Living with Cancer, and Helping My Father Fight His

This is a really difficult blogpost to write.

It is quiet now. The fan is comforting in its constant swoosh. Mother is asleep. The light in my room burns alone; outside all is dark. A yellow pool of night-light seeps in through the yellow doorway into the room in which my father sleeps.

Ten months ago, one evening, Father complained of a tightness in his chest.

He couldn’t breathe, he said; it was as if a lungful of water had replaced a lungful of sand had replaced a lungful of air, and now the one thing he had never thought about or given much importance to, in his long life of thinking about and giving importance to other lungs, other hearts, other bodies above his own, had become painful, nearly impossible. My father couldn’t breathe.

We took him to doctors. We went. He took himself- we stayed behind and prayed. Sometimes we did our work and glanced at the clock and thought, ‘When will he be home?’ We watched TV as we waited. We walked out with our friends. We had fun.

At some point, one evening, my father said he couldn’t walk.

He couldn’t breathe, so how could he burn through the pain of upright muscles? He lay down, and he did not move. Outside, the puja conches blared. I went on a date. My mother stayed at home, built fortress within fortress, and my dad lay on the bed.

Seasons wait for no one, not even one man who thought he could force the seasons to change by willing it, who was the sheltering cloud and the nourishing rain and the soothing wind and the warming sun all in one. They do not wait for one man lying in a bed, worrying about money running out, worrying about who was going to look after his wife who still depended on his love, worrying about who was going to find the space for his impetuous tempestuous angry daughter who went to brunch with her friends and took hesitating selfies in changing room mirrors, trying to hate herself a little less.

When winter come, one day I sat with my father, tracing the thin veins on the back of his knotted hand, him in a scratchingly green sweater, me in I do not remember what. The room was very warm; all the glasses were closed. The house was quiet. Mother was not at home.

“You will never leave me,” I said.

Months later, one day in a hospital bed with venom dripping into his throat, he gave me an answer, wan-smiled, pale-faced, dry-lipped. “I don’t think I get to decide that,” he replied.

Soon after I returned from an epic Odyssey, my father decided to leave. He went South, to where the temples lay and milk flowed and Nandi bowed his head. The people spoke in words that sat unfamiliarly on the tongue and ate food that curled uncomfortably in the mouth, but they reached out. The slid their fists down his throat and into his lungs and pulled out the first crab.

Crabs are crawling up your spine, they said.

When my father came back, he was a shadow, slitting between walls and slipping into cracks. He seemed nothing, a wisp of smoke, an intangible sliding of a black thing I cannot touch. He lay on the bed with flowers, caged by his ribs, looking up vacantly into a pitiless sky only he could see. He didn’t speak. He was mute. My father, after 58 years of singing, had sewn up his throat and thrown the knives and scissors away.

I didn’t know what to do. I had always been a sapling. Saplings don’t fight. They don’t unfurl their shadows to help others. They are not big and strong. They do not bridge the earth and the sky. They only take, take, take.

My mother was numb. She was a bird. She made a home in the tree. She brought together the twigs of a life. Frequently she was a magpie, but then on others she was a woodpecker, tearing into flesh. Still others, she was a nightingale, hidden in the upper leaves, making flowers grow with her voice.

My mother was a bird who knew only how to take, take, take, and build, and grieve.

Do you know what it feels like to pass a funeral home? You walk by one and there are the white sheets wrapped tightly around bamboo poles, white flowers in green wreaths. There are the mourners. And somewhere, swaddled in the middle of all that white, there is the dead.

The dead are hidden away, burnt and then neatly consecrated into a heap of ashes within a tiny brass grave. It is indecent to see the dead.

I wonder what my father is thinking right now, I would wonder when I passed one.

The only funeral I’ve been to in ten years was a happy one: a relative I had never met had passed, and her children, my mother’s cousins, had asked us to come. That was lively, happy; more of a get-together than a tribunal for both the breathing and the not. I learnt that she had been 89 years old. She had done all she wanted to in her life. What more had she left to give?

A novel idea, a happy graveyard.

What happens when a 58 year old is dead?

In my family, we do not celebrate birthdays. We only mark the funerals, the restless ticking of the clock that reminds us, you are here, you are here, and one day you too will be dead.

Tick. Tock. Tick.

What is my father doing now?

Is he thinking of the dead?

To take care of a person wracked with crabs is an enormous task. First, for them: they have to be happy, which is harder than remembering all the medicines and signs that your body demands you take. Then, for the others: they have to be happy, which is harder than taking care and loving the wracked one.

But crabs are uniting. They swarm together, making you swarm back, washed up against each other in the realm of the dead. Anything to not touch the waters that will take you, beyond which lies the black shore that no one wants to meet. They remind you that the stronger you are, the harder you are to fell.

Crabs cannot be plucked out. Maybe they can be caved in, if we stick against the dead.

My father cannot breathe. But to not breathe is not the same as to not live, and that, in itself, is a celebration. Perhaps … but for now. he is here. He is not dead.

And that is enough. It is more than I can ask for, even in the depth of my dreams. We are fighting a battle. The man that gave me life and made it worth living is fighting for his. We’ll be damned if we give up. We’ll be damned if we’re not with him every second and every inch of the way.

