True Life

Living with Cancer

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The former head of the counter-terrorism wing of RAW succumbed to cancer on 16 June. His tweets over the past five months, as he watched his body being laid waste by the effects of his illness and radiation therapy, document his fears, hopes and determination to emerge the victor

Bahukutumbi Raman liked living in Chennai. He hoped to die there too—though he did wonder if Chennai’s mosquitoes would get to him before his cancer did.

Raman, one of the founders of the Research & Analysis Wing (RAW) and former head of its counter-terrorism division, died on 16 June 2013 at the age of 76. The cancer in his body, which was first detected in October 2009, had spread from his bladder to his liver.

Raman was a prolific writer, even during the time that he was valiantly fighting his cancer. His blog ( has tens of entries every month for the past five years. He wrote about China and its foreign policy, and India’s foreign policy with respect to China; he wrote about Pakistan, the ISI and al-Qaeda; he wrote about issues concerning the US, Sri Lanka, Kashmir, Rahul Gandhi, riots and the Indian government. He even wrote about Salman Rushdie.

A spymaster for most of his working life, Raman retired as additional secretary with the Cabinet Secretariat. After he retired, he headed the Institute for Topical Studies in Chennai. Raman recounts his days at RAW in his memoir, The Kao-boys of R&AW: Down Memory Lane. It helped that his memory was almost encyclopedic.

Raman also tweeted regularly #sorbonne75, sometimes several times in a single day. His tweets show him to have been fiercely independent, a workaholic and incredibly positive. He never married, but in the past few years, he actually started to crave solitude. One of his favourite songs was Ma Solitude by the French singer George Moustaki. What he missed the most after his cancer was detected was his daily dose of Scotch and soda—two large pegs every day and three on Saturdays.

Over the past five months, Raman shared even the most minor update in his battle against prostate cancer. It helped to ward off depression and fight the cancer, he claimed.

Raman didn’t go down without a fight. His tweets between January and May 2013 on his battle with cancer, which are reproduced here, are a testimony to that.

14 JANUARY: All set to leave for my 9th radiation therapy session after 3 days’ rest

16 JANUARY: 10th session of radiotherapy over. 23 more to go. Tomorrow (7-30 AM), 2nd blood transfusion & 11th session

16 JANUARY: Lost 4 kilos since radiation began on Jan 2. Still 4 kilos over weight. Do not have emaciated look of typical cancer patient

16 JANUARY: Many buddies call on me to enquire abt my health. I am touched. I welcome it. But don’t stay for too long. I do feel tired

18 JANUARY: 12th radiation session completed this AN. 21 more to go. My haemoglobin level which came down to 5.9 on Dec 3 has gone up to 10.2

25 JANUARY: Three & a half weeks of radiation therapy completed sans major side effects so far. Three more weeks remain

25 JANUARY: During my hospital visits met many cancer patients from WB & Assam. They have come to Chennai due to poor medical facilities in home state

25 JANUARY: Urinary bladder—recurrence after 3 yrs

31 JANUARY: Side-effects of radiation start. Nausea. Weakness. Loss of 5 kilos. Loose motions

1 FEBRUARY: 2. A 4-yr-old sweet child from WB is brought by its parents every day for radiation. It had a brain tumour that cld be only partly removed

4 FEBRUARY: Cancer may affect the quality of your life, but let it not affect your interests in life & people

11 FEBRUARY: 28th radiation session over. CT scan shows 80 percent of tumour has dissolved. Advised to have a few more sessions. Will know t’morrow

12 FEBRUARY: I wonder whether when death ultimately comes to me, it will come from my cancer or from Chennai’s mosquitoes

15 FEBRUARY: 4th booster radiation session over. 4 more next week

16 FEBRUARY: Trying homeopathy to cope with side effects of radiation therapy

17 FEBRUARY: Hopefully last four days of booster radiation which is nothing but torture

17 FEBRUARY: Many journals grade hospitals on basis of prof inputs. Imp to get inputs of patients too. R hospital & docs patient friendly?

18 FEBRUARY: Apollo’s radiation machine was out of order whole of yesterday. Hope it is OK today. 4 more sessions before I complete the radiation therapy

18 FEBRUARY: Am very much in Chennai. Hope to die in Chennai

18 FEBRUARY: Some of the best oncologists in India r in govt & military hospitals. Conservative, non-aggressive, patient-friendly

18 FEBRUARY: Many of my friends who went to Govt hospitals recovered. Many who went to private hospitals died

18 FEBRUARY: My late nephew who was a doc in US used to describe many private docs as carpenters than docs

19 FEBRUARY: 5th booster radiation session over. 3 more to go. Apollo’s radiation machine broke down today too. Was set right & recalibrated causing delay

22 FEBRUARY: 1. Cancer: Last booster radiation session over. radiation therapy over too—36 sessions at 15 minutes per session from Jan 2 to Feb 22

