Sunday, August 4, 2013

My encounter with a woman suffering from lymphedema and terminal illness

I happened to meet a woman around 55 years old who was operated for carcinoma breast and is now suffering from lymphedema and metastasis. She had a minimum education of class three and was working as a house maid, throughout her life. The woman has two children, one daughter and one son, who are both married and settled. She has exhibited tremendous courage and adaptive capabilities compared to other patients, who usually show signs of depression by the time they reach this stage. Lymphedema of the right arm disabled her from doing the activities like using toilet, combing and tying the hair, taking bath and feeding. She had difficulty moving the right arm. Presence of chest drainage tube and swelling all over the body and legs made it difficult for her to walk around.
There was no history of cancer in the family. When asked about her belief regarding the disease, she was not sure about the reason why she got the disease. She is habituated to non-vegetarian diet. When I met her, she could take only liquid and semisolid food items. Never complained about loss of appetite and used to enjoy her food. She had good sleep at night. We expect patients with metastasis to report severe pain where as she was always cheerful and her face also did not show any signs of pain, nausea or vomiting. She only reported heaviness of the arm with lymphedema.
Even though educated only up to class three, she exhibited a very positive outlook towards life and her present illness. She said “ I am sure that there is something existing within me which is eternal and I will be born again”. This very belief helped her to maintain integrity, to give strength to her children, and to face death. She was not afraid of talking about death. In fact, she was preparing her children to face her death by talking to them.
She did not hesitate to mingle with others. Even with lymphedema and generalized swelling of the body, she did not seem to bother much about her physical appearance. She was happy to be photographed and strongly believed that each relationship exists for some reason and each one of us comes with a purpose on this earth, and our meetings, even though for few hours or days are with a purpose. She was an exceptional woman. Even during her terminal illness, after having full knowledge about her condition, she showed an amazing source of strength in her which helped her in coping with the illness and also to uplift the morale of her family.

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