Cancer Story of a Tutor


Vijay gazed out of his ground floor bedroom window. Sometimes he stared at the street intently. He observed as dogs napped in the summer heat, their ears occasionally twitching to repel flies. He watched as children went off to school, huddled in small groups, talking loudly and laughing. Sometimes he just stared out the window and saw nothing--his eyes were completely glazed over. At these times, he was blinded by anger. All he could feel was his own sense of dissatisfaction. Sometimes his wife would interrupt his silence by offering tea, medicine, or prayers. Though well-meaning, this agitated Vijay, who always felt that he married beneath his own intellect. He was dissatisfied with his religious and illiterate wife, a feeling that only grew worse when he realized he would be fully reliant on her care.

Vijay first faced cancer 20 years ago. He had a tumor removed from his parotid gland and was subsequently stable. However, at age 62, doctors discovered metastatic cancerous growths in his optic nerve and spine. Vijay took the news very poorly and was paralyzed by anger. He was angry at his over-caring wife, he was angry at his own dependence, and he was angry at the rapid decline of his strength, mobility, and eyesight.

When CanSupport first met Vijay, they were determined to diminish his pain. As persisting discomfort can aggravate a person to their core, they hoped that reducing his pain would give him more patience and help open his mind. As the pain medications began working, the CanSupport team noticed slight improvements in Vijay’s disposition. They also noticed that he harboured a lot of repressed frustration. Confined to his house, he felt like he had no one to talk to, no one to whom he could express his ideas and concerns. The team listened empathetically as Vijay vented. Over time and many meetings, he began to crack jokes and he and the team gradually developed a more two-sided relationship.

As the CanSupport team grew to understand Vijay, they developed a clear goal. They wanted to change how Vijay viewed his life. Instead of looking back through a haze of regret, they hoped he might recognize the moments that gave him joy. He might see that he positively affected others’ lives and had a purpose in life.

The team learned that years ago, Vijay lived in a small village in the Bihar state. In this village, he was deeply disturbed by the corroding impact of drugs and insufficient education on children’s lives. Vijay had been educated himself, and out of concern for the village youth, he opened a private tutoring business where he offered his services for free. Vijay’s fondest memories came from his time tutoring. Even in groups of sixty, he tried to give personal attention to every student. He wanted every individual to succeed.

Just when Vijay felt like his work was making a difference, it all changed. To his dismay, other members of the village began to look on his public charity with suspicion. They believed he was being disingenuous, trying to secure a government position. Vijay grew frustrated and tired by their accusations. When cancer first came, he felt that he was forced to end his tutoring career on a demoralizing note. Clouded by this memory, he began to feel resentful towards his own life.

Instead of focusing on the bitter death of his teaching career, the CanSupport team encouraged Vijay to focus on what he was able to achieve. Devoting considerable time to meeting with Vijay, they pointed out the initiative and tenacity it took to start the venture in the first place. They reminded him about the children he taught to seek solace in books as opposed to alcohol. While it was difficult to change Vijay’s mindset, giving him an outlet for venting and reflecting helped him find considerable peace. He was too humble to be proud or consider his actions as achievements, yet he looked back on his life’s work and felt like he had done something “that had to be done”. He felt his life did indeed have a meaning and felt a sense of satisfaction.

While happiness would be an overstatement for Vijay, CanSupport measures success from where a patient started. The medical and psychological interventions from CanSupport have caused notable improvement for Vijay. He is more patient and open, and he is growing to be less hostile towards his wife. Recently, Vijay even said that, were he to get better, he would once again devote his life to educating poor children. For the first time in a long time, Vijay expressed a seed of hope.