Read this inspiring story of Surita, a mother of two, who shares that as a mother she constantly worries for her children, especially her son who is autistic and has been diagnosed with leukaemia, and how she draws strength from God and her family.
She confessed feeling a little nervous about the interview when we first met her, as she was not used to being in the spotlight. She had even come prepared with written notes “to make sure she didn’t ramble too much” – and it was all very endearing. There is an unassuming aura of simplicity and gentleness about her. Her smiles are small but genuine. Surita’s experiences as a mother has been far from simple, but they reveal a humble spirit of fortitude and grit, and a close-knit family tied together by quiet affection and hope.
This is Surita’s story.
Her eyes glowed softly with pride as she recalled her youngest son’s latest achievement. He had recently sung “Stand by Me” in front of the whole school. Any parent would be proud to see their child perform on stage, and Surita was no exception. This achievement may be small to others, but it meant the world to her.
“There are… insects inside your body. That is why you have to see the doctors; you have to take medicines to get rid of the insects… so that you can get better.”
This is what Surita and her husband, Jeya had to tell their son, Visahan when he was diagnosed with leukaemia at the age of 11.
It was difficult to explain to him the necessity of frequent hospital visits, needles and pain, because Visahan is autistic. Till today, 3 years later, he is still unable to fully comprehend his illness. He just accepts it as a routine and a part of his life now – every month, he goes to see a doctor, gets an injection and have his blood drawn out. (This is to monitor his blood count readings for any indications of a relapse).
Surita was alone with Visahan in India when the doctors broke the news to her about leukaemia. She recalled sobbing in fear and distress as she read the medical report. “I was very frightened that I was going to lose him”. Those were the thoughts racing through her troubled mind.
Then, she realised that Visahan was still beside her, watching in silent confusion. At that moment, she forced herself to calm down and keep the tears at bay. “I have to be strong for my child”, she steeled herself.
Somehow, Visahan could still sense his mother’s anxiety. Neither of them slept that night.
Visahan completed his chemotherapy treatment last year in October 2016. He will be under remission for the next five years.
Though the worst is over, it has not been easy for Surita. She is kept constantly on her toes; for every symptom that appears, she is on the look-out for any sign of relapse.
“I’m more worried about his leukaemia than his autism. At least with autism I can still manage his behaviour. With leukaemia, I cannot control it… If Visahan complains that his leg feels painful, I will quickly google to see whether it is a symptom of relapse, or something serious enough to warrant a doctor’s visit, or see how to treat it…” Every now and then, there’s something to worry about. “Just two days ago, Visahan told me “my arms are painful, Ma”. It is very stressful and it gets me worked up. Whenever I go to the doctor’s to check on his white blood and absolute neutrophile (ANC) counts, there is still this fear in me”.
When asked how this journey has shaped her, Surita replied, “I think I have become stronger. I’ve realised that I can take on any situation. I deal with it one day at a time. Sometimes all I can do is to pray. I ask God to show me how best to take care of the son that He has entrusted to me. Whatever resources we have, we just focus on helping him, since he was the child given to us.”
However, it may be ironic (or to some, unsurprising) that for Surita, the biggest challenge of motherhood is not in caring for her sick younger son, but in dealing with her 16 year old teenage son, Gajendra. “At his age, everything else is more important than his parents!” She gestured in bemused frustration. “Visahan is very obedient. But when I tell Gajendra to do something, he will challenge me with ‘Why, Ma?’!”
Surita mused, “I am usually a very straight person, but with him, I have to learn how to navigate”. This involved balancing disciplinary measures against privileges and rewards, i.e. good exam results mean he gets to participate in his scouts activities.
Surita strives to instil in her children the Hindu culture and beliefs. She teaches them to pray to God daily and to sing worship songs. To her, it is important for them to have a sense of belonging to their rich cultural and spiritual traditions and colourful rituals.
One important value to her is honesty- and that, Visahan has no problems with. “If he takes a Ferrero Rocher from the fridge, he will tell me immediately!” she chuckled. On the other hand, Surita is glad to witness Gajendra’s kindness and respect towards his grandparents. Just the other day, she saw him walking an elderly lady across the street.
“Gajendra keeps a lot of his emotions to himself”, Surita shared. “Whereas Visahan blows me kisses and give me kisses on the cheek – he is very affectionate”. She laughed in amusement as she depicted the contrast between Visahan and the two other males of her family who express themselves differently in more subtle ways.
For instance, Gajendra was very upset when he first heard about Visahan’s illness. There were no words – but his actions spoke louder. “When we returned from India, Gajendra kept hugging his brother and showing him a lot of attention. He even allowed Visahan to play with his phone, something he did not usually do. He has also changed the family’s Whatsapp group’s profile picture to Visahan’s photo”.
Surita is proud that Gajendra has been a very caring brother. He patiently entertains Visahan’s wishes to play with him, and sleeps with him to keep him company. “What happens if you marry?” said Surita jokingly. Gajendra only waved her off and repeated “No, no, I will always look after my brother.”
Surita is particularly grateful for Jeya, whom she described fondly as a wonderful and supportive husband. During the one year or so that Visahan underwent chemotherapy treatment, Jeya would sometimes spend the night at the hospital and head straight to court the next morning. (Jeya is a practicing lawyer). He did this so that Surita would have the chance to rest after spending the entire day keeping Visahan company in the hospital.
“I have known Jeya for 11 years before marrying him”. They have now been happily married for 17 years. “We are like a retired couple”, she laughed softly. “He does things for me very silently. He has been behind me for everything I’ve done and every decision I’ve made for our sons.”
It is clear that the sweet and kind nature of these boys are a reflection and extension of Surita’s loving heart.
We hope and pray you get better, dear Visahan.