The greatest villains in history are as famous as the heroes. Every person in this world who has either read or watched the Harry Potter movies knows Voldemort. I don’t fancy villains much, but life throws many challenges around; villains are not just restricted to pages of fiction. Sometimes, they slip out into our lives — except, they take a new form. I call the villain that I encountered recently Voldemort. Why, you ask. Just like how the very name sends a chill down the spine in the books, I faced the darkest fears when the name, cancer, was uttered by my doctor recently.
Cancer found its way in my family long time ago. My grandfather died of cancer. My grandmother survived breast cancer. A distant uncle succumbed to stomach cancer. This meant, as the doctor put it, I had to be careful. Careful? How can someone be careful? It is not some kind of a road accident that I can get into as a result of rash driving, is it? Most people in my family don’t even utter the word. Like the classic villain in the Harry Potter series, we call it — the one that cannot be named — Voldemort!
Apparently, Voldemort has a lot to do with DNA. So, my doctor had suggested, I get some screenings done annually. In keeping with the advise, I went about my routine check-ups and suddenly, one mammogram turned out to be a roller coaster ride. One test after the other revealed a malignant tumour in my breast. But, I was getting my medical examinations done, right? So, how could a tumour turn out bad, I wondered. Well, the routine check-ups could not assure me that I would be free from it, but helped me with early detection.
My doctor announced on the phone that I had indeed inherited some crazy DNA. Breast cancer was a word I didn’t want to hear; nobody does. The word ‘cancer’ rang in my ears all the time and too many dreadful images floated in my head — was Voldemort hell bent on seeing me to my grave? With fear lurking, I tried hard to sleep and hoped that, every thing would go back to how it was before. But, it didn’t.
During one of my routine meetings, I asked my doctor, if he had ever read the Potter books. “No,” he said, “I have seen the movies,” he smiled. That minute, a strange sense of belief sank in my heart. The knowledge that my doctor was on my side and would protect me. I called him my ‘Dumbledore’ — the man who protected Harry Potter and believed in him. Although I never told my doctor what I thought of him, a favourite line from the movie played in my head from time to time. The line said, ‘as long as Dumbledore is alive, you (Harry) can’t be touched’, and that gave me a strange sense of confidence. I began to fervently pray not just for myself but for my doctor as well — who had to save not just me but so many others like me.
To this day, I find it silly that I have likened my life to a fictitious character. But, silly and weird, I am battling Voldemort who is powerful, but I have no special powers to fight. Unlike the Harry Potter books, my life is devoid of magic. I cannot swish a wand nor do I own a crooked hat. So, how can I fight my Voldemort with my bare hands? I couldn’t bring myself to tell anyone that I was indeed scared. Who in their right mind would not be scared of Voldemort? Accepting the fear made me look very weak.
“I am scared, stressed and angry,” I told my doctor. “It’s normal,” he told me without the slightest doubt. That is when I smiled for the first time because it felt quite alright to feel the mixed emotions in my stomach. Often, it is not the big things that can change life. It is those small and simple words and actions that bring in the courage to fight. It came to me when a friend held the vomit bag for me in the hospital. I felt reassured when another friend took care of my little boy and packed his lunch every day. I was overwhelmed when my husband rubbed my feet and when mum got me a glass of milk in the middle of the night. “Mum, you can do it”, my son smiled. Without any warning, I saw the little boy with round spectacles in my own self. I may not have the wand, the special gifts of Harry in me and yet, I have the unflinching love of my family that puts a smile on my face in bad times. My villain, like in the books, has its strengths and weaknesses. Trouble is, every person who faces the deadly Voldemort in real life takes time to discover the special gift they are born with. But, I have to say, if not for Voldemort, I would never have seen the side of humanity that we see so less often. Human benevolence, kindness and the unwaning courage — which can so easily defeat life’s greatest villains.
Well, Harry Potter may have taken seven books to kill his Voldemort. I will take a couple of months by taking a small step forward. Yes. It is with a bit of fear and trepidation, but filled with hope and faith. Love, they say, has strength beyond measure. I looked at Voldemort with renewed faith and it did not look all that scary. So, Mr Voldemort, here I come armed with lots of LOVE.
Sudha Subramanian is an independent journalist based in Dubai.