take few pictures of him. Mom dressed him up very neatly and sent him with my brother and sister to have his photograph taken. He looked very funny posing on the motorbike, standing with a tie etc. Even to this day I wonder what a great bond had formed between my mom and Muniya. She would feed him and take care of him like she took care of us and he in turn cared for her as though he was her own son. Not once did anyone find him cheating on us in any way.
My dad did not appreciate him to the end. Muniya would take food for my brother and sister during lunch period. It was then that my younger sister would pester him to bring her back home with her. She would sit on the cycle carrier and refuse to get down. Many times she would come back home during lunch period. Teachers informed my dad about this and he was furious. My sister got mild punishment and Muniya a bit harsher. He was warned that he should not listen to my sister. Few days went by with my sister staying back in school without fuss. But after a few months she started pestering him again. He was terrified of my dad and firmly refused her. Few days later she won the battle with him and came back home after lunch. Muniya handed over the cycle, and went away never to be seen by us again. My mom was very sad and sent someone to fetch him back from home but they informed us that he had come home and told them that he is not working in our home anymore and they should not bother my Mom asking about his whereabouts but had gone away after that. Days went by and we stopped expecting him to come back. My mom would think of him very often and wonder where he was.
One day when I was going to college a lorry suddenly stopped in front of me and a young man jumped down and rushed towards me. I was very scared at first but then I saw the bucktoothed smile and realized it was Muniya. He told me to tell my mom that he was very sorry and ashamed that he had left home in this manner. He could not go back to his begging ways and so had found himself a job as a cleaner for lorry and was travelling all over India. I asked him whether he stopped reading. He said he continued to read Kannada and could read better than the driver. I asked him to come over and meet mom but he said he could not do that after leaving home abruptly.
Mom was very happy to know he was doing good. Much later when I was taking my son for a walk I met him again. He was driving the lorry now. He did come over finally to meet my mom. She did not ask him why he had left abruptly neither he told her why. He told her about his job etc and went his way after getting her blessing and his childhood photos. We never saw him again because we changed house and he may never have got our new address.
Whenever people talk about my Mom, they mention her wisdom, her generosity, her extravagance ways, her sweet talk which made people do silly things and at times her cunning ways too. What we all have forgotten is how much love she had for children. Even the beggars or street children could make her heart melt.
I had seen this side of her in my younger days and even to this day I feel so proud thinking of the good deed my Mom had done back then. She had, silently, in a small way washed away the stigma of untouchable from the life of a boy and given him a new identity. Back in those days it was very brave thing to do.
Hats off to you mommy. I am so proud of you... 

Monday, October 18, 2010

Sporting Memories... that will always last.

Sports were never the same with our new P.T. Sir (that was how everyone addressed him, including the teachers). He made the kids sweat on the field. He was very strict but at the same time good trainer. Many kids who never participated in physical activities were pulled into the games by him. He never allowed any excuse until he was sure that it was genuine one.
I used to give excuse of my club foot and not play much in school and never participated in the mass drill they organized every Saturday. I never wanted to be in competitions where others could mock my club foot or beat me badly in games. I played alone.
The new trainer told me I had to do as much as possible and take rest if I truly had pain in my leg. We had a little argument but he won because he knew I used to walk quite long distance to school at times instead of waiting for the bus and also when I wanted to, I played quite well. For once there was a person who could not see my disability. To him I was like any other kid. He made me sweat it out and run like everyone.
He guided me to walk with less limp which is a whole different story. P.T. sir showed special interest In training me and with his encouragement I was lured into participating in more sports. I found out to my amazement I could actually beat other kids in hop and catch, throw ball, dodge ball and kho-kho.
Slowly I realized the bull chasing episode where I had overtaken my sister was not a fluke and I could actually beat many kids in running. It came as a big surprise to everyone around me and I was utterly shocked. I was beaming with happiness and pride off course.
The school competitions were coming up and P.T. Sir told me to participate in running for my category.  I had qualified for the sports meet to be held in a village nearby called Vartur. I was full of gratitude for the man who had helped me overcome my disability and said “Thank you sir”. He smiled and told me something which I remember even to this day when I have to fight a battle, “I am not sure about your legs girl, but your spirit is going to take you far”.
We kept practicing hard for the sports meet where most of the schools from our district were participating. For once my books were ignored. I did not want to let my school down. Between the hectic schedules of sports preparation the days flew by and we were in Vartur.
. “Good” he said and I heard his voice was emotional. I looked up and saw two droplets of tears his eyes. Then my emotions became clear and I knew I had won. Second place was not sucking any more.
Even to this day I remember those droplets of tears and this gesture from Sir is more precious than any medal I could ever win…..

