Living with a cancer afflicted parent — A Series — Part 16

Switching to autopilot mode

Image credit — Google Images

“All okay at home?”, my sister replies, when I ask her, by what time will she back from her college. It’s nearly 8.30 pm, and her moot court event seems to have run later than expected. Normally, she would simply reply, “I’d be a little late, will text you when I leave from here.” These are not normal times that our family is living with, and its effect is pretty evident in every action or conversation within the house.

As a recap, Dad’s been recuperating, but very gradually. His inability to speak and his weakness has rendered a huge emotional blow to the family.

Seeing Dad become so fragile and vulnerable evokes pain and helplessness. There’s always a looming worry that he might suddenly experience pain in his chest or throat, or the constant coughing might worsen his nights. Dad needs 24×7 assistance currently. So it’s either Mum or me, who are around him all the time. And this assistance would be required even more in the coming weeks, since Dad will be undergoing aggressive targeted chemotherapy. As much as we are prepared and positive to help him get through this victoriously, we are also scared. Worried. Uncertain. And, above all, emotional.

This is Dad we’re talking about. Of course, this will be emotional. Of course there’ll be tears when he struggles. Of course there’ll be a lump in throat when he writes, “what’s my condition? What’s the MRI report saying?”. Of course there’ll be nightmares and sleepless nights too. And of course, all of this is happening in reality.

So how do you keep your emotions in check, to ensure that Dad stays focused on improving his health? So Dad doesn’t fall into the turmoil of misery and uncertainty. How do you see him cough relentlessly, with red eyes and pain in the ribs and continue to encourage him to cough more to clear out his chest congestion? How do you help him sleep and groan voiceless, clap when he wants to turn on the other side, as he’s unable to do that on his own?

You switch to autopilot mode.

You turn off your emotional vulnerability, to keep your focus on making sure Dad meets his needs. You believe in charting a daily list of to-do chores, ticking them out as they keep getting done, and moving on to the next one. You speak to doctors, listen them tell you the gravest news, stuff you’ve always been afraid to hear (like, this treatment may be short lived, then we only have one option left etc.), without wincing, keeping a record of all the important information they give you. You make calls for second opinions. You keep emergency numbers on speed dial. You take calls of friends and relatives. You don’t complain for lack of sleep, you only become efficient at falling asleep whenever you get a chance. You work on insurance claims and future drug discounts. You plan your finance. You study the drug and its ill effects, you make a mental note to ask further questions to the oncologist when you meet him next. You tune out of yourself to be there for the need of the hour.

To be there for Dad. And in the long run, that’s all that matters.


Hi, I’m Mariyam, thank you for reading my post. This is part of my series on finding positivity and decoding the ‘be positive’ attitude as my father fights through aggressive oral cancer.

If you liked it, you can read other posts on http://mariyamrazahaider.com.

You can also follow me on twitter @MariyamRaza for more. Much love 🙂

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