How oncologists dealt with cancer in the family

Two oncologists share how cancer affected their lives

February 04, 2019 11:53 am | Updated 04:43 pm IST

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Getty Images/iStockphoto

An oncologist, a cancer-care specialist, helps people with medical and emotional support. But we rarely consider what happens when an oncologist has a close family member or a friend diagnosed with the disease. Here, two Hyderabad-based oncologists share their story.

Dr K Sreekanth Kandikattu

Dr K Sreekanth Kandikattu

Dr Sreekanth Kandikattu

Senior surgical oncologist

Yashoda Hospitals

Dr Sreekanth Kandikattu was newly married when his aunt was detected with malignant Esthesioneuroblastoma, a rare type of cancer in the nasal roof and skull base in 2000. “She was my pinni , my mother’s sister. I was close to her,” he says. He remembers with affection how much fun he, as a nine-year-old, had at her wedding. His first reaction when he heard she was diagnosed, was emotional distress, but being young, he was not demoralised. The positive side of having an oncologist in the family is that they are better informed, know the disease, prognosis and its extent. In a better frame of mind, they can communicate the truth and give straightforward answers to delicate questions. “We see situations where relatives multiply fear and convey things differently. Psychologically, we are stronger as we have seen many patients. We know whether the cancer can be cured or if we can extend the lifespan,” he adds.

Dr Kandikattu’s aunt eventually passed away due to cancer, but the positive side is the difference he was able to make during her cancer treatment. His faith and hope to beat cancer got strong when another aunt of his survived the fatal disease. “It has been 20 years since she survived cancer and she also saw her daughter and son marry. We have to move forward in our fight against cancer.” When he witnessed the agony of one of his professors while trying to find an oncologist for his daughter, it inspired him to take up oncology. “An oncologist in the family would make a difference emotionally and medically,” he felt.

Dr Umanath Nayak

Dr Umanath Nayak

Dr Umanath Nayak

Consultant head and neck oncologist

Apollo Health City

Dr Umanath Nayak never imagined he would have to deal with cancer in his own family. “As an oncologist, I never thought cancer would hit someone I had admired for so many years.” He recollects two incidents during his father’s battle with colon cancer. “I realised something was not right when I saw my father in the airport. He had lost 20 kg and looked frail. During his colonoscopy, I saw a big tumour staring at me from the monitor. The images were disturbing.” He heaved a sigh of relief for the first time only after surgery.

Witnessing a family member go through this ordeal is traumatic and oncologists navigate the situation because of their medical training. The person with the disease feels assured and hopeful with an oncologist in the family and the trust factor eases tension.“Your biggest worry is only when you think it is incurable, but I went about it with a practical approach.” He considered it a time to fulfil his duties as a son. Although his father’s diagnosis heightened anxiety, he was calm and composed, and explained the disease, its treatment and outcome to relatives.

“None in the family had to go through the worry of whether he was being treated correctly as I had taken the responsibility. For all that my father had done for me, I could be there to support him. My father too felt relieved when he saw his oncologist son taking care of him.” His father survived cancer, but the psychological impact of the disease took a toll on his mental health and he is on anti-depressants. This experience has brought in empathy and a change in his approach. He feels one has to accept the fact that anyone can get this disease. “Some of us may be more knowledgeable, but one is still going to experience the anxiety and fear which patients and family members go through. In a way, this may help oncologists understand them and develop empathy.”

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