The Surgical Cancer

The unreal real story of a couple separated and united by one of the world’s worst tumours there is

Sam and Anita sat in front of me in my clinic. They were a couple in their early forties. He was a gym instructor and she was a teacher. Their physical appearance said they had little in common on the outside. They looked like the king and queen on opposite sides of a chess board, but were on the same team in life. Seeing them I realized that true love sees no caste, creed, religion, or race. After I heard their story, I figured, cancer doesn’t either.

 

“Sam was diagnosed with a glioblastoma in his right frontal lobe a year ago,” his girlfriend started, holding his hand as she spoke, while I noticed his eyes welling up with silent tears. A glioblastoma is grade 4 brain cancer. It is a ghastly diagnosis to live with. The median survival of this tumour is 1–2 years. “He had surgery by another surgeon and followed it up with 34 fractions of radiation and 6 cycles of chemotherapy,” she gave me the lowdown. The previous surgeon had done a perfect job with interim scans showed an immaculate resection and a wonderous initial response to therapy, but as expected in these ghoulish tumours, it had recurred.

 

“For 2 weeks, I noticed I was dragging my left foot and finding it hard to button my shirt,” he described, getting up from his chair to show me his gait. “That’s when we repeated an MRI and found that it had all come back,” Anita continued. I examined him to find his left arm and leg slightly weak. As I peered through the MRI, it showed a large growth in the right frontal lobe that was pushing against the motor cortex, thus responsible for his weakness. It had also spread to the opposite side through fibres that connect the two halves of the brain. “The tumour’s not only come back, it’s done so with a vengeance,” I announced. “We know,” they said in unison, a gnawing sadness permeating the room.“Our previous surgeon simply said, ‘Nothing can be done about it.’”

 

I recalled those being exactly the same words a dermatologist had used for me the previous day when I’d asked her if something could be done about my premature balding, but I didn’t think it right to mention this at this time even though I have always believed that honesty and humour are the two greatest weapons in the face of helplessness. She had also advised me to ‘accept it gracefully’, and I wondered if that, perhaps, would be the appropriate thing to say here. They were an empowered couple who had done their research and were fully aware of the finality of this diagnosis. “You could do more chemotherapy or attempt another surgery, but I’m unable to assure you or confirm if this will alter longevity and improve the quality of your life. Sometimes it could make you worse,” I said, agreeing with the previous surgeon.

 

“We have a date to get married in three months,” Anita said, looking into Sam’s eyes, surrendering to the anguishing anxiety of an uncertain outcome. These are such deeply personal choices that I refrained from making any comments, although I did briefly wonder why she wanted to marry a dying man. “We’ve been dating for 8 years, and a few weeks before my diagnosis, we’d set this date. We want to go ahead with it,” Sam said with a depth I was unable to fathom. Who among us would have the will to marry someone we know is going to die shortly thereafter? The answer to most things comes in not looking for one.

 

We discussed all the technicalities, and much to my reluctance, I agreed to another operation; I couldn’t help but remember it was Voltaire who said, ‘Every man is guilty of all the good he did not do.’ I had to keep any personal judgement aside because if we didn’t operate, I was pretty sure he wouldn’t make the date.

 

A few days later, we opened up the right side of his head. Everything about this tumour was macabre. It was dark and ugly. The veins in it had thrombosed and there were pockets of necrosis or dying tissue. There were engorged arteries feeding the tumour with the blood haemorrhaging in its core, which I buzzed and cut, buzzed and cut, and buzzed and cut again.I kept removing it until I saw some semblance of normal-looking brain around, ensuring I had relieved the pressure on his motor cortex. The monstrosity was demolished, and the brain once again looked illuminatingly beautiful under the brilliance of the microscope. We had restored some normalcy and hoped we had added a few checkered days to the duo’s black and white lives. He woke up the next day with improved arm and leg function, but I was unsure of how long that would last. We scheduled him for some more chemotherapy as he got discharged. “We’re going to go for a holiday before we start chemo,” Anita smiled, giving me a hug to say thank you. They had transformed their suffering through their irrepressible vitality of spirit.

 

Cancer has been around for centuries. We have done so much to find a cure and yet, in the larger scheme of things, it has proven to be so little. It indeed is a great leveller. It respects nothing. But recently, I came across some research that elephants don’t get cancer. The answer is, at least partly, that elephants’ cells have an astounding 20 copies of p53, a cancer repair gene. Humans just have 1. In a world where we see everything in black and white, it sometimes helps to be grey. “The war against cancer,” noted physician and writer Siddhartha Mukherjee in his epic novel – The Emperor of All Maladies “continues to oscillate between being profoundly distressing to relentlessly exhilarating.”

 

Three months after they were discharged, Anita sent me enraptured photos of them at their Bali destination wedding. She was dressed in bridal silver. He wore adark tuxedo. They were amidst flowers and friends of a myriad hues and glows. They were singing and dancing and living their dream. Several weeks later, I heard from her again. He hadn’t made it.  Everything once again was back and white.

20 Comments on “The Surgical Cancer
  • Supriya Correa says:

    So much dignity and grace. So beautifully captured by you.

    Reply
  • Chanda says:

    This makes you feel sad but happy to read.
    Quite a complex sentence but true.
    ‘ the unreal real story…..’ liked the title and everything written that followed’.
    Thank you for you posts Doc. Look forward to them eagerly. Please don’t stop writing.

