He had once told me about some strange diet regulations he was into. Today I casually asked him if it was still on. He said it was. And that was surprising to me. Because, he is not the one to get into these restrictions on food so easily unless ordered by the doctor.
So, even though I don't like to ask personal questions, I asked why he has gone into this very unusual regimen. Then, his wife and he said, "There is a long, long story behind it." That made me curious and restless. What could that be?
"I have been diagnosed with blood cancer," he said.
Though it hit me hard, I just laughed it off. "Hey comm'n, don't joke. Tell the truth." I couldn't believe it. You just don't walk around like this, joking with that 'C' in you.
"But, it's true," they said with all emphasis and seriousness. "We don't joke telling such things, do we?" his wife asked.
That changed the entire atmosphere, as his wife began unspooling a life of tension and anxiety that they led last year.
"It all began with the routine annual medical checkup in the office. He was found to have abnormally high count of white blood cells..." his wife started off, as I sat frozen clinging on to every word that came out of her mouth. "His condition was diagnosed. He had Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML), which is nothing but blood cancer."
It is characterised by increased production of WBCs in the bone marrow. It is due to a chromosomal translocation termed the Philadelphia chromosome.
She then narrated how they felt so depressed, and in a couple of days they got their act together and let life go on as usual even while finding out what should be done. Conflicting suggestions. Conflicting methods of treatment. Allopathy. Homoeo. Ayurveda.
Traditional treatment is bone marrow transplant, but little chance of success. Now a drug is available. But it costs Rs 1.5 lakh per month. They were devastated. Checked out homoeo with a doctor who has a record of curing such things. But the WBC count only increased.
They kept up their search. Finally got in touch with a foundation in Mumbai that supplies the medicine free, provided they enrol as a member with them. The foundation is run by a family that lost their son to CML before the drug was invented.
Today my friend takes one tablet every night, and the count is under control. The villainous cell has been partly destroyed or rather subdued. The problem is if he stops the medicine, the WBC count goes up."They condition has changed our entire outlook of life. We today see life as a much bigger picture," the two started off on an unusually philosophical tangent.
"We don't crib about small things. Only when something like this strikes, we realise how even so-called imperfect things are okay.... Not saying that such a thing should happen, but it is a big lesson...
"We have now learnt to prioritise things. We now know what is important in life and what just don't matter...
"We need to be courageous. We couldn't get bogged down. We could not just sit there crying. Life had to go on. We have to explore a way out of the difficult situation..." they went on, as we listened nodding in agreement, and coming to terms with we had heard from them.
And I kept wondering how I didn't know this. I remembered the last time I met him. He looked weak, and I knew he was taking some homoeopathy or ayurvedic medicine, and was under diet restriction. But I never imagined they were going through this agony.
In somewhat apologetic tone, they said, "We (my friend and I) were busy with our lives, and there was no time we could sit and discuss this. It wasn't something that we just tell you on the phone."
Life is such a journey that one doesn't know when it takes what turn. But as my friend said, we should take life as it comes. Positive attitude, confidence, strength of mind are definite assets in overcoming such difficult situtions. And as we find the going tough, our mind gets strengthened.