Sunday, 1 November 2015

Cancer and the will to survive

Brian Mendonça

‘kee's last words were to smile upon his death because he has got his freedom so please keep that smile for his sake’ -  On Instagram  @help_keegan_survive

What does it mean to lose a teenager to cancer? ‘Keygan Unleashed’ – a fund raiser music concert, at Taleigao Community centre 23-24 October, was all about that. It was put together by family and friends of Keegan Afonso (15), who left us on 9 October after battling a rare form of leukaemia for 9 months.

His dad’s first words, when we got talking to him by the snacks counter were, ‘I am glad I got so much time to spend with him.’ Keegan was with his family throughout, as they nursed him, cared for him, ‘praying for a miracle.’

There are 30 different types of leukaemia, Keegan’s dad was telling us. Keegan’s was only the 22nd recorded case of this type of leukaemia in the world. Treatment costs amounted to 75 lakhs inclusive of hospitalization charges.

 Leukaemia comes from the Greek words ‘Leucos’ meaning ‘white’ and ‘haima’ meaning blood. The cancer of the white blood cells (leucocytes) in the body suppresses the production of normal blood cells leading to anaemia (tiredness) and other symptoms. Cancer is a group of diseases involving abnormal cell growth.

Often, as in the case of Queenie’s brother, cancer is not detected until the very last stage. Savio had been suffering from headaches for a while. Suspecting jaundice, they tried out various home and local remedies for over a month during the November holidays in 1983. Finally his dad took him to a child specialist in Bombay.

The doctor said he had only a week to live. The irrepressible Savio made friends with all the nurses and doctors at KEM hospital. He invited everyone to his hospital room for his birthday on 5 December. But Savio slipped into coma that day. All the nurses brought cakes and flowers for him on his birthday. The next day he was gone -- gone after his 14th birthday.

It does not take much effort to accept that cancer is all around us. Everywhere there are people we know or have known who have been assailed by this disease -- be it throat cancer, breast cancer or cancer of the uterus.

When I saw the dismal attendance, I asked his cousin Ninio (8554050594) why. He said the event was planned when Keegan was alive. ‘I had to keep the promise.’ Early that morning I had watched the movie Forrest Gump (1994)where Forrest (Tom Hanks), ex-US army does the same.

Mum was diagnosed with polycythemia – an abnormal increase of haemoglobin in the blood – in the late 80’s. She used to feel very weak and had to frequently go for bloodletting. The family did not alarm me too much about mum’s actual condition as I was away. Dad who lovingly cared for mum tells me, ‘Cancer is a one-way ticket. What matters is how you face it.’
Published in "On my mind' in Gomantak Times, Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 1 November 2015. Pix of cancer survivor Yuvraj Singh on World Cancer Day, February 4, 2015 at Also see


Lena said...

I remember the shock of the news of auntie's cancer. It was the first of many cases that I came to know of ... some distantly connected and some more intimately. Two years ago, my dad was diagnosed with NHL in the fourth stage. After 8 cycles of chemo and 25 sessions of radiotherapy, he is in remission for now. Hope he stays clear and healthy.

Augustine Mendonca said...

There are no words which can adequately describe the gamut of feelings family members have for a loved one that is terminally ill...and dying. While the entire family suffers collectively, the bravest one is always the patient who will soon shed his/her physical avatar and thereafter be an ever loving memory for the kith and kin he/she left behind. In those poignant last moments, the quality time that was spent together and the love and affection that was displayed are actions that would always stand out significantly - as a priceless gift that the "living" could offer the "dying".

Nita said...

With cancer the treatment kills you before the disease does. And in a country where people spend years settling down to a decent life, it kills the spirit by making you penniless and dependent. However there are also many survivors, brave people who have battled all odds and did not give up. And lucky ones too, whose problem was detected early and treated immediately.
We hope and pray and are with all those who suffer.