Corona and Cancer are two killer twins with grave similarities which go much beyond the letter “C” and six alphabets which they have in their name.
In fact, both have larger than life image and draw a larger fear factor than their actual potential. They are deadly partners in health crimes against humanity.
Our generation is in the eye of the storm witnessing the onslaught of these two maladies. I am the God’s selected one to have conquered cancer and now witness to Corona pandemic.
BREAKING THE NEWS
Cancer and Corona both create the impression of fatality in the minds, at the very first diagnosis. It’s taken as the beginning of the end. The breaking news of my first cancer diagnosis was disclosed to me by my friend and Ace oncologist, Brig A K Dhar in 2008 when he was HoD, Onco- Medicine Dept. in Army Hospital (RR), Delhi Cantt. I can now understand how difficult it must be for the oncologists to convey this devastating news.
Till then, my hospital visits were generally restricted to once a year for annual medical check-ups. My vocabulary also did not consist of words like oncology, malignancy, carcinoma and lymphoma etc. etc. The doctor patiently explained the details. Understanding very little, I asked him in filmy style- “How much time do I have, doctor?” He laughed and said, “It’s 100% curable but the treatment is long and painful”. As I walked out of his office, the world looked different. Driving back home, the echo of ‘I have cancer’ got louder and louder. All other problems of life like career, achievements, children education, parent’s health, wife’s shopping and boss’s mood, which were major concerns till an hour ago, now appeared too mundane and of little consequence. Cancer had dwarfed them all.
As soon as I arrived home, I disclosed the traumatic news to my wife. A lady of steel and grit, she did not display her emotions. She listened to all the details and then said, “If the doctor says he will cure it, why worry?” I know behind this simple statement was a storm brewing in her mind. Probably, both were asking the same question “Why me?” Even after leading such a pious and regimented healthy life by saying no to tobacco, alcohol and non-veg, why this has to happen to me? We could sulk and crib or face it squarely like a soldier. We decided to take the later course and decided to fight it out. The decision was taken, we kissed each other good night and had a peaceful sleep.
Next day, self and wife went to meet Brig AK Dhar (our consultant). He patiently explained to us about the disease, treatment protocol, the side effects and above all the need to remain positive. In the end, we had only one request – “We had planned a family holiday in Sikkim, before chemotherapy starts?” He was astonished to find a family who wants to go on a sojourn after hearing about cancer. That’s the metal and spirit, we soldiers are made of.
Similarly, in 2020 as the corona news started pouring in, I found that corona is also received with some shock and awe as cancer. The fear of the unknown, lack of confirmed medication and non-availability of vaccines till date, coupled with a fast spread like pandemic has added to the aura of this disease. Corona too is curable and not all cases are fatal but the world has taken six months to learn this and they are still coming to terms with it.
SOCIAL DISTANCING AND ISOLATION
Social distancing and isolation are again a common thread between Corona and Cancer. In both cases, the patient is treated with such a stigma that people avoid him on the name of social distancing. These are testing times for patients and family. While undergoing cancer treatment also, there were some relatives and friends, who surprisingly distanced themselves till I had to remind them that cancer is not an infectious disease. Similarly, when Corona came, patients were dumped by society as ‘untouchables’.
The isolation during prolonged chemotherapy seasons was similar to lockdown experiences of Corona. Both the diseases and more so Corona has torn the fragile social fabric and unfortunately, it’s going to be the new norm. The social distancing has made deep furrows into inter-personal relationships today and certainly, life will not be the same even when Corona goes away.
HYGIENE AND SANITATION
The rules of hygiene and sanitation are similar in Corona and Cancer. When Corona came calling in 2020, I was reminded of masks, sanitizers, PPE kits and such things which were used by us, some ten years back while undergoing cancer treatment. In both cases, sanitation and personal hygiene have to be of utmost importance for survival.
In the Bone Marrow Transplant (BMT), self and wife (as a medical buddy) were locked inside one room for 45 days. It was similar to lockdown during Corona. In BMT, getting infections is common and it delays the whole process of recovery by many days. She took it upon herself as a challenge to not let infections affect me and hamper the recovery. In the Corona lockdown times, doing their own work with utmost hygiene was a repeat telecast of BMT for us. Having well cooked, home-made, healthy food during cancer treatment and corona times is another striking similarity between the two diseases. The challenges of food and nutrition faced by us during Corona brought back the memories of cancer treatment yet again and we lived it up with aplomb.
