Dying is an integral part of life, as natural and predictable as being born. The traumatic aspect, however, is when one comes to know about his end; cancer patients being one such example.
The time passed while hanging on to life in the hope of a cure is a period, which can be defined as “Living Dyingly”. Not many of us face this situation in life, as the patient or relative of the one who is hanging on to his countable breaths.
Cancer is a journey, but you walk that road alone!
“I am sorry, he has cancer. The stage is fourth, not many days left,” the doctor breaks the news. Can’t blame the doctors for this, for they have not been taught in the medical schools excluding some or during their residency programmes about the protocols of breaking the bad news.
The general guidelines are not that difficult to follow, provided one is trained to handle such situation. Take the patient or family to a private area, close the door, sit down together, make eye contact, say it with empathy, listen, touch, and be open to questions. The message is clear: do it in person, pacing oneself according to the physical cues. Breaking the news of life-threatening illness does not need to take away hope.
Some patients are brave enough to fight it out and beat death, but there are many who simply give up. When one thinks about it, what other choice is there but to hope?
We have two options, medically and emotionally: give up or fight! Giving up hope is easy; fighting till the end requires strength. The starting point for such patients is the choice for going ahead with painful Chemotherapy.
During chemo, the patient is more tired than he had ever been. It is like a cloud passing over the sun, and suddenly one is out. But the patient finds that he or she is much stronger to sustain this excruciating flowing of poison in one’s body, as the venom sack gradually empties itself into your system.
One’s mortality is at an optimal distance, not up so close that it obscures everything else, but close enough to give the depth perception. Instead of taking weeks, months or years to discover the meaning of an experience, now it is instantaneous. One is swamped with passivity and uselessness of life while dissolving like a lump of sugar in the sea of life.
For the close relatives, it is a trauma of another kind and the toll cancer takes on the victim and everyone who is close to him or her. They remember like it was yesterday seeing the strongest person they knew bedridden for weeks, if not years. The uncertainty surrounding the patient’s survival is an extremely challenging thought to bear.
And then there is the fight between understanding the pain the patient is going through and the choice of spending few more years with the loved one at the cost of his sufferings by experimenting with latest cures. Is it selfishness or a divine opportunity to be with the one we love and makeup for the lost times and an opportunity to say “we love you” or say “sorry” for so many things in life. The choice is difficult, both for the patient and the relatives.
At this stage, we also start questioning the moral compass of the doctors and the pharmaceutical companies when they readily choose to go for extremely expensive treatments (a profitable venture), despite knowing the fact that the chances of survival of the patient are minimum. In the absence of any control, a liaison between the doctors and pharmaceuticals can touch the lowest levels of humanity.
And then finally comes the stage of Palliative Care, which certainly is not being given too much importance in our country, thus leaving the patient at the hands of family members, who are not prepared to handle the situation while he or she is slowly moving towards the end with collapsing veins and body parts going numb one by one.
Palliative care is care given to improve the quality of life of patients, who have life-threatening disease. In the West, it includes doctor, nurse and a social work palliative care specialist. Massage therapists, pharmacists, nutritionists, chaplains and others may also be part of the team. The team spends as much time as necessary with the patient and his family. They become partners by supporting at every step in every possible way.
My father too died of cancer after putting on a fight for two years. What he understood was to accept his fate, and learned to live with whatever little time he was left with. He was 80 and I am 45 in this race of life while moving towards becoming a finalist like him towards crossing over to another dimension of existence. But his death has also taught me a lesson that if someone you love dies, treasure the time you spent with him.
The people we love are stolen from us and the only way to have them live on is to never stop loving them. I tend to believe, just like my father, that when my time comes and the ones I love were to walk near my grave, from the very depths of the earth I would hear their footsteps.

The writer is a PhD in Information Technology, alumni of King’s College London and a social activist. He is life member of the Pakistan Engineering Council and senior international editor for IT Insight Magazine. He has uthored two books titled Understanding Telecommunications and Living. In The Grave and several research papers.Email: drirfanzafar@gmail.com,  Blog: drirfanzafar.com