Image Credit: Ahmed Kutty/Gulf News

I've never won a raffle or a lottery. But I've been incredibly lucky. I won the lottery of life. I survived cancer and COVID-19.

Lymphoma is the best cancer anyone could get, my doctor said. Is there good cancer and bad cancer? I wondered. Anyway, it was detected very early. That was the best part.

Eight years later, when I contracted COVID-19, I didn’t even know it. My test for the coronavirus turned up negative, and the only symptom was a high fever for 10 days. Later, when I tested positive, I was asymptomatic. Well, that’s the nature of the RT-PCR test, false negatives and false positives. Makes me wonder, when did I have COVID?

COVID-19 and cancer. They have a connection. A nasty one that triggered my fears. When I read up on the new coronavirus, I realised that chemotherapy is a comorbidity — an underlying condition that could compromise immunity. Which left me vulnerable to catching the disease.

Mind you, I was never afraid of the coronavirus, given the low mortality rate of patients. Studies say 19 out of 20 people walk away with mild symptoms. Would I be the 20th person? Was my immunity good enough? That was my worry.

I have an active lifestyle: a bit of yoga, 6-km brisk walk everyday and weekend tennis. I watch what I eat. And eat a lot of veggies. In fact, my salad lunch has been the butt of office jokes. All of this helps keep most ailments at bay.

Yet, I aways had this nagging suspicion: Did cancer therapy neutralise my immunity? Chemotherapy certainly figures prominently among the COVID-19 comorbidities. Thing is, I didn’t undergo chemotherapy; it was immunotherapy. But the medical staff kept referring to it as chemotherapy. If it was chemotherapy, my hair would’ve fallen off. It didn’t. My receding hairline and thin mop of hair were more a function of my advancing age.

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The immunotherapy sessions were scheduled close to weekends so that my absence from office wouldn't be noticed. Otherwise, I worked the full shift. But on the day when I underwent bone marrow aspiration, I nearly collapsed in the office once the powerful painkillers wore off.

I didn’t take a chance on the days when I had PET-CT scans. Walking around the office with radioactive glucose in my blood wasn’t a good idea. It might affect others, especially unborn babies. So I stayed at home.

All that is in the past. But I have never dared to talk about it. I deeply admire people who share their battle with cancer. Because hearing about their experiences will greatly help others. I, however, lacked the courage. Until now.

Cancer took away my mother (I know what you are thinking; but there’s no hereditary link here. Our cancers were unrelated). Yes, our cancers overlapped. But I kept the news away from my parents. And I didn’t want them to know from other sources. Which is one of the reasons why I kept my cancer a secret.

I was in remission when my mother passed away six years ago. My father died last year. They never knew. So now, I feel like I can write about one of the darkest chapters of my life. But not more than what I’ve said here.

Friends are wonderful; they care. And because they care, they also want to know more. I dread calls seeking more information. Because every query takes me back to those dark days of fear and uncertainty.

COVID-19 did just that. It was like revisiting those days of horror. When I came down with a fever, my doctor reassured me that it could be viral fever or flu. At worst, he said, it could be a mild case of COVID-19. Which set my alarm bells ringing. Loudly.

I kept a close watch on my lungs, holding my breath regularly to check whether I had breathing difficulties. My daily pranayama (breathing exercises) session was born out of that fear. If I don’t have breathing issues, I was fine, I said to myself.

Fortunately, breathing wasn’t an issue. Even when I tested positive. Now that I’ve tested negative, I can breathe easy. Metaphorically speaking.

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma always comes back, one of the consulting doctors told me. So, I’ve been having been annual checks. So far, so good. I am in the clear.

Eight years and counting. I’ve been lucky. I don’t have to win a lottery.