New York, Sunday March 27
Dr. Alipour is our family doctor. He is the one who has helped me get through
everything from my vaccinations to the chicken pox to puberty. An elderly,
handsome looking man with dark olive skin contrasting sharply with his
very white, full head of hair. His eyes are warm and kind. From his mouth
always escapes the perfect thing to say, whether it is the promise of a
lollipop to a scared little girl or finding the right words to soften the
blow of bad bews for an anxious family.
It was Dr. Alipour who decided to give my father blood tests and a chest
X-ray when bAbA went to see him complaining of fever, chills, night sweats,
weight loss, fatigue, and loss of appetite. After a physical examination,
Dr. Alipour found swelling of lymph nodes in my father's neck and was immediately
worried, although he didn't let on. He did not waste any time. The next
day, my parents received his call at home informing them that bAbA's X-ray
showed an enlarged mass in the chest. A biopsy was scheduled at the end
of the week. When I arrived at my parents,house the day before Eid, they
had just learned that bAbA had a malignant cancer of his body's lymph system.
A cancer called Hodgkin's disease.
The cause of Hodgkin's disease is unknown. It is not an infection, and
is not contagious to a patient's friends or family. It is not thought to
be hereditary. But my grandfather had it too. The coincidence here is staggering.
My grandfather was already in the advanced stages when he was diagnosed
with Hodgkin's . It was heartbreaking to see this man, who once stood almost
6 feet tall and proudly rode his beautiful white horse, turn into a shadow
of his former self. And there was nothing we could do except love him and
make him smile til the end. My grandfather's death was the first time I
fully understood what death was. It was also the first time I questioned
the existence of God. Though I was never brought up religiously, I had heard
that there is a Good and Generous God who watches over His children. A couple
of days after the funeral, when bAbA came to pick me up from school, I asked
-- "Chieh khoshkelam?"
-- "Agueh KhodA khoobeh, cherA bAbA-bozorgo mareez kard?"
I don't remember what my father told me or even if he offered any explanation.
But I don't think I ever got over that seed of doubt planted in my mind
For my father, the good news is that he has reached only stage I of the
ailment, where the cancer is found in only one lymph node area. The treatments
available are radiation therapy (using high-dose x-rays to kill the cancer
cells) or chemotherapy (using drugs to kill cancer cells). Because radiation
has a high rate of success, and results in less discomfort and side-effects
for my dad, that is the option we chose.
Dr. Alipour has referred us to an incredibly reputable radiation oncologist,
Dr. Flaherty, who put together a first-rate team including a radiation physicist,
a dosimetrist (basically measures amounts of radiation needed), and a radiation
therapist. Most of all, we were so lucky to have Amber, the radiation nurse
and part-time amateur psychologist, hand-holder, nutritionist, mother, and
all-around Angel to help us through this.
During our daiily hour and a half our hospital visits (the treatment
itself is only 30 minutes but you have to contend for all those endless
delays at the crowded hospital), the one thing that has kept me from going
crazy while waiting in that damn room is Amber's reassurance that the radiation
process itself is NOT painful to bAbA.
So far, it seems he is only experiencing minimal side-effects, like fatigue,
and skin sensitivity, which are extremely common in these cases. Nurse Amber
has taught my mom and I how we can control these symptoms through medication
and diet. We are doing the best we can and hopefully achieving desired
results. BAbA as always refrains from any complaint and looks more upset
to see US in mental pain than from worrying over his own health. So I have
had good occasion to put my acting skills to use, clearing my mind, and
imagining this is a character I play. That nothing is real. I can smile
for bAbA and wait for this act of the play to end and give way to a happy