8 March, 2021
A beautiful mind

Author: Dr. M. Suneetha, Radiation Oncology

Every life is precious, more so when a young, brilliant mind is unexpectedly cut short by cancer. But there are some rare individuals who really reminds you of the words – Life should be great rather than long.’ This is a story of such a beautiful mind.

A young man, in his early 20s, walked into my clinic with his parents and uncle. His clean shaven head with the scar on scalp was a clear giveaway that my patient had brain tumour. The boy appeared to be smart, intelligent and wore a permanent smile on his face, indicating his sunny disposition.

Nitin was a medical student studying in the government medical college at Kurnool. At the time of his final year examinations he had suffered from headaches and bouts of vomiting but he attributed his complaints to stress since he had similar symptoms during his previous examinations. A budding doctor, he took medicines according to his symptoms and managed to sit through his examinations. Since his headache persisted, he consulted an ophthalmologist to find out whether it was due to any change in his eyesight but it was found to be normal. Next he went to the neurology department of his medical college for consultation. Initially, the professor felt it could be because of migraine but then decided to do an MRI brain to be absolutely sure of his diagnosis. Unfortunately, it turned out to be the diagnosis they had least thought of – brain tumour. The surgery was immediately performed and the tumour was sent for final biopsy and it came out to be glioblastoma multiforme, a grade IV brain tumour which has a very poor prognosis. Nitin then came to me for further management.

Since he was a medical student I asked him “What do you know about your disease?” He immediately answered, “I have a grade IV brain tumour which needs adjuvant radiation and 6 cycles of chemotherapy in the form of Temozolamide tablets.” I felt as if I was no longer sitting in my chamber for consultation; instead I was conducting a viva-voce examination for my students. He answered each and every question I asked correctly and I really doubt if even my final year students could have answered my queries with such perfection. As a professor I would have given him cent per cent marks. Perhaps, this was the first time in my career as an oncologist I didn’t need to explain anything to the patient including the side effects of treatment. Finally, I decided to ask him the question which even I was
apprehensive about voicing it aloud. “What would be the prognosis of your disease?” I asked. He replied in a quiet voice, “It should be between 12 to 18 months”. On one hand, I was amazed by the depth of his knowledge and on the other, I was surprised by his courage in dealing with the situation. Nitin requested me against divulging the prognosis of his condition to his parents.

After my interaction with Nitin I spoke to his mother who told me more about the brilliant yet sensitive young man. A brilliant student right from his childhood he was a true all-rounder, excelling both in studies and sports. He played chess and badminton in his free time. “Whenever he is home during the vacation he holds on to the pallu of my saree. How can God be so merciless and snatch away my only child?” she said, sensing the gravity of her son’s condition though I had refrained from discussing about the prognosis of his disease. His father sat quietly most of the time and just mentioned his son had secured a free seat in the government medical college which was worth almost Rs one crore, just because of his sheer brilliance. He had made the entire family proud with his achievements. Money was no constraint and he should get the best treatment possible.

Nitin used to come daily for his treatment along with his mother. I always saw him walking into my chamber with his arms around her shoulders. He suffered certain side effects like vomiting and ensured his mother was not around while he discussed about these issues with me. He already knew which medicine to take and kept me informed about it. He would quietly go to the washroom and retch inside to spare his mother from the trauma of seeing her only
child suffer from the side effects of the treatment.

Finally, he finished his treatment and on the day of discharge I told him that he needs to come for follow up after three months and an MRI would be done to assess the status of his disease. He politely replied he will not come for any follow-up. “ Madam, I know what is going to happen in future. I only underwent this treatment to buy some time so that I can fulfill all my responsibilities. I can’t leave my parents alone like this, I have to find some comfort for them to hold on to during their moment of grief. I am planning to adopt a kid for them. I know it is going to take a lot of time and I can’t afford to lose any more by coming all the way over here,” said Nitin.

When today’s kids pour over their gadgets, forgetting to drink, eat or even talk to their parents or elders I wish I could hold up before them an exemplary character like Nitin. I never met him again but a beautiful soul like him is etched permanently in my heart and memory.

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