My twin died of cancer, and now I live half a life

Saturday, January 28, 2017
my twin died of cancer, and now i live half a life
Kala (right) with Malini

Kala died of pancreatic cancer on September, 9, 2016 . A part of me died too that day. Kala was my twin—we were not just born together, but remained glued for the rest of our lives, sharing not just birthdays, but practically everything else that matters in life. She was a soulmate in the truest sense!

I felt strange telling my friends repeatedly with tears welling up in my eyes, ‘I feel lighter, and a part of me has flown away like a whiff of air’.

Before anything else, let me tell you the story of our birth ---and our entwined lives.

It was October 28, 1957-- an era without ultrasounds, so the moment I was born, the doctor, to everyone’s surprise, informed my mom that another one was coming! My grandmother, with me in her arms, promptly tied a black string in my wrists to identify the first born. Kala came into the world a few minutes later than me!

We always used to wear similar dresses. 

But in every annual exam I trailed her--  just by one rank except on two occasions! The class II teacher had difficulty in identifying first ranker out of two identical looking twins and she asked the other twin, Kala, to collect the prize in my place!

Both of us ranked first in class III, so the next in rank was awarded the third. Funnily, this girl’s mother confronted my mom in an admonishing tone, ‘why did you give birth to twins? My daughter doesn’t ever stand a chance for a second rank’.

No one was surprised when our math scores too matched in our board exams.

We often wore similar dresses stitched by our mom, making it tough for everyone, including our parents, to get our names right. There were a few embarrassing instances when our husbands too failed to tread with caution!

On one occasion, my daughter strode past me to run into my twin’s lap! Our wedding dates as well as our kids’ birthdays fell within a few months.

There were a few contrasts too between us -- in how we socialized , in our sensitivities, our food tastes, and what our relatives described as our degrees of dynamism. My favorite uncle often called us: kinetic Kala and meticulous Mala. I find it amusing; gradually we grew to acquire both these traits in equal measure.

Life was a roller coaster ride for us until a cold dark October evening in 2015. I ran to pick up my ringing phone. It was Kala. She read out her latest scan results. The tumor at the head of pancreas needs to be surgically removed. Always adventurous, she was game for an 11- hour whipple surgery scheduled for the coming week.

Kala had been lately experiencing fatigue, acidity and numbing back pain. Her homeopathic physician-cum-friend suspected obstructed jaundice and asked her to see a gastroenterologist.

A urine test confirmed the diagnosis but the doctor advised her to go for a PET a scan. The scan revealed two lesions in her left kidney and one on the head of the pancreas. The doctor suspected them to be malignant.

I dashed to Chennai from Delhi to be by her side. It was a restless 7 days before surgery scheduled on October 22, 2015. We were positive and praying!

It was heartening to see her faint smile as she was wheeled out of the operation theatre that gloomy Thursday evening.

But our hopes were shattered when we heard the prognosis, confirming the tumor being malignant. Prayers continued in earnest. Blessed with a supporting family -- a devout husband, son and wife, young Archita, her daughter, and the strongest pillar of our family, our mother--we marched morning and evening to have a glimpse of her through the glass doors of ICU.

Oblivious of her disease, Kala would always wave out a thumbs up, wearing her charming smile. My heart bled seeing her wrapped in a dull, stained hospital sheet holding on to bags with tubes.

After a week long hospital stay, she was back home. Now  we shared our regimen with a proficient nurse adept at handling intestinal feeding and the rest of post operative care. We carried a nagging apprehension why the hospital was not prescribing any medicine for recuperation except antacid and multivitamin.

The toughest chore of the day was for my twin to take a few grains of food without constipation, acidity or throwing out.

But the resilience of her spirit kept her going. She designed and stitched an outfit for Archita , her daughter, for her cousin’s wedding ceremony. She also did a wall piece in cross-stitch.

Kala with our mother

Being a banker she kept accounts and financial details up to date. She often logged into her Facebook account to seek funds for her cook’s granddaughter’s school admission fee of Rs 30,000. She let everyone know that she was not going to be bogged down by the deadly disease.

I spent my days in Chennai with planning, designing, stitching comfortable dresses she can wear through different phases of her recuperation. As someone who lived life in her own style, she held a designer bag to fit her tubes as ‘accessories’ alongside her lean frame.

In mid-January, she got a text message from the hospital, saying she would need to undergo 25 sittings of radiation. Relieved at 'no chemo’ verdict, we dutifully adapted to changed routine of going to the hospital in the city.

This included a ‘baggage’! A hamper loaded with mints, packing of fruits and snacks, soda, not to forget trash bags. Every morsel of food intake was followed by throwing out. And my dear twin thanked God every time for helping her discharge her ‘C’ cells! ‘I will get back to great health and live a long life to throw a grand 80thbirthday party, and want to invite the surgeon for it!’ she often said.

January and February 2016 passed with Kala adapting well to radiation, though she lost a lot of weight. Moments, hours, days passed as we kept our unshakeable faith in God. We often said to each other, ‘She will come out of it for sure and be a kinetic kala once again.

She  had been pressing the doctors to do something about her falling stamina. In February, her surgeon conceded her demand.

I have always marveled at Kala's spirit to live life to the fullest. Half way into her chemo sessions, she booked her tickets to fly solo to spend few days with her favorite aunt!