Bring it on. My father is not dead. And he and I will do everything we can to keep it that way.

I wrote this a few weeks ago, and since then and even before, I’ve been wrestling with the thought of whether or not it’s okay to blog about this. I asked my father: he was okay with it. I asked my mom and so was she. They both wanted to know that they were not alone in their fight, and they both wanted to show people that we are fighting, and we will not give up.

All the same, I’ve been wondering if it’s too mercantile, making views and profits- not in terms of money but in terms of visibility- off my father’s illness. That, obviously, is not the intent of this post: it is the side effect. But even the thought of such a side effect is enough to make me want to cry and judge myself for putting this very personal information out there in the first place.

Here is why I went ahead with it, though: for far too long, I have kept my blog separate from my life and my identity. I thought I could keep it apart and, by doing so, make my blog more ‘professional’, more akin to how money-making businesses should be, and I thought I could take pleasure from it. But I can’t. My blog was never intended to be a money-making business anyway; I started it because I wanted a space to write, as a sort of substitute diary during a time of my life when I couldn’t write for myself anymore and so wanted to create the illusion of an audience and write for them, yes, but in the process also (and actually) write for myself.

In the middle, confused by what everyone else wanted me to be and persuaded that I wanted to listen to them, I lost my way. I forgot what it was supposed to be and why I had started it in the first place. But we’re back now. And this, this very personal message, is here to stay.

I don’t want to write about happy things on days when my father is too ill to get out of bed, when my mother is crying because she feels so helpless, when my head is buzzing and filled with static and the only thing that helps is to not live, and go back to that moment before the Big Bang when nothing existed, not even pain.

I don’t want to be professional. On such days, I can’t just amputate a part of me and pretend it’s the whole.

So I’m going to write. Here, and in my little poems, and there, about what is going on in my life, and hopefully, we will all heal in the process, or at least find the strength to go on.

This is also a trigger-warning of sorts: if you don’t want to or like to read about cancer, you might want skip some posts on this page. Because on this blog, cancer is here to stay, just as it is part of my life and my father’s life right now.

Also, now, on re-reading this post, I’m ashamed I didn’t put in anything about my mom.  I would just like to say that she is an absolute champ and I love her very much. She’s doing an amazing job and is one of the most inspiring people I know.

Oh, and also: Fuck cancer.

See you soon.

16 Comments Add yours

  1. Arundhati Dey says:

    Rushati, I can only pray for your father’s recovery from the clutches of cancer, and for more strength to you and your family to win this battle, with strong determination and love.


    1. Thank you, Arundhati. That means a lot to me. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve seen my maternal grandmother battle cancer, my father a heart attack. I can give you 💛💛💛. These are my prayers, blessings, and strength.


    1. Thank you, words cannot express how much I appreciate this ❤ ❤

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh my god, cockroaches are terrifying! But thank you 😂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. They are terrifying! I was fine as soon as they crawled away in light. But I killed all of them as soon as they were audacious enough to come out of the corners in daylist, that too flying


  3. youknownothin says:

    First, I’d like to say, stay strong and lots of prayers being sent your family’s way.

    I was around 10 when I had my first brush with the crabs- not old enough to understand the full implications, other than the fact that my vibrant, ever smiling favourite aunt went to hospital one day for an innocuous pain and spent the next two years fading into a grey, colourless version of herself. Our visits to her home, once full of laughter and picnics transformed into hushed discussions of treatment, relapses and adults walking on eggshells around her, not sure how she’d react to situations. At 18, the same story was repeated with another favourite aunt, and I still didn’t understand why this disease exists in defiance of all logic and goodness. Having this happen to a parent is a fear I live with ( owing to genetic history) but I won’t even claim to understand what you are going through. As for posting it here, I don’t think you should have any concerns. It takes great courage to move beyond personal grief and put it out there as hope in troubled times to people in similar situations. All I can say, remember to celebrate the small moments of joy that you get, and don’t be hard on yourself for not being optimistic all the time- you’re not expected to. Keep fighting.


    1. Amrita, your comment is so personal and it helped me find solace. The fear is gripping and omnipresent, and on days you just give in to it: it’s so hard to keep fighting all the time. The last two weeks have been especially difficult as I gave my exams, but now that they’re ending I’m beginning to feel more in control of things. Thank you for sharing, it means more than I could possibly express ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Sending tons and tons of positive energy and good health. I sincerely pray and hope that your father recovers. We might not know each other, Rusahti, but I’m here. Here to listen to what you have to say. Here to read your journey.


    1. That means a lot, that there is someone out there, listening. Thank you for that ❤


  5. Ahona sen says:

    Fuck cancer! More, more power to you. We applaud you for writing this. And to make it a part of our lives as well.
    You are a very strong girl, no more a sapling.


    1. Thank you, the support of people around us helps immensely! ❤


  6. Prince says:

    I follow your blog and this post is really hard to read. Wishing him a speedy recovery. He will heel soon. Stay strong!


    1. Thank you, I hope he heals too, but we’re prepared for the worst ❤


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