As she lay amidst a pool of surgical equipments and beneath pale yellow sheets, Ananya tried to feel the lump that had grown to be a part of her now, but all she felt was a barren territory of skin. There and beyond. She clasped the bedsheets with her fingers after the realisation with a force that could have torn them apart. There was something sordid about those tumbled bedsheets, sprawling blankets and rough pillows. But she didn't remember the last time she slept without them. It was a tough decision, but she had to take it. Life hadn't given her many choices.
* * *
She remembered the day when she had discovered this little softball in her body inside the bathroom.
"So you are 5 months pregnant?", the doc said that evening.
"Yes, doctor. This is our first child. I am kinda nervous and excited at the same time.", her cheerful bubbly self unable to control the anxiety within itself.
'Ah, another case of over-hyped eager-to-be-moms I have now.", teased the doctor playfully.
"Why, anything serious, doctor?", she was too quick to ask.
"Oh, no. Lets get you quickly examined first. Relax, you will be through this soon."
A momentary uneasy pause.
"It could be a case of swollen milk ducts. Allow me to get back to you in two days time, Ananya."
"You are sure it is nothing to worry about, right doc?", she asked.
"Have a carefree evening and meet me in two days, alright?", smiled Dr. Kim.
* * *
Ananya did not have to wait for too long. At 12.15 pm the next day, her phone buzzed on the vibration mode, stirring the inactivity in her cubicle.
"Can you meet me within an hour in the clinic? Please make it ASAP", the voice on the other end of the phone said.
Sensing the urgency in the tone, Ananya could gauge the gravity of the news concealed. She cancelled her appointments for the day and rushed to the clinic. She glanced at one of the mirrors in the hallway and studied herself. "It couldnt be", she cajoled herself.
* * *
"I am afraid I have some bad news, Ananya." She felt a looming shadow of fear surround herself as she heard the medico's words. A cloud hitherto unseen was now hovering over the moon.
"Unfortunately, unlike what I thought, you are diagnosed with breast cancer as per the lab reports." The ground beneath her feet had started to split. She tried gaining back her composure. Despicable tears rejoicing their conquest had welled up in her eyes and strayed upon her cheeks. They came unbidden, the bitter salt touching her lips. She feared the next few words that would come out of the oncologist's mouth.
"We will have to rush you through a series of clinical procedures. Biopsy, chemotherapy, radiation surgery....you can plan it out with your husband as to which one you want to go ahead with first, and let me know by tomorrow morning, better still, if by this evening." So this was it. Like a magician's set of cards, life had laid out the minimal options she had, for cure, or maybe, for survival. She had to pick one. After that another. It was a dismal and shattering finish to her morning.
* * *
The next few months brought bigger losses than what she had conjured up in her mental realm. The initial diagnosis now almost seemed innocuous. The chemo sessions had been hard on her, with a conspicuously receding hairline and weight gain due to steroids and fertility medicines. Life had been kind to her though, or so she thought, once her baby girl came into this world. With a cherubic smile that took all of Ananya's gloom along with it, it brought a new joy into her world. Maybe all was not lost. The unflinching support of her husband and the hope that her daughter brought, had made her crack out of her souless, desolate shell. Unhaunted, with no whispers from the past.
The day that lay ahead before her, long no doubt, and fraught with a certain stillness, a dear lull she had not known before. But like they said, men and women emerge finer and stronger after suffering, and that to advance in this or any world, we must endure ordeal by fire. She had won the fight after all.
~ If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of it all. And so today I still have a dream. ~
- Martin Luther King Jr.