Samuel, though still nonplussed, responded, “Doctor, please allow us a few hours to discuss the situation and we’ll then proceed accordingly.” Aakriti with an anesthetized feel, nodded in agreement.
Doctor Raman, who had a queue of patients waiting, spoke decisively, “Fair enough. You can inform Ajmal about your decision. And sorry, that I had to bring this diagnose to you.”
They soon left the hospital as though in a trance. All along, Aakriti just clung to Samuel’s arm.
When Meena came to know about the report, she too was just thrown out of gear. It took some time for them to accept what they were dealing with. This was the first time in the family or their friends circle that someone had been diagnosed with this dreaded ailment. Aakriti and Samuel spent time in their room, googling about it. The read was depressing.
Samuel though feeling low, attempted to muster up his spirits. He took her hand and spoke rather defiantly, “Aaky, we will fight this monster- and win the battle. Nothing to despair.”
She gave him a long soft kiss with tears bloating her eyes, “Yes Baldy, we will go all out to demolish it.”
Samuel laughed, “Ah- ha- this is like being hit by a random stray bullet out of nowhere! Advanced cancer of all the things- laughable!”
Aakriti was desperately trying to control her emotions and spoke with conviction, “Never mind, it’s time to look ahead. We need to now decide the course of action. Let’s go and discuss it also with ma and pa?”
Manu and Meena were in the living room still trying to come to terms with this unconceivable development. Aakriti and Samuel joined them with a body language exuberating confidence. After a conversation to reassure each other, it was Aakriti who took the lead with grit, “Okay, so let’s chalk out the future plan.”
Soon they were all engrossed in working out the course ahead. There was consensus to the urgency of starting the treatment. Quick decisions followed. The first was as an obvious that the treatment was to be had in London. Then came the cancelling of the trip further and earliest travel back to London. They got tickets for the day after. Samuel was coming with grips with the thought of the future medical interventions. Dr. Ajmal was kind enough to procure the scan copy for reference in London. Meena decided to accompany her daughter. Although she was a working woman, she had always rated family compulsions as top priority. By late evening all was set for the journey back. What was transpiring indeed appeared to be surreal to them.
Well, it was more than a month after coming back from India. Finally, today Samuel had his first round of chemotherapy of the sixteen prescribed. Fortunately, he had been referred within the NHS, to St. George’s Hospital, which was one of the best in London for cancer treatment. Although the doctors had put his case on fast-track considering the advanced stage of the disease, it had still taken long a time to commence treatment due to the procedures. Time also got consumed for the various precise tests and scans before the board of doctors could finally decide on the treatment.
A trying time it was no doubt for Aakriti and Samuel to absorb the complexities involved in the treatment. The doctors had informed them of the possibility of operating the colon tumor over a period, but the spread of the cancer cells on the liver was such that surgery here appeared remote. It would depend how Samuel reacted to the chemotherapy- which was the option they had opted for in his case. A PIC line had been inserted in his arm for the infusion of the drugs in his body system. Scans would be scheduled periodically to assess the progress and then evaluate the further course. They had made him conversant with the side effects of the strong drugs that would be administered. Hair loss, fatigue, reduced appetite resulting in weight loss were but some of the listed ones. Samuel took on the challenge with courage and hope. He was also cautioned that for the first three or four days after this drug therapy, he would feel tired and drowsy. The therapy was to be repeated after every two weeks. And then there were a whole host of restrictions. Samuel had a few preparatory sessions with his oncologist whose compassionate and charismatic personality always pepped him.
Aakriti had taken the day off from work to be with Samuel. They had come back from the hospital a while ago after finishing this first session. He was resting in their first-floor bedroom. There was a small plastic bottle hung at his hip which would be removed after a day. Another drug was slowly being pumped into the blood stream. Samuel had endured the day with a pessimistic smile. The tests, the pricks for the blood test, the two-hours sitting on the comfortable chemo-chair being strapped with tubes- had been quite a first-time experience for him.
