How we dealt with uncertainty,
And a virus in our life,
For fifteen years.
And emerged as CONQUERORS.
Science met Spirituality… with a tad bit of humour!
Life was going on for me, like it does for most twenty something year olds. I grew up as the youngest and most notorious member of a huge joint family living at Nepeansea Road, Mumbai, India. I had studied from some of the best institutes. I had also had my fair share of heartaches and breaks, confusions over career and fun zipping past Marine Drive with friends and cousins at midnight – either sipping at a tall glass of juice at Bachelors or a hot latte at Oberoi coffee shop. I had an exciting future awaiting me. Work. Self-image. Friends. Infatuations easily mistaken as love. Life was happy, sad, secure, insecure, beautiful – with its own spots. The usual.
Then something happened in August 2005, and life as I knew it changed forever. And ever. I was a mommy’s girl. Always had been. I was so attached to my mother that family members used to tease my mother, “Why don’t you just keep her in a pouch like a kangaroo?” When I would come back from school or college, I had to see my mother and she had to serve me food, else I would not eat and throw tantrums. When my age was still in single digits, I would happily tag along with my elder sister Nidhi to have a night out with our cousins – however, as the sun would set, I would start bawling for my mother. Others would probably find me strange, but for me, she was so integral, so potent to my very existence. I couldn’t fathom life without her.
Imagine what happened to me when I got to hear, “Your mother has breast cancer.” Dad, Nidhi and I had not heard of this word within our family, so it was a rude shock. Who would have known that an innocuous lump in her chest was malignant and upon further investigations, discovered to be at Stage 3 – which is considered to be an advanced stage.
I still remember that night when we got the reports. Dad, a usually happy, carefree man had beads of sweat upon his forehead. I think it was the first time I saw him looking stressed. Nidhi, my sister and a physiotherapist, talks a hundred words a minute but suddenly was quiet. And me? I was the poet, the dreamer, the idealist who used words to make sense and nonsense of everything in life. I felt stumped. I just didn’t know what to do with myself, so I went to our terrace which faced the inky seas to just converse with God. God to me always seemed like a friend and I told Him all that I was feeling. It didn’t seem to help, and I kept checking on mom the entire night to see if she was still breathing. It was one of the toughest nights of my life. Fortunately for all of us, my mother has always been more of a neutral person and didn’t show much fear or emotions and this saw us through the initial hours.
The next morning things began to change. All of us were in action mode. Dad was speaking to his friends who knew more about the C word. Nidhi was talking to the medical fraternity trying to find out what next. I have always been a spiritualist – someone who believed the answers to the world outside, lay within. I meditated deeply and asked a friend called Shalini who belonged to a chanting group (whom had conquered two cancers) to visit mom that very evening.
Shalini was a bright, radiant presence and just seeing her, a large amount of our worries dropped. She chuckled more than she spoke and said, “See – just the way in a classroom there are good children as well as naughty ones, in our body too there are these good cells and the naughty cancer cells. All you must do is ensure these naughty ones don’t make more like them. Go through the treatment, eat healthy – what else? Life will be beautiful again!”
I really feel – who you speak to, at the point of a challenge, makes all the difference. Cancer ceased to appear like a deadly, menacing, evil creature about to kill my mother, instead it looked like Dennis the Menace – a wild mop of hair, unruly grin, but something that could certainly be managed.
We went through the entire process – surgery, chemotherapy and radiation with acceptance and love. And yes, laughter. Our family loves to giggle and simple moments like my mother advising my father on ow to drink water while barely out of the effects of anesthesia herself, watching the movie Iqbal when mom had only ek-baal (one hair) upon her head, giggling while we dug into a large chocolate brownie sundae to celebrate when her chemotherapies finally got over: life didn’t seem that bad at all. Of course, it’s a matter of perspective. We had long hours at hospitals and did go through uneasiness watching mom dealing with various medical effects of the treatment – but somehow, I can only remember the happier stuff.