    Reply
  • Vipul shah says:

    Dearest Dr Mazda Sir ….

    As a Doctor & Writer & good human being you have fulfilled your duty by doing whatever in your able hands but HE from above a bigger writer & better human being & super surgeon have different story for everyone have no option but to accept with totality…

    Every case of yours is a story to tell….we enjoy every single piece of yours with eagerly waiting week after week for next episode…..

    Keep on writing & keep on doing wonderful work with your magical hands under Microscope sir

    God bless

    Reply
  • Dr Indu Bansal says:

    So truly touched by the love and care the duo shared. Such a beautiful story written by a yet another beautiful human being and surgeon.

    Reply
  • Manoj Malkan says:

    I have a couple as patients. Both are my patients since childhood. The boy suffered from Ulcerative Colitis and Chronic C virus hepatitis, both potentially precancerous conditions. In spite of Knowing fully well about the potential problems in future, the girl did marry him against her parents’ will 5 years ago and now they have 2 kids as well. Hats off to this girl.

    Reply
  • Dr fali poncha says:

    Very well written, as always. The Voltaire quote is lovely. Sometimes, as doctors we have cases where we think ‘ did I do the right thing’
    In Sam’s case you did,as that was what he wanted. More importantly – ‘firstly do no harm’, even though you knew he would die, you helpedhim achieved his desire

    Reply
  • Avinash Karnik says:

    Knowing your success rate at the brain surgeries, I was sure the end would be “and the couple lived happily thereafter.”
    However, it was not to be. Very touching story of love knows no boundaries even if that is life and death. Superbly narrated.

    Reply
  • Natwar Panchal says:

    Nice story Dr. 👌

    Reply
  • Martha Quaghe says:

    Love overlooks all offenses including sickness.
    You truly fulfilling what the Creator our God called you to do on the planet earth. I pray He gives you more wisdom and strength in good health at all times as you help humanity. Amen 🙏🙏🙏👍👍👍
    Thank you Dr Turel for a great and marvelous works.

    Reply
  • Rita singh says:

    I recently saw a similar movie “From scratch” on Netflix. After many years I cried in a film.It was also based on true story.I cried after reading ur story too.God gave man love then why did he create separation? Thanks for supporting till the end.

    Reply
  • Anjali Patki says:

    Intriguing, interesting, a captivating story written in the most lucid manner. Enjoyed the article. Cheers to many more.

    Reply
  • Cashmira says:

    Wait for your article every weekend please keep writing
    They are a pleasure to read and so knowledgeable

    Reply
  • Gloria Msampha says:

    Sad story but a happy ending for Sam. At least he got to marry the love of his life. May his soul find peace.

    Reply
  • Dr. Divya Shetty says:

    An engaging but sad story about the couple. Indeed cancer is one of the many diseases which are almost a death sentence and sometimes nothing can be done about it.

    Reply
  • Zee Pasta says:

    What a wondrous mesmerising tale woven by your beauteous soul fibres Dr Mazda!

    I reached the end of this incredibly beautiful story, all teared up, motionless n still

    To get up n about i had no will

    Then i heard the song of your patient…
    all of us, patients or readers…
    We sing to you..
    Do lend us your wise elephantine ears, do!

    WHERE DO I BEGIN

    To tell the tale of how great Dr Mazda’s love and skill can be

    The luminous love story stretching to infinity

    The simple truth about the healing he brings to me

    Where do i start??

    With his first hello
    his patient ears and
    his smile.. the best curved line

    He sunshined healing till illness fled from this world of mine

    He’s blessed my days with divine life-force fine

    He heals my heart

    He heals my body, wellbeing takes centre stage to sing

    His loving songs, cauterizing my suffering

    He soothes my soul with many a scintillating story

    That anywhere i go, I’m never sad or lonely

    With his wisdom and joy, who could ever be lonely??

    Eternally long this will surely last

    This love not metered nor measured in mere mundane way

    We have no answers now, but this much do we say

    We know we’ll need you Dr Mazda till the stars burn away

    And

    You’ll

    Be

    There 🤍🦢🤍🦢🤍

    Reply
  • Marzian Mowji says:

    Happy and sad.
    Happy that they got the time to find a little happiness and sad that their happiness did not last long.

    But they lived the best life they could under the circumstances and it was all because of you.

    Never stop working. We mere mortals need people like you.

    Reply
  • Chandan Sanjana says:

    Another gripping article and my heart went out to this wonderful couple. Brave woman to knowingly marry a man whose life was ticking like a time bomb. Glad they were able to get married in romantic Bali as that is what they wanted the most…to get married.
    Thankgod for doctors like you. You took the risk to operate on this man which gave tge couple time together and got married too.
    Bless and bless you dear Mazda. Continue to do the great work you do as you truly are a doctor with a kind and loving heart. Your patients are your first priority. Not many doctors have this heart!
    Do not worry about your receding hairline. You look great as you are !

    Reply
  • Nauzer Kuka says:

    Sad & Inevitable end …. beautifully written…thnx

    Reply
  • Dr. Manasi Rege says:

    Excellent article sir. I’ve always been a huge fan of your writing but I must say, this article has surpassed others.

    Reply
  • Amit Tiwari says:

    Elephantastically written the black & white sir

    Reply

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