Friday, October 15, 2010

I wish my phone had the feature – to utter the magic words “ They have found a cure”.

Doctors had told me that my daughter was born with multiple disabilities. It is not easy for a mom to accept the fact that her child is exceptional and will have challenges doing simple activities. It was very tough on me to accept the fact that my 2 month old daughter was suffering from some kind of atrophy to her brain which had taking away her ability to see. The effect the brain atrophy would have on her life was not known then but it was clear that she had no vision. My cute little baby who looked so healthy with beautiful eyes had no vision and suffered from some unknown terrible malady which could take away more of her much needed abilities was unacceptable to me. The VEP proved she had no vision.
I was feeding my daughter and the phone started to ring. The landline went on tring tring for some time and then paused. I wanted to finish with the task on hand first and then attend to the phone. It started to ring again. I put up daughter down and attended to the call.
Caller : Is this Farida Rizwan?
Me : yeah
Caller : Ma’am, I am receptionist from the hospital calling. You had been here last week and doctor said your child was not normal. She says there has been mistake in the diagnosis and they regret it. Your daughter is absolutely fine and there is no need to worry.
Me: OH MY GOD! I knew it. I knew there had been a mistake. Thank you so much …
I left the phone hanging and ran to my daughter but slipped and woke up to the dark night engulfing me. It was still night and I was dreaming. My two kids were sleeping as though there was nothing wrong with the world around them.
Life moved on with harsh reality of life and another reality of life was breast cancer. Did not even give me chance to recover from the shock of my daughters diagnosis. Surgery, chemotherapy along with support from my kids and family pushed me on. Yet there was no way to be sure that the demon would not come back.
I was in my native place and having my lunch when my Nokia 1100 started ringing the tune of Dhoom.. I picked it up and had my brother on the line. He was calling from Bangalore.
Brother : Hi Fari. I have a good news for you!
Me : what?
Brother : I need you to sit down before I tell this to you.
Me : OK OK !!! I am sitting down. Please tell me soon. Did you get some good job?
Brother : Doctor told me today that they have finally found a cure for Farheena. All she needs is a medicine to be administered to her for 3 months and then she is going to be able to walk, talk, read and write like any one of us.
Me : It is like dream come true.. Oh God! I am leaving for Bangalore today.
I put the phone down and tried to finish the last two morsels of food lying on my place but then choked on it. I closed my eyes and then opened them into utter darkness of night. So the dream had remained to be just the dream. It had not come true. My kids like usual were sleeping as though nothing was amiss in their lives.
The dream went on and as my phones kept changing the only aspect was the tone the look of the phone that changed. How much we steel ourselves to the reality, love of kid never lets you stop wishing and those wishes manifest as a dream for me. Always!
I was looking at the new touch screen phone which I had won online. I felt so proud announcing to my facebook friends that I was writing my status through the one touch phone I had won online. As I was looking at the key pad to find the right words I saw the screen lighting up and announcing an incoming call. It was a call from USA. My friend Paula was calling from her cell phone. As she was having tough time I got worried.

Me : Hi, how are you Pee?
Paula : I am fine. Actually you need to come back to USA as soon as possible. There has been a breakthrough in the medicine and they have found a way to treat Farheena. She is going to gain her full mobility, speaking skills etc. What do you think?
Me: OH God!! I knew they could do it…
And then all of the sudden everything goes blank and it is totally dark. I wonder what happened during midday to create such darkness and then I realize I was still dreaming.
Phone change but the wish remains the same…. Life goes on!

Thursday, October 14, 2010


Rayyan Lost in Laptop

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