My Days With Cancer
May 30, 2016 | G.K. Ghosh
Before I talk about myself and my experience with this dreaded disease, I would like to give a brief background of my family. I belong to a family hailing from a village called Mahanga in Cuttack district of Odisha. Fourteen generations back, sometime during 1640 A. D., the family migrated to this region of Odisha. My great grandfather used to live here and was a policeman. My great grandmother, his wife, Taramoi died of uterine cancer at the onset of the 20th century. The couple had four sons and two daughters. The eldest of them was my grandfather, Radhakanta Ghosh. He was a self-made man and helped the family flourish. He became a lawyer and joined Judicial Service under Calcutta Presidency. He served as a District Judge in various districts, was the Registrar of High Court, Calcutta and for a few months, he also served as the acting Judge in Patna High Court. After he finally retired in the year 1928, he settled down in Cuttack under whose care we all grew. In the year 1943, he was diagnosed with oral cancer. He used to smoke traditional gadgada, clean teeth with gudakhu, and a toothpaste made with tobacco. He also consumed betel leaves with tobacco, which is very popular in Odisha till date.
Anyway, by then, the Tata Cancer Hospital had just been established in Bombay (now Mumbai), so he was taken there. A German doctor predicted that he would live for another five years but he retracted his statement, stating that he would live for 15 years after witnessing his indomitable will. He died in the year 1957. He had three sons and one daughter. The eldest of them was Ramani Kanta, who had a diploma in Printing Technology from England and was head of Government Press, Patna. He used to smoke heavily and used to consume food rich in oil. He died of liver cancer, years after retirement.
My aunt, the only daughter of my grandfather, Swarnalata was widowed at an early age. She pursued her B.Ed in England and was the founder headmistress of Girl School of Baripada in Mayurbhanj, funded by the then Maharani. In a tragic turn of events, my aunt died rather young. While some say it was tuberculosis, some opined that it was cancer.
My father, Srikanta, youngest of all siblings was Inspector General of Police, Odisha. He used to smoke heavily and used gudakhu to clean teeth. After retirement, he settled in Kolkata. At the age of about 80, he had problems pertaining to urination and thus had to undergo prostate surgery. Only after surgery was it detected that he had cancer and it was found that it had already spread to other regions of his body. He died painfully after 12 years.
Apart from our parents, my family constituted of two brothers and two sisters. My eldest sister died of breast cancer, even while my father was alive. My grandmother also died of cancer. Apart from her, the youngest sister of my grandfather died of stomach cancer. Three of father’s cousins had also died of cancer. My first cousin Priti Kanta, who was a Professor of Management in the USA also had Prostate cancer but was cured with Radiation Therapy. I narrated this string of tragic events to a well-known Doctor in Oslo and he concluded that genetic factors might have been at fault to some degree, but the major culprit for the same was lifestyle.
With this background my story begins. I was a chain smoker and started smoking from my student days. My food used to consist of typical Bengali or Odia meals with high-temperature cooking involved. Consumption of vegetable salads and fruits was rare and I frequently partook in the consumption of food rich in trans-fat.I left smoking in the year 2007 due to frequent coughing. I retired from service in the year 2008 and changed my lifestyle, switching over to a healthy diet. I planned regular checkups and with the right diet controlled levels of cholesterol, blood pressure etc. and had an almost medicine-free life. I started having my PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) tested. PSA is an indication of cancer. My PSA used to remain less than 4 for years until the month of June when the PSA was reported to be 7.42. That was indeed alarming.
Erstwhile, thanks to Ratan Tata, the Tata Medical Center was started in Kolkata in the year 2011. I reported to TMC (Tata Medical Center), in the department of Urology/ Oncology. I was advised for a repeat PSA test. It came out to be 9. I was asked to undergo biopsy and was admitted for a day for that purpose. The biopsy caused an infection and I had a fever, being admitted as a result. Before I was discharged, the biopsy report came in and I was told that out of ten samples taken, one sample tested positive for cancer. I was detained for a day more to undergo MRI and Bone Scanning. Reports came the following week and I was told that because of my timely action, the malignancy was still inside my prostate. I was offered two lines of treatments, namely surgery and radiation therapy. Both do have side effects such as incontinence and impotence among many others, and the details for both were thoroughly explained to me. I was asked to decide which line of treatment was to be chosen. I took a second opinion from another reputed urologist besides my surgeon cousin, Dr. S. K. Ghosh, who lives in Rourkela. Finally, I decided to go for surgery. On 25th August, I was operated upon and my prostate was removed. Biopsy report of the portion removed showed that I had a Gleason count of 8 which is alarming but the biopsy around periphery showed that I was free from cancer. Higher Gleason count indicates that in case cancer returns, it will grow faster.
