Before she turned seven, Gowri’s memory was almost faultless, says her father, Anoop Sankar. She could recall lessons, drawings and words almost down to the last detail. As a student, the pandemic had meant she was exercising these skills online during term. Which is why, when she went and told her mum and dad that she was seeing double, they chalked it up to tired eyes, too much TV and screen time.
Still, hearing Gowri (the name the family used) – whose real name was Nandana Anoop - complain of headaches and vision trouble, her parents took her to the doctor. “It was February last year,” recalls Sankar. “The doctor did some scans and told me on the same day that this is sixth nerve palsy. She told me to directly get an appointment with a neurosurgeon.”
The American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus explains on its website: “Sixth cranial nerve palsy is weakness of the nerve that innervates the lateral rectus muscle. The lateral rectus muscle rotates the eye away from the nose and when the lateral rectus muscle is weak, the eye crosses inward toward the nose (esotropia). The esotropia is larger when looking at a distant target and looking to same side as the affected lateral rectus muscle.”
Gowri had also begun to talk about death and what comes next. “Her personality seemed to have undergone a change,” says Sankar.
When the Sankars went to another hospital on the second day, they did a computerised tomography (CT) scan. “Suddenly, the doctor told me we need to start radiation, because there’s a big Grade 4 Glioblastoma (tumour), directly affecting the spinal cord.
“They gave her six months to live.
“We went to India, where we thought we’d get a second opinion, hoping against hope that the first was wrong. But the tumour was very big. He said, ‘Gradually – or maybe, suddenly – it will affect all the nerves’,” says Sankar.
The type of tumour she had is called brain stem glioma and most commonly affects children aged 5 to 10. “A glioma is a tumor that grows from a glial cell, which is a supportive cell in the brain. Usually, by the time brain stem glioma is diagnosed, it is most often diffused. This means it has spread freely through the brain stem. This type of tumor is typically very aggressive, meaning that it grows and spreads quickly,” says US-based website Cancer.net.
Since it was found to be inoperable, the only course of action was to do a round of radiation to stem the growth. “After 45 days of radiation, we did Auryveda treatments for two months – this helped ease her pain,” he says, adding that they tried to find solace in prayer. “By the last couple of months, our mental strength was gone,” he says.
By June, Gowri wasn’t able to open one of her eyes. “But,” says the proud father, “She was talking perfectly.” Soon however, Gowri began to have trouble eating, she found herself paralysed; her nervous system was affected. “In the end, she needed to be tube-fed for 15 days,” he recalls.
“We could do nothing but watch,” he says. On August 24, 2021, Gowri passed away.
It’s been a painful year, says Sankar, and a bittersweet one too. As they mourned their daughter, the couple found themselves pregnant. Their daughter’s birthdate in the same month as Gowri’s – August. As the Sankars pick up the fallout of their emotional, physical and mental trial, they also have cause for hope – a new cry shall soon be heard within their four walls.
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