This is a personal story, but it is told so that cancer patients everywhere may take some courage from it. Cancer is dreaded; it was even more a couple of decades ago. If, after reading this account, patients realise that there is always hope, the purpose of writing this we have been fully met.

The event that I am about to narrate happened some 17 years ago. I come from a family of three sons and two daughters. I am the eldest. My father is an Engineer. Born in a lower middle class family, he came up the hard way and after working for 32 years retired in 1974 after returning from an international assignment in Africa.

We had a small house in a middle class locality in Bombay. My father got both my sisters married off; one lived with her Army officer husband in North India, the other in the United States. My brother, the youngest in the family, lived with us. He was married and at the time this story begins he had a daughter, three years old, and a son one year-and-half.

Around May-June 1974, my brother began to complain of pain. He was examined and a surgeon friend of mine operated on him twice. The pain persisted. On tissue examination of the affected area, it was found that he had cancer.

The information was conveyed to me over the phone by my pathologist friend. I remember the day. It was Diwali-a festival of joy. Children were bursting crackers all over the place. Everybody was at home and enjoying the occasion when came this news. I felt stunned.

My friend at the other end kept telling me that of course things were not all that bad, that science had progressed, that cancer treatment was available and so on, but the reality was that my brother had cancer. And I, a physician, could not take the news with equanimity.

I immediately rang up a surgeon who had been friend, philosopher and guide to me for many years. When I broke the news about my brother it was his turn to be shocked. "Oh my God!" was all that he could say.

But then he rallied. He came over to my house and we went over my brother's case, sitting up till 2 in the morning, reading up on reference books and discussing all avenues of cure. But I did not breathe a word about what I knew to any other member of the family.

Next day my friend and I met two experts at the Tata Memorial Hospital. Their view was unanimous: my brother had no more than six to nine months to live. My friend, however, was optimistic. He suggested that we should take the patient to New York to the Sloan Kettering Memorial Centre. The only question was how to raise the necessary money, There was only one man who could come to our rescue, my maternal uncle. My brother worked for him. Without further ado, my friend and I apprised him of the problem. "Get in touch at once with the hospital authorities and leave the rest to me!" were his orders. One great load had been taken off my mind. Returning home I first confided in my wife who broke down on hearing the news. I had to tell her as sternly as I could, not to make life more difficult for me. But how was I to prepare my brother for the shock? My uncle devised a strategem. He had a collaboration agreement with a Danish firm and he told my brother that for further training he should go to Copenhagen and since there was a surgical conference in New York, I could attend that as well! It was a white lie so as not to arouse the suspicion of the entire family.

Meanwhile, I called up Sloan Kettering and asked to be put on to a Cancer specialist. The one I wanted to speak to was on vacation for three weeks. Would I like to speak to one of his colleagues? Imagine my surprise when that 'colleague' turned out to be not only a fellow Indian but an old college-mate of mine from my days in Indore! He was no less surprised. He promised admission to my brother the day he landed in New York and that was that!

The next day, the family celebrated my brother's alleged 'promotion' and I joined in, my heart in great turmoil. Should I or should I not tell my father at least what the real facts were? I decided I would and did. He turned ashen and could hardly speak. Tears rolled down his cheeks. But he told me they were not tears of sorrow but of gratitude to all those who had come to his son's help.

We left for New York after a week. My maternal uncle who is a gynecologist in Ahmedabad, accompanied us. My industrialist maternal uncle made arrangements for us to stay with a friend of his in New OTR.

Then another miracle took place! At the airport, I met a cousin of mine with his wife and child! They were on our flight too and they were going to New York where they lived! Coincidence, coincidence! We had a family to depend upon should the need arise.

And did it arise! We had gone to the address given us by my industrialist uncle, but were received coldly. We were ushered into a room and told to take care of ourselves. We were to be on our own in a strange city! Neither my brother nor my doctor uncle could take it. I called up my cousin (the one I met at the airport) who lived in Jackson Heights. Could he help? There was no question of hesitation. He drove down to Manhattan, picked us up and took us to his own small apartment but to warmth and filial love.

The next day, we had to tell my brother why we were in New v when we drove to Sloan Kettering. It was pathetic to watch him. His world had collapsed around him. But there was goodness to savour. The cancer surgeon's secretary was graciousness personified. She put my brother at case, inquiring about his wife and children. And that was how the the surgeon, too. interacted with my brother. They created an atmosphere of love and care around him. Slowly my brother relaxed. The next day the doctors operated on my brother. The operation required opening of abdomen to remove the lymph nodes (part of the defence system of the body which can harbour and transmit cancer cells to other parts of the body). The operation lasted 10 and half hours. My uncle and I sat outside in the lounge, occasionally trying to make small talk. But our minds and hearts were in the Operation Theatre.

Around 8 p.m. the surgeon came out, announced that the operation had been successful and that my brother would have to be kept in Intensive Care for the next 24 hours. We could watch him through the Observation Window, tubes protruding from all over his body. My brother lay there all quiet, with only a monitor to record his vital parameters.

The next 48 hours were critical. I called my uncle in Bombay to apprise him of the situation in New York. He gave me disturbing news. My brother's father-in-law had sustained a heart attack, no doubt unable to bear what his son-in-law was going through in a far away land.

My brother came through the ordeal well. He was taken out of Intensive Care, fed fluid through his veins. In a week's time he was on his feet. It was sensational. The doctors had removed about 150 lymphatic glands all of which were sent to the pathologist for tell-tale clues. None showed presence of any cancer cells. The surgeon said that five top experts had studied each gland and their opinion was unanimous. My brother was out of danger! He was discharged from hospital on the 12th day. We had won the first round of the battle. Science and modern medical knowledge had triumphed. I wondered: could this have been possible in India in 1974? We took a brief 'vacation' with a visit to Niagara Falls with my brother after getting the surgeon's permission. We had a grand time. Niagara during Christmas time is a sight for the Gods!

Back in New York, my brother checked himself in at Sloan Kettering for a follow-up. Another surgery that lasted for some 8 hours was performed so that no trace of cancer was left. This time another 40-- glands were excised. That was followed by chemotherapy to all of which my brother cheerfully submitted, though it was disheartening to watch him sometimes suffer from the after effects of chemotherapy.

After some three weeks of medication and treatment and another week of rest, we got the final clearance. We could go home! We packed in one day of shopping at Canal Street, looked the great city over and the day before we were to leave, our surgeon had us over for dinner. Just to see how my brother was faring, he said with a smile. The dinner was accompanied by a pep talk. "Be happy”, said the surgeon, "know that you have got the better of the disease, you are going to live long!” "Do I have to come back again to New York?” My brother asked. "Sure!” said the surgeon, "for pleasure, not for treatment!”

I myself stayed back in New York, this time a relieved man, to study new techniques in my own specialty. The two weeks I stayed with my cousin in Jackson Heights were weeks of sheer joy!

Through six weeks of mental torture and uncertainty one man had stood by us: our cousin. He gave us moral support, love in abundance and brotherly attention. No man could have done more. My flight home took 18 hours but all throughout the long journey I had only one thought in my mind, the love and affection that so many gave so spontaneously to my brother.

Eighteen years have gone by. My brother is a happy man. His children have grown up. He works 10 hours a day, but knows there is no way he could ever repay all the love and care he received from so many.

Yes, cancer is a dreadful disease. But it can be fought. It is fought every day. One should not lose hope or give up. Where there is determination, help comes from unknown sources. And that is winning half the battle.

 Compilation of professional reminiscences of specialists - edited by M.V.Kamath and Dr.Rekha Karmarkar