Hope in a cancer hospital

28 August 2023
Rhea Pal Written by Rhea Pal
Rhea Pal

Rhea Pal

Rhea Pal is 40 years old. She’s dark, short, forgets names easily and is a rockstar in her...

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I had just recovered from postpartum depression and could finally see the joy and sunbeam in my baby. Laughter came easy to us with his clumsy baby moves and giggles. Life finally made sense. I remember thinking I’d paid my dues and it was time to return to joy.

Then, one fine evening in June, my phone rang. It was Maa. She always called at dusk when the near end of the day tinged her life with boredom and an old age gloom. I guessed the baby’s hopeful coos and boos made both my parents happy. But this time, it was different. ‘Baba is not well, and the doctor has asked for a chest x-ray,’ she said. I don’t remember worrying about it too much. Just a gulp of anxiety running down my throat. 

The next few days, life changed. Tests, scans, and reports kept piling like the worry lines on my face. The torture of waiting felt like a hot knife grazing on my skin. The wait stopped with a message from my brother – ‘Call when you are free.’ There was no hint of trouble brewing in those words. Yet my heart sank, and my hands trembled as I dialed back. His voice crackled from the other end. ‘Baba has lung cancer, and it doesn’t look good.’

Tears didn’t come rolling down right away. I think it was stopped by the knot in my throat. The knot loosened in the darkness of the night.

I walked out with my pillow, not wanting to wake my baby, and my husband and I screamed into it, hoping the pain would come hurtling out. But it doesn’t work that way, does it? 

The next day, I flew down from Goa to Kolkata, leaving my husband, a year-old baby, and my dogs behind. It was an early morning flight. As I got into the cab in the dark dawn, I looked back at my home again and quietly murmured, ‘I’ll be back soon, but I don’t know when.’ 

The first glimpse of my father is one that I’ll take with me to my grave. Tall and wide, slightly affected by age, Baba was lying on his bed – smaller, frailer, melting into the bedsheet. I sat a little away from him, scared I might hurt him if I inched any closer. The journey to negotiate his lifespan was to start the next day. 

The hospital was everything I had imagined it to be and more. Teeming with people in wheelchairs and stretchers, doctors in white and green, and patients with hope, sadness, joy, and love, all mixed like a cocktail made by life. 

I stood in the corner of a big white glass window. The buzz around grew louder and louder, so I closed my eyes to shut the noise. As my mind grew silent and I opened my eyes, the noise turned to conversations. Yes, there were talks about the next test, insurance floor, and daycare rooms.

But there were also conversations about holidays to plan, dinners to enjoy, Netflix shows to watch, and funny cat videos to laugh at. I felt lighter, easier, happier. I felt hope in a cancer hospital. 

I started to walk from counter to counter with my sister-in-law, holding onto the files that bled with the words – non-small-cell adenocarcinoma (lungs) in one hand and the end of my dress with the other. I crossed people. A mother holding her child tighter as if her embrace would act like chemotherapy. I crossed a daughter who cracked jokes with her maa attached to tubes.

The mother did smile from time to time. A husband rolled down his wife in a wheelchair while she kept instructing him about how to make the bed. Two friends, one cancer-bald and the other flaunting a mop of hair, sitting and watching the rain with their hot teacups – I saw millions of stories around me. Stories of soldiers of everyday life. 

Hope in a cancer hospital

Now, while the chemo works to kill the cancer in my father’s body, I, too, like them, sit beside him, looking around. The strength and beauty of people killing my sense of defeat bit by bit. Their strength is now mine, too. That very moment of their life is my fuel, and they don’t even know it. Every time I walk into the hospital, I think – I might not be able to save my father, but we sure won’t go silently into the dark. 

Courage is a weird emotion – it comes when the end seems near. 

Now, days follow nights, and nights follow the occasional anxiety. I do get up at times and watch my father breathe. If he skips a beat, I wonder if he’s left us. I sit on the balcony looking at his running shoes, which he might never have the strength to wear. I see his suits hanging, waiting for his return. I see my dog’s leash, which my father held for 10 years, and now I do. 

I also see myself scrolling through reels less. I do not see the cacophony of social media blocking my mind. I see conversations with Baba as the sun sets and we eat guavas. I see friends lighting up my life like diamonds as they check on me and my father, who they haven’t even met. I see the strength and beauty of my husband, raising our child and dogs alone. I see sadness one minute, followed by a cackle of laughter around the family table. 

I see Baba getting stronger each day, peppered with days of weakness. I see us fighting battles silently – not to win the war. Simply to win happiness in this limited time. And isn’t that what life is all about? 

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of MyndStories. As a first-person essay, this content is not verified by our Reviewers.

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