It i s the C word. It is Courage


Response received from friends, doctors and ordinary people after my first article on my illness was tremendous and heartwarming. They all told me that in Sri Lanka we did not discuss such matters very openly and it was good that I had decided to talk about it. I will continue to. I expect no sympathy.

My room at Lanka Hospital was a very special one. It was in the paediatric section, of all places. Nurses led by Sister Nadee took great care of me. That kindness and cheerful caring, I would never forget. I continue to drop in to see them even today. I remember there was one with beautiful eyes which mesmerized me though I was in pain. Oh, those eyes! I was given four blood transfusions, several injections. Blood also was taken from me several times. The nurses kept telling me they were sorry to be taking blood from me after giving me blood transfusions.

My appetite was back to normal. I ate food given by the hospital and brought by my friends. I am not going to mention all their names because they don’t like it. I will never forget them and their kindness. I figured out that the doctors zeroed in fast on what was wrong with me. Dr. Upali Weragama was very humane. He even cancelled some tests and decided to do the bone marrow test. I said to myself "Ah! Bone marrow test. Might be a cancer and a bone marrow transplant". Because that’s all I knew of bone marrows like any other ordinary person. I waited for the bone marrow test to be done, thinking of the pain and mayhem it would cause to my body. The nurses told me that it wouldn't be painful. I did believe them to a certain extent. And, I waited. Dr. Visaka Ratnamalala, who carried out the bone marrow test was kind. She has an admirable sense of humour.

She walked in with a gang of six nurses. She promised me that it wouldn't be painful. She kept her word after giving me anaesthesia or whatever it is called. I know, I muttered something during the test. I also heard her saying that my bones were very hardy. She asked me what type of meats I consumed. I remember, nurses/sisters holding me tight to ensure I wouldn't move. I had a sound sleep thereafter. I stayed over another day. The doctor decided to discharge me as my blood count came back to normal. I wanted to know again what it was. I was told it was a type of cancer. I had taught the nurses at the hospital about death and what my Amma had taught me about impermanency. I never expected to live beyond 40 and am now 58. These are my bonus years! As an eternal romantic, I also like to say my goodbyes, I told some of my friends. We must know everything and ask a lot of questions so much so that a nurse happened to say, "Sir, you are like a question paper"

I came home after being discharged. I was asked to change my lifestyle, rest as much as possible and eat with care. I have changed my lifestyle and my diet. I ended my love affair—with sugar. Thanks to these changes, my blood count became normal when I went to check my blood after a week.

I also collected the reports of Dr Ratnamalala, which confirmed that my illness was known as Myelodysplastic (MDS). This is what Google Guru says about it: "It is a group of cancers in which immature blood cells in the bone marrow do not mature and therefore do not become healthy blood cells. Early on, there are typically no symptoms. Later symptoms may include feeling tired, shortness of breath, etc." (The ones which I had.) However, a wonderful and humane doctor who would kill me if I mention her name told me: "MDS is not a cancer. It can transform to acute Leukemia. It is pre-cancerous. It does not necessarily transform because one may succumb to infections and may not live long enough for it to transform. It need not always transform. If you have 5Q minus type it responds to treatment well or a transplant will cure you. So, it is not cancer". However, everyone else and the literature I read describe it as a cancer. For us ordinary people it is a cancer. Who cares? In my book, C stands for Courage.

The report from Chennai took two weeks to arrive. It confirmed what Dr Ratnamalala said and gave more details. I am now getting used to this. I have met and discussed with a few courageous people. I need to meet some others soon. They inspire me. However, It is I who have to inspire myself and face it. Most say it could be cured because it’s at an early stage. At times, you feel down. That happens in case of most illnesses. I am challenging this because I don’t want to run away. I don’t mind getting a small extension in life.

I will keep my readers up to date of my situation because more Sri Lankans must discuss these issues openly to help others. Until then I will try to be serendipitous and enjoy the pleasant journey of life. Cheers!

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