Love in the Time of Cancer


I tell you, this Carol has a knack for puncturing the balloon of my sweetest fantasies.  Having  failed at finding true love in the last 20 years of my single life, I have devised a cute way of fantasising about  it instead. I smile into the sky and off I go into a Time warp.

Now that day, particularly, I was a Duchess from the 16th century—a ravishing beauty donned in a golden off-shoulder gown, my curly tresses piled up high above my long elegant neck, heavy with emeralds and rubies. But I had more pressing matters on my mind.

 I carried the huge burden of turning down a beeline of handsome, wealthy suitors–all wanting to dance with me. To my delight, I had them all wrapped around my little finger.  I twirled a stray golden lock around my  painted, delicate fingers. Aah Love, I sighed, luxuriating in its warm, delicious feeling!

Just then, Carol HAD to butt in!

“Hey, Baldie, there you go dreaming again about  your nonsensical idea of Love!” she admonished me.

Sitting on the window sill of my room, she dangled her slim legs clad in red hot stilettos  and said, “C’mon, spill it out!”

Promptly,  I defended my idea of Love. I launched on every woman’s wish list of tenderness; endless whispers of sweet nothings;  pillow talks;  receiving frightfully expensive gifts on way to romantic trips across the world and generally all about moonlight, butterflies and rainbows. Above all, unconditional generosity and unending indulgence.

Carol listened, as you would  listen to a retarded child. She kept rolling her eyes in disbelief, shrugging her shoulders from time to time.  Finally, narrowing her huge blue eyes,  she slid off the window sill and said, “Time to take you on our trip. Let’s go to Tata Memorial Hospital. You’ll find Love there.”

“A  Cancer Hospital?” I protested. “ Why there? How can I find my true love there?”

Now Carol is a woman of few words. She is all action.

Off we went to Mumbai city’s biggest Cancer Research Hospital. The Tata Memorial Centre is the national comprehensive cancer centre for the prevention, treatment, education and research in Cancer and is recognized as one of the leading cancer centres in this part of the world.

Every year nearly 30,000 new patients visit the clinics from all over India and neighbouring countries. Nearly 60% of these cancer patients receive primary care at the Hospital of which over 70% are treated almost free of charge. Over 1000 patients attend the OPD daily for medical advice, comprehensive care or for follow-up treatment. Nearly 8500 major operations are performed annually and 5000 patients are treated with Radiotherapy and Chemotherapy annually in multi-disciplinary programmes delivering established treatments.


While my eyes popped out at the sheer sea of humanity I encountered in the corridors, she gave me a brief hug and said, “Honeybunch, I’ll leave you here. I’ll be back when you are ready for me!”

“But why have we come here? Surely we can afford a fancier hospital?”

But she was gone.

I must admit, I began my walk down the overflowing corridors just to humour her.

Haa! Love? How would I ever find it here?

And then my eyes got riveted to the sights I saw. Never had I seen such maimed and bruised specimens of humanity. There were Departments  for Cancers for every imaginable part of the human body. People who had been cut open and were waiting for further advice. People who were waiting to be cut open and were waiting for the procedure to be explained to them. But not once did I hear anybody cursing Life or Fate or crying. There was just a dignified acceptance.

I marvelled at the dignity of the ailing. I marvelled at the strength of the human spirit.

But that is not all I saw.  At the Paediatric Wards I saw bald Post –Chemo  children, oblivious to what their little bodies were undergoing, playing happily with their remote cars. Their doting parents watched over  them lovingly. Both parents, mind you. Neither of them was too busy to come for the doctor’s visit.  A new question arose in my mind.

So was this true  Love, I wondered?


At the Male Ward I saw devoted wives shooing away the Nurses and attending to the most  intimate care of their husbands and not being intimidated by the grumblings they got in return from their suffering spouses. They went about their tasks—joyfully.

 So was this true Love, I wondered?

At the General Wards, I saw rag thin, poverty-stricken  relatives —even entire villages of the afflicted who had pooled in enough money to bring the patient all the way to this frightfully expensive city, rent a place here and see him through the long struggle to recovery. 

So was this true Love, I wondered?


I wandered off to the Breast Surgical OPD, for that is where the big sea of humanity seemed to be. Now I have seen wives taking care of their husbands. I think in our society and most, that is a given. But when I saw husbands taking care of their cancer-stricken wives so lovingly, my whole world-view changed.


 Some scenes will remain engraved in my mind forever.

A  husband and wife in their mid fifties sat in silent companionship, waiting  for their name to be called out. They were obviously very poor. The wife had lost all her hair to Chemotherapy and  her skin had darkened. But the husband had eyes only for her. At the first cough, he would give her a sip of water. When she seemed to be weakening, he would put her head on his shoulder lovingly and whisper words of encouragement into her ears.  To my amazement, he even cupped his hands before her when she puked!

Now was this true Love, I wondered?

An Octogenarian couple sat beside each other, wrapped in a cocoon of love. While I watched unashamedly, the husband gave his wife a gift—an IPad.

Catching me staring, the woman flashed a toothless smile  at me and said,  “You see, it is our 50th wedding anniversary today!”

