Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Hope is Grief's Best Music

Serious diseases are never a ‘nice’ subject to talk about. When they strike close friends and family, we’d wring our hands, shake our heads and ask "Why? Why? We’re good people. Bad things shouldn’t happen to good folks."

But life is seldom fair.

Let me tell you about John Doe, a former school teacher. He had looked forward to retirement and to spending more time with his family. He was going to travel, grow a garden, run a marathon, play with the grandkids. Alas, he fell seriously ill. A visit to the hospital confirmed the family’s worst fear. The doctor said: "It’s cancer. Third stage. He can go home because there’s nothing we can do. There’s no hope."

You can imagine the utter helplessness the family felt although they had braced themselves for bad news. I know the feeling because it was my sister’s story too. Cancer. Third stage. And it took just several months from diagnosis to the final goodbye.

Not a nice topic, this cancer.

I used to gloss over cancer statistics and race through the description of the symptoms because reading them was turning me into a hypochondriac. I confided to a close friend: I’d rather not know if I had cancer because the knowledge (not the disease itself!) would kill me.

Dear reader, according to MAKNA there were 70,000 new cases of cancer in WM between 2003 and 2005. Cancer strikes roughly 100 men in every 100,000 males;  132 women in every 100,000 females. Among the men (Malays, Chinese, Indians) the most common type is cancer of the large bowel. With the women, however, the most common type is breast cancer.

According to College of Radiology Malaysia, the highest incidence of breast cancer is in North Europe and North America and the lowest in Asia. Incidence ranges from an average of 95 per 100,000 in more developed countries to 20 per 100,000 in less developed countries.

Based on these statistics, it would look like we, Malaysian women, are better off than those in Europe or America. But don’t celebrate too soon. For every 100,000 Chinese women, 60 get breast cancer. Indians: 55 per 100,000; Malays: 34 per 100,000. (Average about 49 per 100,000 females.) That’s just breast cancer. There are many types of cancers: lung, leukaemia, stomach, cervix, skin, etc.

(Note: There are no figures for Sabah/Sarawak on the MAKNA website. If you’re urang Sabah reading this, don’t feel bad we’ve been left out.)

Cancer has spawned thriving industries and businesses: hospitals, research and education, pharmaceutical, etc. Just think, if we woke up to a cancer-free world tomorrow, countless people will have no jobs and cancer-related businesses will have no clients.

For some people cancer is good news. For others it’s a death sentence.

Let me finish telling you about John Doe, the man who was told to go home because there was no hope. A drowning man will cling onto any flotsam. So when John’s wife gave him a concoction she’d made, he didn’t ask any question.

The next time he went to the hospital for his review the doctor demanded to know what Mrs. Doe had given her husband. She was aghast.

“Nothing,” she said. “Nothing.”

Drugs are expensive.  Jabs cost an arm and a leg. All she gave him was tea she had made by steeping some jungle leaves in hot water. She and her husband have been clinging onto this flotsam, their only hope when the doctors have given up hope.

“You must have given him something,” the doctor said. “Because the cancerous area looks clean.”

All pictures from Google Images


  1. Whenever someone lost their dear ones to cancer, it always reminded me of Papa. I posted about it in my blog sometime ago.

  2. It's always hard to lose someone, Angel. They leave empty spaces but many things remind us of them. We comfort ourselves by saying: at least they're no more in pain.

  3. Thanks for sharing. I really should go for a check up! Cheers.