Aakriti narrated the day’s activity in the hospital to her mother Meena. They were seated in the living room. Meena heaved a sigh, “At least the treatment has started. It is going to be a tough battle ahead.” She had been a big support for Aakriti and Samuel and stood like a rock with them in coping with all the stress. In fact, she had taken upon herself to take care of Samuel’s dietary needs as prescribed by the doctors.
“Yes, thank God the process has begun,” concurred Aakriti. “And Samuel is in reasonably good spirits. Throughout the day he was his chirpy self. In fact, he made friends with a forty-year old woman seated in the chemo-chair adjoining his- she was undergoing treatment for cancer in the uterus and had taken thirty-four rounds.” There was a starkness in her big, wide-open eyes, “I could never have imagined that there were so many people infected by cancer- people of all age groups!”
Samuel was crotched on their living room sofa, feeling a bit tired having concluded the twelfth round of the chemotherapy in the morning. The strain of the treatment was showing on him- he had shed a few kilograms. Today his father Mike had accompanied him to the hospital. A family support plan had been worked out between Aakriti’s and his father to ensure that someone from the family was always there with him. He had lost his mother a few years back. Mike had earlier rushed to London from New Zealand to be with his son but had to return for a compelling business deal. This was his second visit now. Manu was supposed to be alternating places next month with him.
With eyes closed, Samuel was silently recollecting his childhood days in New Zealand. The whole family used to go for sailing during the holidays. His sister was always the more pampered one. One thing which he distinctly remembered was his arguments with her as to who would empty the black-bag garbage bins every week. And frankly, even to this day, he dreaded this task. During the last so many years, interactions with his father had reduced significantly. They had no doubt drifted away from each other. In fact, his father earlier in the day, in an emotional moment, had shared with him the repentance for this void. They had in a lighter vein, promised each other to make up for the lost time. “If there is much left for me,” Samuel had jokingly added. But the pessimism in his thought had surprised him, because all along, he had avoided the cloud of negativity.
Somehow, during the last few days, he had a persisting suspicion that things were not going in the right direction. He had of late felt more fatigued and less energetic. The craving for food had reduced. But the knowledge that he was in the best of medical hands brought back the smile on his face, and his thoughts turned towards thanking God for all that was going right-- his office policies had been compassionate enough to continue his salary without going to work for the next five years- with a cut of twenty-five percent. His colleagues and friends had been extremely supportive. And then, he had a hefty insurance policy. “I’m going to fight this monster out of my body,” he told himself with resolute.
Just then, the door-bell rang and on opening the door, he was surprised to see Aakriti standing there, “Why, you are back early today!”
Aakriti didn’t appear in the best of her moods. With a dry-smile, she came in and sat down on the sofa, “Baldy, I thought of spending some time with you.” Samuel entwined his arm around her shoulders and gave her a long deep kiss, “Ah, that’s the spirit- my lovely wife.”
Aakriti responded warmly and after some generic talk, gazed at him expressionless, “The news is not good darling. The latest scan report has come. There is no progress in the reduction of the tumor sizes. On the contrary, the disease has spread further in the lungs. The doctors plan to change the chemotherapy drugs and are a bit concerned about the damage to the immune system.” She spoke slowly and confidently, “I’m sure the change of drugs should help.”
Samuel felt a mild shiver go through his body, and responded after a while with hope, “Oh, yes, not good news indeed! But as you say, change of drugs should add vigour to the fight.” His smiled cheekily, “Don’t worry, I’m a tough guy and will fight this devil.”
Mike entered the room and joined in the conversation, bringing in a bravado to the mood.
The drugs had been changed for another sixteen rounds of chemotherapy and Samuel was also given a few sittings of radiotherapy. It was now more than two months with this altered treatment. The doctors had given up the hope of surgery as the disease on the liver had not receded. There was more weight loss, his bony body structure becoming more prominent. He often walked with a hunched back. The harsh duel treatment had taken its toll. Looking into the mirror, at times he wondered if he was same dashing person that he held pride in being.