Wednesday, January 11, 2006

2005 Annus Horriblis - goodbye and good riddance

So 2005 is over, whopee! Yay, at long last! This was the worst ever year in my life so far and as I am in my early thirties, can only hope that I will not have a year this bad for another 30 years. To begin with, let me introduce my life and my circumstances and then onto my annus horribilis.

I am a graduate student studying astrophysics at a prestigious East Coast university in USA. Unfortunately my significant other aka my lover, boyfriend and husband lives in sunny California. He has not been able to get a job in the east and I have not wanted to move my research and retake all my exams in an univ in the west. So we have had a 4 year long-distance relationship. This is very stressful in and of itself. Add to that the usual stress in grad school and most reasonable people will agree I had enough on my plate. But no, the Gods decided that this was way too little and my father was diagnosed with stage II pancreatic cancer in August 2004.

In the months that followed I met with doctors in US and in India, talked with doctors in Australia (I have uncles who are doctors there) , researched the internet so much I felt my primary research interest was in pancreatic cancer and generally put my life on hold. My dad's tumour was inoperable because it was touching, almost entangled with, 2 major blood vessels. So chemo was his only hope. If the tumour shrunk enough to operate, he had some hope of surviving 5/6 years otherwise 1-2 years or less was the prognosis.

2005 began with the doctor in India telling my dad that after 4 months of chemo since the tumour had not shrunk enough, he didn't think there were any further chemo/radio/surgical options left for him. Since this doc is one of the foremost physicians in his field in India, this pronouncement really brought us all down. There was a slight ray of hope when a renowned surgeon in a very famous hospital in the US said that he thought my dad's tumour was operable. But we couldn't get a visa date for my parents till mid-May which meant 3 months of waiting in agony.

To add to all this, my thesis advisor was continually giving me grief about how unmotivated I was wrt to my research and I should reconsider whether I really wanted to do science - this after spending the last 4.5 years in grad school. I explained to him several times my circumstances vis-a-vis my dad and family but that was unimportant in his eyes. I was working as hard as possible but was obviously out my mind with worry over my dad. As he was not paying me anyway (I am being supported by a TAship from my dept) I could not understand why he kept belittling and harassing me. Mid-April saw me undergo a mini-breakdown from all the stress and in mid-May I told my advisor that I could not work for him any more. Any grad students out there will know how hard this is especially when you have worked for a while with your advisor.

My parents came to the US by the end of May and we met with the surgeon who seemed optimistic about my dad's chances. We spent the next month with our fingers crossed and our hearts in our mouths. End of June my dad had his surgery and that was the worst day of the worst year. The surgeon came out of the surgery in 2.5 hours to tell us that the cancer had already metastasized into Stage IV and there was no surgical procedure which could help my dad now. This was not only a delayed death sentence but also meant that the surgery, involving a great deal of pain (for my dad) and money ($65000 - this was borrowed from our relatives and my husband and I will be paying it back over God-knows-how-many-years), was a colossal waste.

Next month brought forth my baby sis' illness, she had TB and pleurisy (water in the lungs) and also an abscess in her breast. In between talking to doctors in the US and doctors in India, hubby and me felt like we would go insane. My mom returned home in August to look after sis and my dad started treatment under a clinical trial. Since it never rains but pours, I then proceeded to lose my dad's passport. Though how I managed to do this, I'll never know! It was inside my purse and nothing else from it was lost except the all-important passport. Getting a new passport was very never-racking and time-consuming and plain exhausting. And my sis was still not improving as the doctors were expecting, adding to my worry lines and white hair.

Unfortunately we found, in early October that the experimental drug was having no real effect on my dad's tumour and it was steadily growing. Another round of reading about clinical trials, consulting doctors etc. followed after which we decided to go in for a more aggressive treatment which involved more risk but also a possibility of more rewards. We finally got a new passport for my father by the second week of October. Now the worry was that my dad's I-94 was expiring in the end of November so we filed for an extension. One month was spent in see-sawing between hope and fear that we would/wouldn't get the extension but it didn't come through.

So my father returned to India and I took another sensible decision, I would spend the next year at least with my husband. If I could find an advisor who was willing for me to work remotely fine otherwise I would take a year off. All the disposing of lease, household goods and other general tensions involved in moving house ensued but the year ended on a happy note - I found an understanding advisor and I am finally living with my husband. The icing on this finish was that my sis was also improved enough to go off some of the heavy medicine she had been taking and so was really getting much better. She is not completely well yet but so much better that I can only be thankful for it. We still have many problems to deal with, my dad has to get his visa to come here, money is very tight, my dad's tumour has to respond to the medication, I have to finish my thesis but for now I am going to cling to the rays of hope that we do have and concentrate on the positives.

Before I end this post, I have to say thank you to all my friends out there who supported me, coddled me and literally pulled me through this miserable year. You know who you are, thank you for keeping me sane. And to my hubby who is the best, words cannnot express all that I want to say. If you have managed to read this far, thank you and I promise you that my future posts will not be so narcissistic and depressing.


Post a Comment

<< Home