The Mughlai Chef’s Cancer Story


Cooking was more than a career for Balram Singh; it was his passion. Every day, he found his sanctuary, surrounded by the smells of fragrant curries simmering on the stove top and breads browning on the walls of the tandoor oven. He loved the rich sauces and flavorful marinades that made up Mughlai cooking—korma and Biryani were his all-time favorites. Balram’s passion and talents secured him an auspicious position at a 5-star luxury hotel, The Imperial.

Balram was well-known and well-respected in the staff community at The Imperial. He was always laughing and his hands were always busy. He worked long shifts without complaining and was grateful for the simple and rewarding life he led. Apart from a strange tingling sensation he sometimes felt in the back of his neck when he laughed, Balram was happy and, by all indications, healthy. However, the events of one evening would challenge the life Balram took for granted.

While prepping for the Friday night dinner shift, Balram was tossing vegetables in a cast iron skillet with his left hand while throwing in handfuls of brightly colored spices with his right. Suddenly, he felt his left hand go limp. As he lost control, the skillet crashed onto the burner and spilled out it's scorching hot contents. Unable to comprehend the blur of the last few seconds, Balram rushed to clean up his mistake and chastised himself for his clumsiness. Frustrated that he had to remake the dish, he had no time to think twice.

When Balram packed up to leave at the end of the busy weekend shift, he felt so dizzy that he was seeing double. Since it was such a chaotic night, he was un-phased and hopped on his bike to go home. Almost to his house, Balram took a shortcut over some rough muddy terrain. As he traversed the bumpy mounds, he seemed to lose sensation in the entire left side of his body. Collapsing to the ground with his bike, he called out in fear. For the first time, he knew that something was seriously wrong. With help, he was able to make it home. He woke up the next morning with the left side of his body paralyzed.

An MRI revealed that Balram had a diffuse intrinsic brainstem glioma, and his doctors started him on radiation. He was plagued by shock and grief. Confined to his bed, Balram dreaded the phone call to his superior at The Imperial. Resigning from his job made him feel like he was resigning his life to the illness.

From that moment on, he lay on his side in a dark and gloomy room. His body was paralyzed by the tumor, his mind paralyzed by depression. Knowing that he could not cook or return to the same normal life, Balram was completely unmotivated and dispirited to do anything. It seemed to him that there was no point. He lay detached and motionless. Here, in this decrepit state, is where the CanSupport team found him.

The CanSupport team was extremely empathetic to Balram’s circumstances, but they refused to accept his pessimistic complacency. Little by little, they began to introduce subtle forms of rehabilitation. The nurse began with massages and worked up to small exercises for the weak side of his body. The counselor encouraged Balram, “You can turn over if you try. You can do it!” and he turned over for the first time in months. As the CanSupport team continued to visit, Balram regained his will-power. After two years of being bedridden, he was able to sit up within one month of meeting with CanSupport. Balram faithfully followed their nutritional advice and yoga exercises. After three months, he was walking.

Balram claims that his progress would not have been possible without the support of the CanSupport team. The abruptness of the events leading to his paralysis created a mental block that made him afraid of all risks. He refused to leave his comfort zone should anything go terribly wrong. The team’s constant assurances, however, have helped to break down this boundary. They are his safety net. He can strive higher, knowing that if he slips, the CanSupport team will be there to catch him.

Despite such astonishing progress, Balram has not overcome his fear to cook. His left hand is still weak, but is gradually gaining strength with the aid of exercises and a gel stress-ball provided by the team. Now that he can walk, Balram says his next goal is return to the kitchen. His dream is to prepare for the CanSupport team, his special biryani and korma.