He hesitantly put her on IV drip of amino acids and other nutrients. Tests revealed a kink in her intestine loop that was obstructing her food passage after surgery. Unfortunately, post radiation, a corrective surgery was not possible. The doctor altered his ‘no chemo’ verdict to start much detested chemo of 12 sittings.

I have always marveled at Kala's spirit to live life to the fullest. Half way into her chemo sessions, she booked her tickets to fly solo to spend few days with her favorite aunt! I couldn’t help but fly from Delhi and join in her joyous venture!

Her 2016 calendar had many trips and events planned once she was done with chemo.

Soon after chemo sessions ended, the oncologist told us that the disease has invaded and conquered her vital organs.

Kala may not live long,  the doctor said. And Kala’s retort was, ‘I do not fear death". And she resolved to fight back.

During one of my several flights from Delhi to Chennai in the month of July, I happened to read in a newspaper about a doctor in Delhi promising improved quality of life to patients like my sister through immunotherapy.

Our optimism rose to a new high when this immunotherapist offered solace and promise of cure.

At the same time, my younger sister travelled to Shimoga in Karnataka with our uncle to pick up a miracle powder out of chosen tree bark. It was meant as a miracle cure. We had not  yet lost hopes.

In August, my twin began to experience shortness of breath and chest pain. To add to our sorrow, the hospital hesitated to admit her as an emergency patient. Left with no option, we looked up to the  local immunologist for advice, but to no avail. We spent the next few days, monitoring her pulse  and oxygen concentration.  

On September 9, she left this mortal world to unite with our dear Dad and live in peace--forever.

Today, as I remember my twin I wonder why she had to go first. After all, she had come into the world a  few minutes later than me. What I feel like is beyond words.


i know exactly how you feel my identical twin and I were born dec 31st 1956 I lost her 8 years ago to colon cancer half of my heart is gone and the other half is broken so sorry for your loss

donna    2018/03/06 03:16:11

I am so sorry to hear that you lost your twin sister. But thank you so much for sharing it with us, There is so much learning and strength we can derive from this.

Preethi    2017/03/01 09:23:05

I know how hard it would have been for you Mala to write this.There are many ways to grieve;definitely penning down these words about Kala you have shown how much you miss her.Every day every single moment something will keep popping in our minds to remember her: her fav movie ,book ,hobby.These thought will definitely make you strong!Time as they say definitely heals but does not erase sweet memories?

Bindu    2017/02/03 07:39:18

Very well written from yr heart brought tears . It's very difficult to accept Kala is no more but she will be always in our heart.

Bharathi    2017/01/30 12:21:13

Mala - I always think of both of you as kalamala! As my nephews often referred to you because perhaps they too couldn't really tell you'll apart. Your heartfelt account here conveys so much for people like me who knew most of the story unfurling but yet not the details you have recounted here. This article speaks volumes of not only your emotions and love for your twin but also that fight your strong energetic family fought to keep kinetic Kala who she wanted to be till her last day in the world we know. Hugs and courage to you and all in family. i can only say recollecting and sharing your memories of those beautiful moments in your life just brings out the beautiful two people I know! Kala is always that vibrant firecracker that aims to light up and bring joy to people at all times. You are always the soft spoken trailblazer who will keep all of us remembering the Kala in you.

Meera Gopalakrishnan    2017/01/25 10:37:34

She will always be by your side. I loved the bit about designer bags for the tubes. Shows an indomitable spirit and hope. Her photograph shines through with joy and indestructability. A great and candid tribute Mala, that needs to be emulated by relatives in similar situations.

joyshri lobo    2017/01/25 10:03:44

Mala, wonerfuly written, we can understand how you feel. As close friend ( Kala in fact considered me as her brother) we could not digest for a long tome. You where so close to her and hence will find it much difficult to accept . You where a source of strength to Kala duering last year. You can lake solace from that. Take care . Regu

Regunathan    2017/01/25 09:13:38

Mala, very touching narrative. Having seen both of you from the time you were small girls, I can in parts , understand the how close you were to her. In comparatively ,much lesser extent we miss her.

Regu    2017/01/23 09:07:23

I know your strength was Kala.But a part of her has always been with you.Knowing you so well Kala's positivity will always be with you and help you heal.

Mahalakshmi Mohan    2017/01/23 03:24:11

your words brought tears to my eyes..two years ago this month we were exchanging hugs n cannot imagine how happy i was that i made that trip..mala.. your pain i understand but kala is free of pain n near all of us.. hope we can meet soon..

nella miranda    2017/01/22 11:16:39

We miss her very much, she remained kinetic Kala for ever. Very joyous and loving person. Chennai is not the same without her.

Usha Mohan    2017/01/22 08:13:42

Mala shared every bit of Kala's pain as she cared for only a loving twin could. And this beautiful narration of Kala's battle with cancer-- isnt that The Emperor of all Maladies?-- is just a compressed capsule of all the highs and lows they went through.

Vijaya Pushkarna    2017/01/22 07:28:13

Very well written.Nice to see you coming out of your grief to share your experiences to everyone.

Mahalakshmi Mohan    2017/01/22 06:39:15

Mala, can't stop the tears! It is a beautiful expression of your love for your twin! Kala has completed her mission for this life!

Vidya Patil Puranik    2017/01/22 06:36:57 is a beautiful expression of the love between the two of seems that I know Kala through you..The pain of loosing someone closest can be debilitating..Having lost my lovely mom @ the young age of 59 to a freak accident,I can totally relate to the pain you are going through...but rest assured, my prayers are with you,I know you will come out stronger ??

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