Nfld. & Labrador·Blog

Dr. C | Having cancer is tough, but it might be worse for my dad

Dr. Nikhil Joshi writes that having cancer has a big impact on patients and their families.

Dr. Nikhil Joshi says the impact of cancer on family members is sometimes overlooked

That's my dad, Dr. Pradip Joshi and me, Dr. Nikhil Joshi, heading out to a wedding just before I was diagnosed with cancer. (Courtesy Dr. Nikhil Joshi )

The really strange thing about having cancer is that I don't feel like I'm the person most changed by it.

I'm staring out my kitchen window while having some lunch when I notice Dad eating too. We often have lunch together these days; he makes a point of coming home whenever he can. 

I look at him, I study his face and posture, and think about everything that has happened recently in our lives and I've got to tell you I find this whole thing extraordinarily sad – for him. 

Let me explain. Although my father and I are very different people we enjoy each other's company. I like my Dad as a person, I enjoy talking with him, and as we both get older our relationship becomes more fun.

But my cancer has been really hard for him. 

About Dr. Joshi senior 

Dad has been practising internal medicine at the Health Sciences Centre in St. John's for 34 years. He's a proud Newfoundlander and Canadian and he still gets miffed when patients ask him if he's going home for the winter. "I am home," he replies in his British accent.

He is an avid workaholic, but that hasn't aged him. Not one bit.

The only things that aged him were when my fiancée left and when I got cancer. 

And I feel like such a selfish little ass. All the recent pain in his life is because of me. 

Cancer affects more than the patient

I think that's one of the things about having cancer that no one talks about. We're all centred on the patient, but the fallout from the cancer bomb hits the people closest to you. 

I know this sounds morbid, but I'm not really worried about if I die.

As far as I'm concerned, me dying is bad for everyone else. I'm dead – what do I care? But my family would be left haunted without me.

I think I feel guilty about that. 

I've watched my illness transform my father. He used to worry about my spending habits or the girls I was dating.

Now, he worries that the chemotherapy may predispose me to a life-threatening condition, or worse, that it's not working and that we're losing time as those cellular bastards replicate over and over and over again. 

Do good, and good things should happen

Some would say that's the burden of knowledge from being a doctor, but it's more than that. 

My father thought he would do good in this world and care for people and nothing truly terrible would ever happen to him or his family again. 

I say again because his family lost everything in Tanzania and Kenya during the uprisings in the 1960s when they had to flee East Africa.

My father made his way through medical school on scholarships, working summers in a canning factory, and after my grandfather died, sleeping in that canning factory on a burlap sack. 

When I think about it, in the long history that is my father's life, this year was probably the worst year in 40 years. This is the year, that despite all the good he continued to do, all he received for his efforts was heartache.

The way I see it 

I look at my situation differently. I don't think life owes us anything. I think life says to us, "I'm not fair, but I'm beautiful. Take as big a piece of me as you possibly can because you're all gonna die eventually." 

I don't think there's any action he or I could have done now or in the past that would have stopped me from getting cancer.

Bad things happen to everybody, saints and sinners alike. You can't bargain with life. You can't say I'm going to be a good person and nothing bad is going to happen to me. 

But when it all hits the fan, when things get bad in our lives – and at one point things will be bad in everyone's life – that's when we show what we're made of. That's all the choice and power we have in this world. 

I'm not sure whether anyone is watching, I'm not sure if it makes a difference to this planet of six billion people, but I try to live my life as if it does matter, because that's what makes me happy. 

That's how I'm coming to terms with my cancer. 

I'm just sorry that my father suffers through me. And that's not fair, but I guess that's life.


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