By 2006, mom’s treatment was over, tests were clear, and life was back to a new normal. I say new normal because cancer has the capacity to change you forever. I felt as a family we valued life so much more. It was something we took for granted – but now, it seemed like each day mattered. As a writer, it made me more sensitive, more open, more empathetic to the world within and to relieve myself of the experience I wrote a book called Thank You, Cancer which got picked by the world leaders in publishing then, Hay House. It also won awards and got written of in every possible newspaper, much to my amusement as I was simply writing to vent.
It was around this time, as a family we were blessed enough to find a spiritual mentor and followed a path which spoke of bliss of love, of faith and this had a profound impact on us as a family. The music in our home was louder, the dancing crazier, the love deeper, and the meditation more meaningful.
I remember finding myself on my terrace often contemplating, what happened? Cancer was something bad, right? How was it able to bring so much good forth? And that’s when I realized something that got etched in my being – no experience is good or bad. It just is. It’s about what we do with it, that makes all the difference. Use it to transform, and transform you do. Use it to crib, complain, and feel terrible and you find yourself in an abyss of miseries. With the grace of our beloved guru, somehow, we predominantly found ourselves in a sunshine frame of mind.
I realized that this substance called cancer had some strange properties. It touched everyone associated with it. However, once you let it know – that your spirit, your resilience is stronger, it gracefully shrank away into a corner. However, not without doing two important things: revealing you to you – and making you feel closer to your loved one’s than ever before. Unlike other diseases which come and go, cancer had this innate ability to transform, if you allow it to.
My shy mother blossomed after her cancer experience. From being someone who only thought of others, I observed that she had begun to think of herself. Love herself. Care for herself. From being someone who didn’t express herself with spontaneity, she became much more child-like. Living in the moment and flowing with it.
If I am true to myself – I actually saw my mother live, truly live, between 2006 and 2013. The medical fraternity had given my mother about two to three years to live. However, she belied them all and was well for a good eight years, until 2013 that is.
However, sometime in the middle of 2013 she again fell ill. And this time things happened so fast that we couldn’t wrap our heads around it. It began with a fever, that grew into throwing up anything she ate. When cancer has been a visitor, there is always a lurking doubt – is it cancer again? But we humans have an ability of being in a state of denial until things really go out of hand.
For a few months, we kept believing it was some kind of viral infection. Until it reached a point where we realized she had lost close to ten kilos and was unable to sustain any food at all. We took her for the tests and were shocked to discover it was Stage 4, Grade 4 Brain Cancer.
I won’t deny it. I seemed to have lost all strength and my body dropped itself on a bench outside the hospital as I tried to make sense of what the doctor had just told us. I felt numb. Nidhi was crying like a wounded animal and this made it even tougher. And yet, from within Life kept whispering – again and again – “Hold on, my child, there is a bigger plan… Hold on.”
The doctors looked hopeless and believed a few days, or to be generous, a few months is all she had. In her sixties, a brain metastasis of this aggressive nature? Time had run out for mom!
For me personally, whenever I could not understand things through my conversations with Life, I would seek my Guru. In his Silence, I found solace. In his words, solutions. When He heard of the diagnosis, he had just a single sentence to say, “Your mother is a fighter… she will fight this through.”
I don’t think finding manna in a desert would compare to the feeling that I went through hearing these words. I had immense faith. If He had said it, so it would be. Through the next few months, we held onto this sentence for dear life. The world outside brought innumerable symptoms, disappointing news and pain but the world within, for us and for mom was only stuck onto one sentence: Your mother is a fighter… she will fight this through.
It took efforts. It took patience. It took radical changes in her lifestyle and diet. It took discipline which would make even Olympic champs look up to mom. It took every bit of resilience and courage we had known as a family. But the result was… Yes, once again, my mother conquered cancer. And this time, literally, against all odds.
