“He gets angry that he has to wear the mask always, he feels different from the other kids. He attempts to even tear his mask, and we have to hold him down until he calms down. He is so weak now, and his anger makes him weaker. He does not want to be called ‘a sick child with a mask’. I can’t bear to see him live in sadness like this, but he can only be completely cured with a transplant that his father and I cannot afford.”-Petchiammal, mother of 7-year-old Tharcin.
This little boy is confined to life within his home and hospital, begs his parents to take him outsideIt was a year ago that Thavam and Petchiammal’s vivacious younger child Tharcin was diagnosed with high-risk ALL – Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, a cancer of the blood in which there is overproduction of immature white blood cells, after he kept getting recurrent fevers. Life changed drastically for this child whose favorite activity was playing football outside with his elder brother Tharcith (10) as they didn't have much space inside their one-room house in Vattalagundu village in Dindigul. Now he has to lie all by himself on a cot that does not even have a mattress.
His parents and brother sleep on the hard floor, so that Tharcin is comfortable. As Thavam cannot afford to buy enough vegetables and eggs for 4 people, he just buys enough for Tharcin, while his mother and brother make do with leftover rice and lentils. Tharcin's only contact with the outside world is when he has to go to the hospital in Madurai from his home for monthly chemotherapy sessions.
Tharcin lying down at home
“We struggled a lot to keep him indoors at first – he would cry and ask us why we are stopping him from being happy. He would say ‘I was a good boy, I did not cry when they gave me injections – why are you not letting me play outside?’. We would try to divert his mind by asking him to draw. He loves drawing; once he sketched Chota Bheem in hospital and the doctors were so amazed by his skills. But even drawing does not keep him happy for long. He looks out of the window and cries as my poor child’s heart lies in running and jumping outdoors.”-Petchiammal.
Petchiammal is forced to lie to Tharcin that he would be able to go to school soon, but the truth is he is not getting any betterTharcin can only watch painfully as his brother gets ready to go to school every day. His school books are scattered in a corner along with his school bag, which has been untouched for many months now. Sometimes he asks about his friends and what they’re up to now. He misses them badly but does not want to meet them now as he fears they will make fun of his appearance like the kids in his village. He asks his mother when he will be able to go back to school healthy, and she replies ‘in a month’, but she knows that in reality, his cancer will kill him without a bone marrow transplant.
Thavam had to go back to work last month as he is neck-deep in debt, leaving Petchiammal to take care of everything aloneTharcin’s father, Thavam, a poor driver had to quit working for his initial treatment and had been jobless for almost a year before he went back to work last month. Now, he is mostly away at his workplace in Tirunelveli and can only come home once in a week. Petchiammal has to take care of Tharcin all by herself now. The couple had been borrowing money from neighbors and local moneylenders at high interest rates to fund 8 rounds of chemotherapy till now, and have not even paid one installment back. When the lenders started coming home, hurling abuses at Thavam, he decided to go back to work despite his son’s condition being so critical.
Tharcin with parents outside their one-room house in the village
“My own sisters and brothers started asking me why I am spending more than I can afford on my son’s treatment. They told me to leave everything to fate as poor people do not have the luxury of saving anybody. But how can I do that? This is my son, my blood. If I don’t strive for him, who else will? I am fighting a losing battle now all by myself. My son misses me terribly, but I have to work to pay off some debts. I don't know how I will arrange funds for his transplant.”-Thavam, father.