22 FEBRUARY: 2. cancer: have been asked to report again end April for post-radiation review. Am told side effects of radiation will subside in abt 20 days

22 FEBRUARY: 3. Thereafter will start picking up strength. Luckily, did not develop any fever or infection during the radiation

22 FEBRUARY: 4. cancer. Back in circulation by March 20

22 FEBRUARY: 5. cancer. Thanks for the good wishes & moral support of all of you. You kept me going despite the radiation being a torture in last 3 weeks

24 FEBRUARY: 1.The cold winds from the North have come to fetch me and take me to where I came from

24 FEBRUARY: 2.But I am not yet ready to leave. I am not yet prepared to walk into oblivion

24 FEBRUARY: 3. The cold winds have to come back when I will be ready to leave

25 FEBRUARY: Discomforts of post-radiation recovery start. Managed to take two small walks yesterday despite them. Meeting my urologist today

27 FEBRUARY: Still facing difficulty in coping with post-radiation discomforts

27 FEBRUARY: Hoping to have my post-radiation eye checks today

27 FEBRUARY: According to my DOC, the tumour was only in the urinary bladder & not in prostate. CONTD

28 FEBRUARY: Had a preliminary eye check after radiation. Doc said nothing calling for intervention. He will examine again after a week

28 FEBRUARY: I have been slowly increasing my daily measured walks. Have spells of fatigue still in the evenings

28 FEBRUARY: Planning to visit barber today. First visit after I was diagnosed with fresh tumours in my urinary bladder on Dec 1 last

28 FEBRUARY: 1.Love brought us together. It divided us furtively. We r left with memories & pains. That’s all we inherit from love

1 MARCH: One week of post-radiation recovery over. Side effects subside very slowly

1 MARCH: Post-radiation pic. Minus beard. Minus 9 kilos pic.

2 MARCH: Back after a 3 hr outing in city. Consulted a well-known homeopath on radiation side-effects. Visited my house after 3 months

2 MARCH: A day of rest. Some eating, some rocking in chair, some sleeping, some walking, some browsing, some writing, some thinking, some hoping

3 MARCH: My life is not one dream fulfilled. It is a series of broken dreams made of memories & pains

3 MARCH: This is the second week after radiation was completed. Side-effects continue, but I am up & moving

3 MARCH: Cld hardly wait to return to my house & resume my lonely existence. Possibly March-end. I love my lonely existence

3 MARCH: Am a bachelor. Living alone since 1963 with a domestic assistant

14 MARCH: No more OK for me ever since I underwent 36 sessions of high intensity radiation #ok

15 MARCH: Well. Surviving

15 MARCH: Am itching to get going normally

15 MARCH: Completing 3 weeks of radiation recovery today. Discomforts due to side effects r not yet subsiding. Weight constant at 79 kilos

15 MARCH: Slowly increasing my walk. About 15 minutes daily now

19 MARCH: Had a detailed post-radiation eye-check-up. Eyes normal. No cataract. Advised another check-up in Sept

19 MARCH: Think of others who underwent radiation along with me. Many from NE including 4 yr old child from Kol. Hope they r recovering

20 MARCH: This morning too since the burning sensation during urination has not subsided. Has asked me to take Urispas

22 MARCH: 4 weeks of post-radiation recovery. Weight constant at 79 kilos. Haemo rises from 9.5 To 10.2. food intake improves. Burning urination

6 APRIL: No problem last night. Food intake normal. Sleep OK. Burning sensation during urination continues.

18 APRIL: I complete 8 weeks of my post-radiation recovery on Apr 23. Thereafter, scans & other tests to assess impact on my 2 tumours in the bladder

20 APRIL: When I was under radiation treatment, blood donation for pushing up my haemoglobin was arranged by a local sathyasai baba pple

22 APRIL: Completed 2 months of radiation recovery today. Visit to radiologist on 26th for evaluation

24 APRIL: Despite 36 sessions of high intensity radiation, my Total PSA shoots up from 14 on Nov 30 last to 104 yesterday. Hope to know reason Apr 26

24 APRIL: Cistoscopy in 2009 & Dec 2012 For bladder. CT scan showed 2 tumours in bladder. prostate was clean. radiation for bladder

24 APRIL: Good indicators. Weight stable at 80.5 kgs Normal food intake. Haemoglobin level goes up to 11 Sans any further transfusion after Jan 21

24 APRIL: My cytology report—occasional lymphocytes & mature squamous epithelial cells in proteinaceous background. No evidence of malignancy

25 APRIL: MY HAEMOGLOBIN LEVEL: 1.Came down to 5.9 on Nov 30 last. Started gasping. Couldn’t walk even inside my flat

25 APRIL: MY HAEMOGLOBIN LEVEL: 2. Was given 3 blood transfusions in Dec & 2 in January. Went up to 9.2

25 APRIL: MY HAEMOGLOBIN LEVEL: 3. Since then has reached 11 by my taking daily a glass of beetroot juice and one of anar juice

