Tuesday, October 11, 2005

By the bedside


A picture of my grandfather, nearly 10 years after he succumbed to a lenghty battle with cancer.

Walking into the room was a somber affair though everyone tried not to show it. At the end we all wish that our daily existence is not one that ends with death but a celebration on how we lived and if it was a meaningful existence we should see it as such and not face death with downcast faces but a celebration of a long and fulfilled existence. Yet one cannot but help feel that death hung around every corner, every little detail reminds you of it; the sight of the medical drip feeding into the arm; the various medication lying on the table; the wheelchair standing by the corner; the people gathered along the bedside in silence; the frail figure of a once robust personality lying prone and helpless on the bed; and the stench that reminds you of the atmosphere within a hospital ward, a sort of antiseptic feel to it.

I’m relating this to one of my relations, my grandmother’s sister to be exact, one I call ‘sam yee poh’. Recently she has been fighting a bout of cancer, undergoing various chemotherapy treatments yet to no avail since it was malignant and reoccurring. The latest I heard was that they have recently detected leukemia within her marrow and it has progressed to the stage that treatment is not an option. My dad only found out lately when another aunt was relating the events through the phone and since I was going down to Kl and dad was following we dropped by her house for a visit. Thus we gathered along the bedside knew that this might be one of the last few times we might be able to pay her a visit and thus the somber faces though we try not to show it.

She was still lucid though and my dad and aunt were talking quite fondly with her, giving her updates and what the rest of our clan has been up to, a cousin here doing her studies, another finding a job, one uncle and his antics, etc. Even in her weakened condition at least she was still able to speak albeit with a stammer and slurred voice but managing to laugh and comment once a while. A nun was by her bedside, on her own violation to give her communion as she does every week. Small paper lanterns were hung next to rosary beads near her drip, the recent reminder of the lantern festival celebrated a few weeks back, another small but thoughtful attempt to give the place a more human touch.

I many ways, it is not too sad, yes we all feel it that her time is about to pass, yet at the age of 80 she has had a long life, a good life that few of us could hope for more. Married to a tycoon, her residence resides at the Golden Triangle in Kuala Lumpur, near to the Iranian embassy thus she is not for want of money. Her children are all grown and successful in their own way and already the next generation of grandchildren is showing their mettle. In this respect it is lucky as she is able to afford the medical care that many cancer sufferers are unable to provide for themselves. She has the chance to stay at home surrounded by family and friends, provided with the best care money could offer, if not to cure then to alleviate pain and offer a modicum of comfort in her waning condition and a son who is a trained physician to offer service and advice on her case, visiting every alternate days to check up on his mother. Thus the current scene as we gathered to talk about old times, about the present and the future, yet one fact we kept from her was that the pain she feels in her bones were the cancer cells slowly eating her away, her mind should not be reminded of it as we figured as she has already battled so many other of the cancerous cells invading her body. After going through so much pain from each session, it was a fact that no more should be done and she had fought valiently.

As I mentioned, cancer is not a specter unknown to my family, in fact it is safe to say that it is a genetic propensity in our family history, already 4 of our family tree have been struck down by the disease; my grandmother’s eldest sister and the youngest are also battling the disease, my grandfather died lung cancer due to excessive smoking and drinking at the age of 65 and my other grandfather from esophagus cancer also most probably due to years of smoking and drinking. My grandfather did not have the luxury afforded to my ‘sam yee poh’, he did not have the cash for the RM400 jabs, the live in nursemaid to take care of him 24/7 nor the cash for chemotherapy treatment. In the end he spent his days at home with my grandmother, surrounded by friends and family. Cancer can be harsh, in his last hours, he stared at us with pleading eyes, maybe fear of the impending fate, his voice gone and his moving lips uttering not a sound. He died late in the night, those gathered around him sat a vigil and offered prayers.

Thus to surmise, cancer is not too uncommon a disease in our country, every year many people die from it, some after valiant battles through drugs and treatment, others without the means to do so. Many are lucky to survive and remain in remission after treatment and are living their lives reborn, many others are not so lucky. For those able to afford it, costly treatment is available and if caught early is treatable for some forms of cancer. But for the terminal patients, the only option is to ensure a meaningful, comfortable life before the end. For people able to afford it, care can be given to ensure minimal discomfort, painkillers to control pain, paid help to look after the needs such as bathing, feeding and changing, treatment to ward off the worst of the disease. For those less fortunate it could mean severe discomfort and pain every single day. I think the most cherished hope is knowing you are in the midst of your loved ones to the last moment and ending your days in your own home.

Why am I relating this? One reason, Peter Tan is organizing a campaign to help out the Penang Hospice-At-Home-Programme by cutting off his hair in an effort to gain donation support of RM5,000 for their programme, an act borne out from the help and care they had given selflessly in helping his mother and him during her time in need. This to me is a worthy cause, offering home visits of trained physicians for cancer victims at their very own home so that they can be with their family and friends and not spending their days alone in a sterile ward. Thus I am pledging RM30 to the cause, I only wish that I could give more but I hope even this small contribution would help even a single person in their time of need, then I am glad. So if you know someone suffering from cancer and understand what it is like please do help out and donate generously, a little help goes a long way. Details can be found on Peter’s blog and donation information can be gleamed here.


s'mee said...

Dear Kevin, I came to your blog via your beautiful blue starfish photo. I send to you my heart felt blessings and condolences; and hope that the donations honour your family well. Thank you for the information.

Kervin said...

s'mee: I'm glad you like my blog, it's a pleasure having you here :D As for the contribution I think Peter, the one organizing it deserved better kudos for what he is doing.

s'mee said...

Kudos to Peter (who has an awesome blog as well!), and as I said earlier, Kervin, I you are now at the top of my "daily read" list.

(I LOVE the internet! How else would I have found you both?)

Peter said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Peter said...

Thank you for plugging the Hair for Hospice campaign. God bless you.