‘Luba’ alias Usha, had just celebrated her 60th birthday with a grand celebration – surprise party thrown by her doting daughter Rohini – when disaster struck.
The day after the party she went in for a comprehensive health check, “just because I had turned 60” she says now. (She was also feeling fatigued easily, which her husband put to her being ‘overweight’.)
Blood tests and all done, she went back to her home town 100Kms from Nagpur and got back to her routine chores.
Two days later the lab called to say she needed to repeat the blood test since there seemed to be an ‘error’. Her wbc count – white blood corpuscles – was way above normal; it was 30,000 when it shouldn’t exceed 10,000.
The repeat test, which she did about 4 days later showed a count of 70,000!
The Doctor asked her to come to his clinic immediately for a detailed check up. That day her count her climbed another 10,000 to go to 80,000!
Without further delay she was sent to a Cancer specialist, Dr. Sushil Mandhaniya, who put her through a bone marrow test which confirmed a diagnosis of ‘ chronic leukemia’ : a kind of blood cancer which if it goes undetected can spread to the spleen and then other organs. It can advance rapidly – as was already happening with Luba.
“I got the ‘biggest’ 60th birthday present from God – he gave me cancer!” Says Luba cheerfully. She is not one for tears, I don’t think I have ever seen her cry.
‘Luba’ Yawalkar is my bhabhi (sister in law) and there is a funny story to how she got that name.
She was named ‘Usha’ fondly by her parents, the Bhelkars, since she was the first of their 5 children. Usha means sunrise or dawn and she was the Sun of her siblings’ and family’s life, since she took good care of all of them.
It was this quality of her’s that attracted my mother who decided SHE would be the one most suitable bride for my eldest brother (cousin) Neelkanth. She would be the ideal ‘bahi bahu’ of the huge Yawalkar clan.
Usha was all of 17 then, when she was cast into this role. Neelkanth, her husband had just obtained IOC dealership to sell petrol, diesel and oils.
One of the oils Neelu sold was called Luba. It was the most crucial for keeping two wheeler engines running smoothly.
“Iam going to call rename you ‘Luba’ since you will the oil that will keep my family engine running smoothly. And if you are lucky for me, my sales of oil will also go up!” Said her husband with his quirky sense of humor. (Since then he has always bagged the IOC gold medal for highest sales of oil!)
So how did you react when you heard you had blood cancer? I asked Luba.
” I felt nothing! No fear, no grief and least of all any anxiety. I had seen my mother suffer from the same ailment and live on for 20 years more. My father in law had also died of another form of cancer, so it wasn’t new for me… in fact it felt like an old friend come back to visit” says Luba jovially. And believe me, it’s not an act she puts up…
News of her ‘ailment’ spread like wild fire and family members descended on her ‘like a pile of bricks’ she says.
“I spent the next 2-3 days consoling everyone and telling them, I was fine, nothing was going to happen to me!”
Dr. Mandhaniya put her own some medicines she would have to take ‘all her life’ and gave her a list of dos and don’ts. (Avoid crowded and public places; don’t exert yourself too much; stick to a regular and nutrient rich diet etc. etc.)
Usha, sorry Luba, takes the medicines without fail but often fails at the precautions!
She loves going to family functions, weddings etc. so how does she keep away from crowded places?
“I am not scared of death – everyone has to go one day and better to go sooner than later, but not being able to do the things I want to do scares me” she says candidly.
Since 6 years she has turned into a full time farmer. Some 3-4 years ago she planted some Orange trees in one farm. They will start yielding fruit in 2-3 years and it will be a few more years till they give optimum yield.
“I want to live to see that” says Luba.
I was also worried about something else – I’ve always wanted to see London, Paris and Switzerland. I had been to USA and Canada some years ago but not Europe. Would I be able to fulfill that dream?”
In May 2016, Luba, against all her children’s wishes, who thought she wouldn’t be able to cope, went to Europe with her husband and her brother and his wife.
She saw all the places she had dreamed of and more. And returned in one piece!!
She wants to see Japan now.
“So has your cancer made no difference to your life?” I asked incredulously.
“Well, I do get tired and on some bad days there is lot of pain. It comes and goes, I don’t dwell much on it. When I am feeling down I rest – in 2 hours or so I am back to normal.”
“You also get vomiting some time…” Neelu, her hubby pipes in.
“Ohh that? It is nothing!” she says breezily.
Luba’s day begins at 5.30 a.m. There are lots of chores to be done when you run an ‘agricultural’ household. Plus the two petrol pumps they own, one is just in front of the house. It is operational for 24 hours and the shift changes in the morning. One of her sons has to be present that time and she wants to ensure he has breakfast before he goes.
By 10.30 a.m. her engine is down – she has to rest for an hour or two then.
But by 3 p.m. she is back to the grind – checking her farm accounts, sometime even going for a visit in a jeep.
Then there are all the social obligations which haven’t reduced one bit. Her husband is always off to some other town or village to make speeches and ‘inspire people’. She is always by his side.
“He keeps frail health” she explains!!
So who looks after her health?
My two sons. She says. And my daughters who are married and away but they keep calling.
But I don’t really like people asking too much about my health! See, my blood reports are normal now and I am feeling fine. Why would anyone want to remind me of my ‘cancer’?