Today, seven years after her diagnosis in 2013, she continues to live a good life, fully functional, traveling, laughing, enjoying every moment that comes her way. She does yoga for two hours, socializes and has a sense of humour that sometimes makes us laugh, other times makes us roll our eyes heavenward!
I can not help but ask myself, as the world faces a pandemic like never before – what is it that helped me, and my family deal with uncertainty, with an illness which is seen as life-threatening and are the rules of the game not the same?
I find myself largely in a calm state of being, very positive, full of faith and am feeling compelled to list what helped then – and what is helping now.
- Science and Spirituality: Be it cancer or Covid 19 – we need a mix of both. Science must play its role in the diagnosis and treatment; while spirituality helps in anchoring one to this faith: only the best will happen. Precautions, staying at home, personal hygiene are non-negotiable under all circumstances. At the same time remaining peaceful, cheerful and deeply rooted in faith will help personally and collectively. Spirituality is not wishful thinking, it is the highest Science and what we focus on, we attract more of in our lives.
- Humour: We never allowed ourselves to see cancer as something terrible. We looked for humour where we could. Covid 19 is not something to be laughed upon, and never will be, and yet to see it as something huge, deadly and devastating is only going to create a lot more unwanted fear. It’s a virus that gives you flu. Yes, it is highly contagious. The first step is to prevent. However, if one is affected, its required to remember the cases of people getting cured is much greater than those who succumb. How you see something makes all the difference and as for me – I am seeing this as a viral infection that the world will conquer.
- Food, exercise, sunshine and sleep: Neither of these have been locked down and ensuring healthy food (especially ones that strengthen the immune system like lemon and turmeric), along with good exercises (no dearth of online classes in yoga, Zumba, pilates), sitting out in your balcony or beside the window (best time for taking in sunshine is before 10 am in the morning or post 4 pm in the evening) and deep sleep (at least 7 hours) will play an incredible role in keeping the body, mind and emotions in a healthy state.
- Not reading more than required: After mom’s initial diagnosis I made the mistake of reading too much on cancer, stats, details, stories. Honestly, she has outlived every stat by at least a decade. Its important to know what is going on and how it affects us but following Covid 19 on an hour by hour basis is a drainage.
- What is, is; What is not, is not: Covid 19, like cancer, is going to affect us. Industries may get wiped out. Industries may get created. Each day seems new and we just can not predict what will be. In this, what helps the most is to do what we can from morning to night each day, and let go of what we cant. Acceptance helps tremendously, and we have to make the most of it during these times.
We are connected in ways we can not comprehend and now, more than ever, we need each other’s strength, love and peace to hold onto and keep going through one more day. And sitting where we are, each of us can add to the collective cure and healing by thinking and feeling right.
I love the quote by Maya Angelou, where she says, “Every storm runs out of rain.” Right now, we are in the midst of it, but let us know, sooner rather than later there will be a way out. The virus is invisible – but so is faith. If one can destruct, the other can, and will construct. A new normal, a new life, is on its way. I am opening my arms t o her. You?
Megha Bajaj is the award-winning author of several acclaimed books including Thank You, Cancer (Hay House), I Inspire (Jaico) and is now engaged in writing biographies of eminent personalities across the globe. Along with her sister Dr Nidhi Gupta, she co-authored a book called One Woman, Two Advanced Cancers Conquered. She has written over a thousand articles for internationally acclaimed magazines and newspapers and the depth of her thinking and ability to evoke feelings has been loved by many. Simple, yet profound; representing both strength and vulnerability – here is an author who is not afraid of being true – to herself, or her readers! Megha also runs online writing and healing workshops for aspiring authors as well as people looking at using words to heal their lives and know themselves better. She has worked with over 500 “WoWers” from across the world and helped them find better versions of themselves as well as publish their poetry, blogs and even books through her personalized and customized online sessions which also include meditation. She is also writing film scripts for prominent production houses.