25 APRIL: MY HAEMOGLOBIN LEVEL: 4. Now am able to walk briskly for abt 25 minutes daily. Also drink a glass of white pumpin juice daily to reduce acid

25 APRIL: I have observed my stomach as cancer patient tolerates sambhar nicely if it is not spicy & has very little dal & lot of cut vegetables

25 APRIL: My stomach as cancer patient can’t tolerate sukha sabji. Creates nausea

26 APRIL: Back from hospital after meeting radiologist. Have to go again Monday morning for PET CT scan of lower abdomen

26 APRIL: I am under treatment for 2 tumours in my urinary bladder. Hope to know the progress next week. Thanks

26 APRIL: Danger is it will discover tumours not found earlier. Means more therapy

29 APRIL: Back home after PET CT scan

of lower abdomen. Results tomorrow evening

2 MAY: Back from my radiologist. Cancer in my bladder has totally disappeared. Small growths in liver & adrenalin gland. Advised to see oncologist

8 MAY: Visit to oncologist today to consult on lesions in liver, adrenalin gland & lower part of lungs noticed in PET scan

8 MAY: In cancer, therapy can be worse than the disease

8 MAY: Will be 77 in Aug. beautiful age to die rather than undergo one therapy after another

9 MAY: He says my cancer is spreading across body. No safe treatment options available. Has suggested morphine to be taken if painful

9 MAY: I told him I will fight it out till my last breath. I won’t give up so soon

12 MAY: Woke up. Ate some rice with curd, one plum, 3 Muscat dates. Back to sleep

12 MAY: Spreading relentlessly for last 2 weeks

12 MAY: Cancer cells of my bladder have got into blood stream and affected liver. the count-down

12 MAY: I want other cancer patients to know about my battle

12 MAY: I have declined. Underwent radiation

12 MAY: 15 minutes of walk despite pain in lower abdomen. 2 Liv 52 tablets of Himalaya

12 MAY: No. am trying Google Vedic cancer treatment

13 MAY: No recovery. Downhill. Trying to arrest speed

13 MAY: My bladder cancer has spread to liver. No safe treatment options

available. Have been Advised to try alternate medicine

13 MAY: Not gloomy, but pain

14 MAY: Shanti Ayurved Clinic North Boag Road, T.Nagar, Chennai-17 has been recommended to me for alternate treatment of cancer. Any views?

15 MAY: … State of My Cancer—An Update

15 MAY: Am a terminal cancer patient. speak & tweet from personal experience of suffering & sharing

15 MAY: Some R painfully terminal. Some R philosophically.

15 MAY: I have lost 2 relatives in US to cancer due to aggressive treatment

15 MAY: It is a branch of Coimbatore AryaVaidyasala. Heard of it? A well-wisher says they cured a relative of breast cancer

16 MAY: Just analysing. shifting to my brother’s house for 4 days tomorrow. He intends discussing my case in Adyar Cancer Institute

16 MAY: Painful. My oncologist has suggested morphine. Am avoiding

17 MAY: Severe back pain. Took half a tablet of Morphine as advised by Oncologist. Good night

18 MAY: Cancer 1. In Adyar area a group of medical specialists including oncologists cater to domestic medical requirements of senior citizens

18 MAY: 2. Was examined by one of them today. He is confident they can keep my liver cancer stationery sans worsening

18 MAY: Cancer 3.Has replaced Morphine with less potent pain-killer & has changed the medicines for painful urination. Will prescribe oral chemo

18 MAY: Cancer 4: with less worrisome side-effects. Has promised new pain-killer will be effective

18 MAY: A week after I was diagnosed with secondary liver cancer, my weight has more or less remained constant at 78.5 kilos

19 MAY: The heat, gastric rechting

19 MAY: Weight same as yesterday—78.50 kilos

19 MAY: Unbearable pain. Trying to sleep, sans morphine. Good night

19 MAY: Planning to formalise will for my flat tomorrow

19 MAY: Sinking. Slowly, but steadily. A losing battle

19 MAY: Courage, I have. Desire to live longer I no longer have

20 MAY: Opinion of best cancer team in Chennai—No medical option available.Advised to follow palliative pain management

20 MAY: Advised to take half a tablet of heroine twice a day even if I have no pain

20 MAY: Last night 2 of my old bosses asked me to take pain-killers sans ignoring doctor’s advice

21 MAY: Touched by a message of good recovery from NaMo’s office yesterday

23 MAY: Living under care of a male nurse since this morning

23 MAY: Am in terminal,stage of my cancer. Very painful. Thought will share my knowledge with them before I die in Oct. frustrated

28 MAY 28: Lovely musical calls of koyals all around

28 MAY: I can eat only what my tummy can tolerate. I can’t eat what others want me to eat

28 MAY: Affection for terminal cancer patients shd be simple and normal, not instructive

29 MAY: Admitted in hospital last AN for checking catheter. No emergency, though

30 MAY: Hanumanji willing, shd be back home coming Saturday