They went on to play a game of Scrabble while I wiped off my tears.

Now was that true Love, I wondered?


But the sight I saw next took the cake. A  woman in her thirties had lost one breast to Cancer. She kept crying, while the doctor explained to her why they had to take such an extreme step. But she was inconsolable.

Just then the husband opened his wallet and showed her a picture of their wedding day.

“Look” he smiled, “How much hair I had on my head then. Now I’m balding. Does that mean you love me less? In the same way, why do you think I will love you less now?”

I froze in amazement. Brought up on a regular fare of Bollywood movies and our decadent times that celebrated “body parts” through item numbers and the like, what was this that I was hearing?

Now was this true Love, I wondered?


Was it just wrong statistics that I had stumbled upon that day, or did I actually see more rural, down- to-earth people, as opposed to the busy professionals of the metros,  living out true love?


Perhaps Carol had staged it all for me. For just then I came across a stunningly beautiful young girl in a sunflower yellow dress and ankle length stylish boots. She was in her thirties and must have been  high up on the corporate ladder.

Sensing a confidante in me and obviously dying to share her story she leaned towards me and whispered, “You know, for four years I gave him everything—my body, my home, my life. We were supposed to get married this month.”


Just then the Attendant called out—“ No 129!”

 The girl got up.

“Who is the Patient?” asked the Attendant.

Smiling at me wryly she said, “I am the Patient. He was the Impatient one.  He left.”

With that, she walked with firm steps into the Doctor’s  Chamber, making my heart twinge with the pain she must be feeling.

Was this true love, I wondered?


“ I’ve seen enough!” I cried to Carol, who has a knack of appearing at the right moment.


“So Honey bunch? Any changes in  your definition of True  Love?”


“Yes, but before that, a few recommendations:

  • I have seen enough youngsters necking and petting at Band Stand and Lover’s lanes. They should forcefully be brought here to understand what love means.
  • Whoever you are, whatever age you are, you do deserve to make one trip to this Hospital  at least once to feel the heartbreak of patients being  abandoned by  their own or the sheer joy of a son (mine!) looking after his widow mother, despite his hectic corporate schedule. You MUST experience raw Human Drama present in the corridors here.
  • All those youngsters who profess “’I love you” should compulsorily make a visit to Tata Memorial Hospital. When the marriage vows say “In sickness and in sorrow, till death do us part…” they must first come here to understand the gravity of what the relationship entails.

Carol, I tell you, if one’s love can carry one through something as dreaded as Cancer, only then is it True Love.


Carol is a great listener. She nodded sagely as I said,

“Love is the Infallible Physician, the Supreme Consoler; it is the Conqueror, the Sovereign Teacher.”


At that point, Carol’s face split into a radiant grin. “Duchess dahling—you said it—Not I, ok?”

Then she took my hand and off we went home—I, suitably chastened and she, gloating in the fact that once again she had been proved right.

Who would say a trip to a Cancer Hospital would make you feel light-hearted? It certainly had that effect on us. I saluted the resilience of the human spirit and determined to enjoy each day. I promised I would not die before Death actually came. I would Live every single moment. I would celebrate Life!


“You know Carol, I sang—’The Rest of my Life is now going to be the Best of my Life’.”


To which she added, “Indeed, all life is Love if we only  know how to live it!”





  1. Avnita Bir

    God bless you Neelam. In happiness and in despair, through successes and through challenges, you continue to inspire.

  2. Asma

    My respect and my love to you Mam!

  3. Thank you dearest Avnita and Asma for giving me such a lovely reason to smile!

  4. Vishnu

    We all look for love as long as we live. Let us pray Neelam falls (not fails) in love again and we read her real life love story…

    This blog is not a fairy tale story. Even in her hardest time, this blog distinctly inspires all about the love that is captivating and directly reaches every one’s heart not only the denim generation to make use of this brocade. Regards M’m.

    • Thank you dear Vishnu for your kind words. But I am already in love. Madly, crazily, whole-heartedly. With Life. And we have a pact. I will leave it when I want, not the other way around. Could any love story be more romantic?

      • Vishnu

        I Agree. Neelam, not only you are a beautiful writer but very well able to capture requited love with grace and honesty. It illuminates the rest of the world. Let me also say the people around, you love are perfect, they won’t leave you either

  5. M

    Having known a few Cancer survivors closely I now understand your definition of love.I had taken my responsibilities towards my loved one for granted because, ‘they know I love them’.Thank you, for the reality check.My prayers are with you!

    P.S:I write this comment with wet eyes and a sniffling nose.This doesnt happen to me that often when I am at work.

    • Thankyou for your heart warming comment. It has come at a time I’m getting Chemo in my veins.
      Believe me, only Love, not medication, Heals.
      Pl go home and hug your loved ones.
      Love you,

      Neelam Kumar
      Sent on my BlackBerry® from Vodafone

    • Dear M. The reply below was meant for you. Blame it on being drunk on my Chemo at that moment. My tequila shot! 🙂


  1. Love in the Time of Cancer | neelamsapphire

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