I was asked to report after 45 days to repeat PSA test. My PSA was 0.18. The doctor said it was not good because removal of a prostate should have a PSA report of ‘undetected’. This report indicated that a portion of prostate still remained in my body and it might have been malignant or benign. We needed to keep watch and if it grew beyond 0.2 we needed a course of action. I was asked to report after 45 days with a PSA report. That time it was 0.19, so nothing alarming in general. I was asked to report after 60 days. As advised I reported with another PSA report. It was 0.49 and was certainly alarming. I was asked to report to Head of Radiation, Oncology. The doctor in this section said it may not have been alarming but advised me to go for Radiation therapy with milder dose, to stay on the safer side. I agreed and I had to undergo scanning. They advised me to attend 35 sittings of Radiation, one in each day. The appointment was given from 29th February onwards. Radiation therapy completed by the end of April and I was advised to report by the end of July with a PSA report. Before Radiation therapy started, the common side effects I might have experienced were explained to me. These include, but are not limited to burning sensation in the rectum, bleeding during urination, and possibility of cancer in another place due to radiation. This happens because radiation kills cancerous cells but also damages healthy cells and if they fail to repair themselves, it will lead to cancer. The only way to prevent it is to lead a healthy lifestyle and improve one’s immunity. The doctor assured me that at the end of radiation therapy I’d have been cured by at least 85%.
I may be questioned as to what benefit I got from following a healthy lifestyle, all the while depriving myself from the pleasure of tasty food. Apart from what is indicated in previous paragraph my experience during surgery and after may be discussed to gain light on the matter. Surgery of the prostate was a major one, owing to the fact that my abdomen was split opened. It took over 5 hours and obviously, there was a good amount of bleeding. My hemoglobin fell to 8 and I had respiratory problems. I was kept in ICCU for two days, followed by the surgery ward and finally to a common cabin. Some of the doctors proposed infusion of blood but my surgeon declined, knowing well of my lifestyle. As I led a medicine-free life, I would recover naturally once solid food was given, according to him. I was given a normal diet from the fourth day and discharged on the sixth day. I was not prescribed any medicine for back home neither antibiotic or pain killer and advised to choose any type of food that ensures normal bowel movement, normalizes blood pressure which dropped after surgery and which helps raise hemoglobin. When I reported next everything was normal. Incontinence however continued and I was advised to go for floor exercise. In the month of April, however, that too subsided and I didn’t need an adult diaper after that. In between, I got to attend the get together of 1969 batch of REC, Rourkela during January ’16. I need to report for examination for days to come till the end of my life and need to take action as will be advised from time to time.
The primary purpose of sharing this article is for following reasons:
- Cancer is a disease that certainly can be cured and no one must be scared of this. During radiation therapy I met a number of patients in the waiting hall. Many of them were cured after being diagnosed with fourth stage of cancer. What I observed is that cancer is no longer incurable. It can be cured with almost absolute certainty and there is no reason to panic or be depressed.
- Timely action and early detection helps. All male members must go for PSA tests once in a year, after the age of 50 and must report to oncologist/ urologists once PSA crosses 4.
- Medical insurance is not an investment as normally conceived. It is an expenditure for future protection. I observed that medical insurance is not popular in India. Thus, a disease of this magnitude means financial deterioration. I got full support from my medical insurance and except some non-medical claims almost everything was settled. Medical insurance should be encouraged since India is one of the few countries having no support of social security. Please do not ignore this. You must go for right policy.
- A healthy lifestyle helps in many ways. One must follow it to the maximum extent possible, avoiding junk foods, high-temperature cooking and prefer fruits and salads. Go for a DASH diet or Mediterranean diet.
- Self-medication itself is a disease in India and must be avoided. One of the major reasons of ill health is self-medication. Even for minor reasons we must not consume medicines without adequate knowledge or consume medicine as advised by a salesperson on counters of medicine shops. This is one of the major reasons of illness including cancer.
Lastly, I must say I was flooded with good wishes from school friends, college friends, friends from my earlier office and so on. I retired in the year 2008 and it was an amazing experience when friends from my office came to me with good wishes and even helped me in countless ways. Classmates from my school came from Cuttack to meet me, wishing a speedy recovery. Two of my REC classmates came from Mumbai to wish me. The greatest pleasure during those times was when my teacher Prof. G. K. Roy wished for my recovery on a telephone. It was a blessing which ensured my cure. My senior Sandip Dashverma of 1965 batch regularly talked to me from the USA and encouraged me. It was he who advised me to share my experience for everyone to take action and stay healthy. I trust this will help everyone to follow a healthy lifestyle.