“About six years ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer”, the beautiful forty six years old Mrs. Sapna Mirchandani* began narrating her case history.
(Oh no, I told myself, Brace yourself girl. You can’t get all mushy now. You have to keep your cool if you want to think straight and help her.) I clenched my jaws and steadied myself for a heart wrenching tale of how Cancer had poisoned this lady’s life. She continued, “Cancer turned my life upside down. It was the best thing that has happened to me in my entire life.”
“Uh…huh”, I nodded, “Wait… what??!!” (Man, this was one unique story!)
Chores, Chores, Chores:
“Yeah”, continued Sapna, almost enjoying my confusion in a smile that she tried to suppress. “You see, earlier, my life was all about running from one chore to another, caught between my kids and husband and mother-in-law. All the time, I would constantly think about what I had to do next – make my husband’s tiffin, get my kids ready for school or college, drop off my kids to their classes, look after my mother-in-law, attend to my parents or relatives, cook, iron, clean, dust… (Though it’s the same story for most Indian housewives, isn’t it exhausting even just to listen?)
And you know what Doctor, I never took time to enjoy any of this. I was too scared to try cooking new recipes because I was afraid my mother-in-law wouldn’t like it. When I was getting my kids ready for school, I was too busy thinking of my next task, rather than enjoying the time I got with them.
The worst part was, all this was self-imposed. Everyone around me must have seen how unhappy I was, but I turned them away. We could easily afford help, but I refused because I thought it would mean I wasn’t doing my duty. (I learnt later that her husband was a very successful businessman and when she said ‘easily afford’, she meant ‘really really easily afford’) My mother-in-law is a very nice lady (I told you, this story was unique!) but I declined when she volunteered to help. If I ever did find time to go meet my friends for an hour, I would rush back in half the time, worried that I would be needed at home.”
She was a modern day Cinderella, I thought. A Cinderella who was burdened by her chores, living her life unhappily for others.
Getting Diagnosed with Cancer:
“And then, I was diagnosed with Cancer”, Sapna continued. “It was such a peaceful time for me. I did not have unbearable physical pain. And thanks to the chemotherapy, I wasn’t allowed to meet too many people. (Certain chemotherapy knocks down your blood’s good fighter cells too, lowering your immunity temporarily. Hence, chemotherapy patients are advised to avoid contact with possible sources of infection including crowds.) We hired a temporary domestic help. My husband would mop the floor so that the maid wouldn’t have to come to my room. My mother-in-law cooked for me. My kids looked after each other. And me… Ah! I had all the time in the world to do things I had put off for years! I read a lot…about people who had battled cancer, about spirituality.
It was like a pause button on my life. I had a chance to review my past years, to realize why I had been so unhappy and to introspect on how I could mould my life ahead.
It struck me – all my perceptions about my duties or what my mother-in-law or husband would say were just that – my perceptions! It was all in my own goddamn head.
This modern day Cinderella had her False-notions-of-Duties for an evil step mother and Towering-Expectations-of-herself for step sisters. They were keeping her from enjoying life, nay even living life.
Cinderella’s Fairy God Mother:
What had changed Cinderella’s life after she met her Prince Charming? Was it becoming rich or finding the love of her life? I think not. She probably worked just as hard after she became a Princess too. I think the magic happened when her fairy god mother opened her eyes to the possibility that she could be a pretty, lovable Princess who could steal the Prince’s heart. As for my modern day Cinderella, Cancer came like a fairy god mother for Sapna.
After this introspective pause of self-realisation, Sapna turned her life around. She hired the maid for good. Her husband opened up a small business for her, which let her spend 3-4 hours outside the house, doing something of her own will. She made more frequent plans with her friends for going to the movies or plays. She joined a couple of cancer support groups so that she could help other cancer patients deal with their suffering. She tried new things, laughed more, loved herself more and gave more joy to her family.
Sometimes, patients give you much more than you can return. Sapna left me with a high that no marijuana could! I promised myself that day – I would not wait for a fairy god mother to come and wave her magic wand to alter my life. Once every year – on a birthday or on new year’s – I would give myself a pause. A pause to reflect if my life was going in the personal, professional and spiritual direction that I would like it to. If not, I would see to it that I kept correcting my course regularly before it was too late. After all, not all magic happens overnight; some magic takes months, decades and even lifetimes…