Friday, September 10, 2010

The woman who knew no happiness

Fated not to be happy

This is a true story of Nadia (not her real name), a 32 year old single woman whom I came to know recently. She is the second child in a family of four and she comes from a kampong situated in the remote part of Kelantan. Her parents both being illiterate were laborers in an estate there. The father retired prematurely due to ill health and is now old and incapacitated. Her mother is still working there in the estate and taking care of the father.

Nadia and her siblings moved out of Kelantan about ten years ago in search of jobs and ended in Penang where she and he younger sister now work in a cloth factory, each earning about RM600 a month. Her youngest brother is deaf and dumb from birth and stays with them in a rented low-cost house. Her elder brother who came with them to Penang has left them and lost contact with the family after he got married a few years ago. She does not know of his whereabouts despite seeking the help of the police.

About 6 months ago Nadia detected a lump in her breast for which she sought treatment at the government hospitals in Penang. As no definitive treatment was forthcoming after repeated visits, she decided to seek treatment at the private hospital where she was diagnosed as having breast cancer and was advised mastectomy (removal of breast) followed by radiation and chemotherapy. On hearing the news of her illness she broke down and cried and it was a difficult time trying to console her and her sister.

She was so upset that after all her sufferings since childhood she has now to cope with cancer. She had just joined a new firm about a month ago and having cancer would mean she will be relieved of that job, which she needs so badly to support her handicapped brother and old parents. What is going to happen to her, her younger sister and her handicapped brother? She is only 32years, not married and now she has to remove her breast. Will she ever get married and enjoy life like other women of her age? Her miseries were real and agonizing.

“I suffered all by life and never knew what happiness was until of late when things were beginning to fall in place. Now with this cancer all my hopes are dashed forever. Why must God do this to me?” Nadia asked between sobs.

It was so touching to hear her narrate her pathetic story. She is all alone with nobody to confide in at this time of a major crisis in her life. I gave her few days to think about her treatment and reassured her as best as I could, knowing very well that I will not have the courage like her if placed in her position.

A few days later, Nadia came back with her parents who had come all the way from Kelantan. They looked totally lost in the urban environment of Penang and I doubt they fully understood the implications of their daughter having cancer. I was impressed with the brave front put up by Nadia as she had decided to go ahead with the mastectomy. It showed her great wisdom and maturity that would put many of us to shame.

She said, “Doctor, I want to live a little longer until my sister and brother are settled in life, so I have no choice but go ahead with the surgery”. She asked for a few days to raise the money needed for the operation from her friends who were willing to help her out.

A few days later she was admitted and surgery done successfully. During her stay in the hospital she was accompanied by her grandmother who was in her early seventies. Despite her age she was there with the granddaughter day and night taking care of her. She pleaded with me to give my best to cure her granddaughter whom she loved her so much, stressing that she had never seen happiness in a life.

Nadia has now recovered from her surgery and would soon be referred to the Oncologist at the government hospital for further treatment of her breast cancer. Her prognosis may look good but with cancer, life is not going to normal anymore as the chance of recurrence is always there to cause worry and anxiety.

As Nadia’s gets prepared mentally, physically and financially for her next the next phase of her battle with cancer, a number of uncertainties go through her mind. Where and how do I go from here? How long more will I live? What will happen to my sister, brother and parents if I die now? Above all this is the biggest and the most puzzling question, why did God allow this to happen to me? We can give all kinds of answers to reassure her but that puzzling question also lingers at the back of our own minds to which we have no answers.

Nadia may be my patient and as a doctor I may know how to treat her breast cancer but I have a lot to learn from her which I do not know in life. I do not know how to cope with cancer if it strikes me. I do not know how to handle my loved ones who depend on me for love and support. I do not know whether I will still have the strength and spirit to continue helping those in need and fighting for the truth and justice which I advocate all must do. In short I do not know how to carry on with my life if I happen to be struck with a deadly disease.

Many of us are preoccupied with petty problems and pick up fights with anyone who disagrees with us. It is the result of arrogance due to our ego. Our problems may be nothing if only we open our eyes to see that others are in greater problems than us. Only by reaching out to others in pain and agony, not just praying that God will come to help us, will we realize the triviality of our own problems in life.

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