When Cancer Strikes: A Journey Of Loss And Hope

A journey of loss and hope

Cervical Cancer. I wonder how many of you are aware of this term. I wasn’t; until a close friend of mine met with a fateful incident on a cold December night.

Neena, my neighbour, one May evening, came to my house, depressed. I was studying at a college in Delhi then. She was a year older to me. Since, we were from the same background [read English literature] and she being my senior, but at another college, I would always ask for her help while writing my assignments.

What bonded both of us was that we were outsiders, who came to Delhi to study and become good writers. She was born and raised in Ranchi, and I spent 18 years of my life in Assam. We had a problem in common – the terrible MTI (mother tongue influence) that prevented us from making too many friends. We were scared to speak our heart out in English. So, every evening, she and I would practice pronunciation by watching videos on internet.

It was a balmy evening and I was sipping on my coffee. As I said, Neena and I would meet every day to furnish our English pronunciation; I wasn’t surprised when the doorbell rang. Unlike the other days, when she would first switch on the TV to watch her favourite Ben 10 cartoon show, I was asked to dress up quickly.

“Please accompany me to the clinic at Yusuf Sarai,” Neena requested. However, she wasn’t too willing to disclose the reason of the visit.

Mr Singh, the doctor at the clinic has known Neena since years. Be it fever, back pain, or headache, Neena’s only saviour has always been Mr Singh. After a fifteen-minute discussion with the doctor, Neena came out of the observation room.

“Why don’t do you tell what’s going on?,” I petulantly asked Neena.

Neena didn’t utter a word and called an auto.

We reached home. Neena asked me to offer her a glass of cold water. As she took her first sip, she in a very low voice said that a disease in the family history has given her a cause to be concerned of her own health.

“I told Mr Singh about my fear but he said that I’m healthy enough to suffer from a disease like the one I am thinking about. But I am not sure. I feel something is not right,” she murmured.

“Well, see you tomorrow. I need some time alone. May be I shall sleep for a while,” continued Neena as she got up from the chair to hug me.

The next day, when I went to her room, I found her door locked from outside. I called her up several times but her phone wasn’t reachable.

I was impatiently waiting for the evening to hear the doorbell ring.

As I peeped through the window glass, I saw Neena coming towards our apartment.

She looked very happy. I went down to greet her.

“I got selected for the internship programme in creative writing. Also, I am feeling better. Let’s plan something for the night.”

I hugged her tight.

That night, we went out for a movie, followed by dinner.

Things were going smooth like it used to be. Our evening sessions continued and weekends of sangrias and movies kept us busy.

Eight months later Neena started to experience unusual symptoms: abnormal bleeding between periods and pelvic cramps; the symptoms she was feared of. She once again asked me to accompany to Mr Singh and this time some tests were carried out.

Neena was asked to take some medicines for ten days. Doctor said the reports would take some time.

Two days later, Neena came to my home with her bags packed.

“I’m leaving for Ranchi. I feel weak and miss home. Maa will be able to take care of me better”.

I agreed and asked her to allow me to drop her at the rail station.

The bond between us, over the years, grew stronger. I didn’t like the idea of her leaving Delhi. I know, it was nothing but selfishness; but I couldn’t at that point of time think of a day without her.

We spoke over the phone regularly; at times thrice a day.

On December 10, 2009, at 1.00pm, I got a call from Neena’s mother.

“Neena has been diagnosed with cervical cancer”.

I couldn’t say anything and disconnected the phone.

I heard the term for the first time, and as I googled to know more about it, I realised there’re lakhs of women across the world who have been suffering from this dreadful disease.

What followed for Neena was an extensive, brave and painful battle with the condition. I rushed to Ranchi to stay with her for a week.

She, however, remained positive throughout and fought hard, never giving up despite the suffering her cancer forced upon her.

Months of treatment, good news, bad news, and anguish followed with each day presenting a new challenge.

When I last saw Neena, she was skin and bones. It was so hard to see her like that. She was always full of life.

Fifteen days later, her mother gave me the news of Neena’s demise.

Neel, her brother said, she passed away in their mother’s arms.

According to ‘Cervical Cancer Global Crisis Card’ released by the Cervical Cancer-Free Coalition, cervical cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths among women in India, with approximately 1.32 lakh new cases of cervical cancer being diagnosed and about 74,000 deaths occurring annually, accounting for nearly one-third of cervical cancer deaths across the world.

I don’t blame anyone for what happened to Neena. I don’t think it would have made a difference she had a smear test when she first went to the doctor. I just wish that the doctors took her problem seriously, despite her saying several times that she feared of being attacked by it because of her family history.

I’m hearing more and more stories about women dying from cervical cancer. The mentality of people should change now. Women should be encouraged to go through the cervical cancer screening when they turn 18 or even when they become sexually active.

I sincerely hope Neena’s story makes other women more aware of the disease.

Visit your nearest doctor without any delay for a check-up and learn more about the condition.