As a psycho-oncology consultant and motivator, I prescribe potions of positivity, an elixir of life, for those having incurable diseases. Positivity always helps in the recovery of cancer and Corona alike. After all, winning and losing is all in the minds. If you feel you will be cured! You certainly will be! From my personal experience, Chemotherapy has a large number of positives. Your body develops resilience to fight for survival, the new hair that comes after treatment are strong, shining and black. Lifestyle diseases Like BP, cholesterol and diabetes remain under check.
Similarly in Corona, I always tell the patients that after 14 days of treatment, you will become immune and corona will no longer scare you. You will be able to move around freely without fear. You can do community service as a plasma donor. You will be cured once and for all with no residual restrictions or medication.
DON’T DIE BEFORE THE DEATH COMES
The morbidity factor in case of cancer is much higher at 14 to 15%. In the case of Corona, it is less than 2%. Corona has lesser fatality ratios than diseases like flu, malaria, Dengue, asthma and even road accidents, yet it creates panic and fear.
The moment a patient is diagnosed with cancer or Corona, the whole family goes into mourning and the patient starts counting backwards. Let’s not live in the fear of death and live life king size till the destined date of meeting with death. I am fully in agreement to be careful and take all precautions to check the spread, but my request to all humans is not– repeat NOT to stop living. “Let’s not die before death comes.” Life and death are two certain events that God has kept with him. Since it’s not in our hands, why should we worry about it?
I have observed many cases of cancer and other incurable diseases, succumbing only because they gave up the will to live/fight, while many others with strong will survived to live for another day. World cycling champion, Lance Armstrong survived stage 4 cancer with only 03% chances of survival and became world champion again (Corona patients have 98% chances of survival). Similarly, my chances of survival were only 20% yet I was not so scared as much as I find general public, who have not yet been contacted by the COVID 19 disease having only 02% fatality.
The caregivers, including doctors, nurses and paramedics are doing a fantastic job, in both ‘C’ cases. In the COVID times also, doctors and paramedics did not go home for 2 to 3 months. They attended to Corona patients 24 x 7, unmindful of their own safety. The sincerity, dedication and professionalism of medical fraternity in these challenging times have been applauded by all, across the globe. Very truly, the effort was recognized by our Prime Minister and the whole nation of 130 Crores.
In a miniature version, the same is applicable to all cancer treatments also. I owe my second lease of life to Brig A K Dhar, my oncologist and his team of dedicated staff at Army Hospital (RR), Delhi Cantt. My BMT was done on the day of Holi Festival. He said “Sir! What could be a better celebration and festivity for us then to give you cancer-free life”. I was really moved and bowed to their dedication beyond the Call of Duty. I celebrated my Birthday, Wedding Anniversary, Christmas and New Year with the RR Hospital staff and they have become extended family, forever. The relationship of caregivers and patients is immortal and remains even after treatment is over. I shall remain, ever grateful to such sincere and professional caregivers.
TREATING CANCER IN CORONA TIMES
The world was taken by surprise when it was hit by the corona storm. It is the unpredictability of spread, duration and fatality, which has put the world into panic mode and sent it into self-quarantine. Not knowing how to tackle it, the countries went into lockdown hurriedly. Most of the hospitals also shut themselves, fearing the Covid spread and delayed treatment of routine patients. I found many doctors seeing patients through the glass and giving them the-medication. We know these are trying times but such actions are ridiculous.
Slowly after three months, it has dawned on everyone that corona is going to stay for long and life has to go on with COVID restrictions. Delays in cancer diagnosis and treatment due to corona lockdowns may turn out to be fatal. Cancer hospitals and caregivers have to find ways and means to treat cancer patients in Corona times. Neglecting one for the sake of another may prove to be fatal for the same person, whom you are trying to save from one disease.
Methodologies, equipment’s, procedures and safe systems are soon emerging to take care of other serious diseases like cancer while keeping them safe from Corona infections. Corona and Cancer appear to be friends with similar devastating effect on the health of humankind. Their modus operandi may differ as cancer comes slowly, stays longer and is more lethal while corona comes fast like a storm, disturbs everything yet does not cause so much damage to life. The combination makes it a lethal blow but we have to think of ways and means to treat critical cancer patients even during covid times.
I am certain humanity will survive but let’s limit the corona effect to physical infection and not to adversely affect our lives, our work, our relationships and treatment of patients with other serious ailments. I am more worried about those who will survive the Corona but succumb to other diseases like cancer because diagnosis and treatment were delayed due to panic of Corona ghost. Methodologies have to be devised for the safety of caregivers and fellow patients while continuing the functioning of hospitals. The medical fraternity is waking up to this new reality and let’s all join hands to fight it together