The Sunday TimesPlus

19th January 1997



She will win her battle

Just five days before her wedding Rosery Canagaratnam had a severe headache and double vision. Her ailment was diagnosed as blood cancer. The wedding was put off. Now, a bone- marrow transplant seems to be a promising cure after this four-yearordeal. But the family faces financial problems. Shelani de Silva reports:

Clad in a gaily printed dress seated on her hospital be d Rosery wears a courageous smile showing no signs of fear. At 24 she has gone through life's tribulations with courage and patience, accepting the cruel fate which has befallen her. This is the heart breaking story of Rosery Canagaratnam who led a normal life for nineteen years until doctors detected she was suffering from Leukaemia. Now in a gesture of sisterly love her twin has come forward t o donate bone marrow for a transplant. Today after four years of battling the illness, Rosery sees a ray of hope. She has been assured that a bone marrow transplant could be done in India to relieve her of her suffering. Once again her fight for survival has begun and she continues to live in hope. Still the future seems somewhat bleak as the family has been requested to collect 2.25 million Indian rupees [about 36 lakhs in Sri Lankan rupees]. Rosery's courage and determination to fight her sickness and her family support to achieve this goal prompted us to extend the support she needs so badly.When The Sunday Times visited Rosery at Ward 14 of the Cancer Hospital, she was returning after medication.

Those were the days: the twins Immaculate and Rosery

Very confidently she took us out to the verandah to talk. Speaking to Rosery I found o ne thing clear Despite her illness she's a very cheerful and pleasant young lady.The most shocking fact is that for nineteen years Rosery led a normal life , until she got a back pain which was unbearable. "I still remember I had washed some clothes in the morning. By night I got a severe back pain At first I ignored it. But by around 2 am it was unbearable, and was rushed to the hospital.," she said.After treatment she had seemed fine until she contracted a fever which had lasted for three weeks. This had alerted the family and she was admitted to a private hospital. Rosery who had never before stayed in a hospital, had nightmares when she was warded. Ironically from that day on she was to spend most of her life in hospitals."I had to undergo a lot of tests. I did not know what was wrong with me. No one told me anything. I thought I had contracted a sickness because I am in the habit of drinking water when taking meals. But now that idea seems so childish. Even when I was taken to Maharagama for Radium treatment I never realised I had cancer. I remember asking my parents why I was treated for cancer they said it was not only cancer patients who were treated here," added Rosery. After undergoing several medications, Rosery was once again back on her feet.

Though she was losing hair she was determined to work, found a job and enjoyed working. "I decided to wear a hat . I wassad when I turned bald, but I did not want to give up on life just because I was losing hair. But as I was the receptionist I was asked to wear a wig. I did this too, because I loved my job. I mus t admit it was the most difficult thing I ever did, it was so uncomfortable.," she said.She had to get an njection once in three weeks as a part of the treatment. "I have undergone so much pain in t king medication that I feel I am immune to pain. The first time I had to take a lumbar puncture test (taking spinal cord fluid with a needle) I thought I would die because the pain was unbearable. Eventually, I thought it was my end. I wanted my family to be beside me. I got through it. The funniest part is that I have undergone 18 lumbar puncture tests," she said.Finally life seemed to be bright for Rosery when she was told by the doctor that it was okay to get married. "That was all I wanted. I was dreaming of that day. As my mother was abroad I did everything. I was to get married on June 14th last year. Then suddenly with only five days to the wedding I got a severe headache and had double vision. I knew it was the end. I was so afraid that I refused to tell anyone about the pain. My family finally got to know and they advised me to put off the wedding.

"Despite what I had gone through until then the most painful thing was to make up my mind. The cards were printed the hotel booked and I was not ready," she said.In spite of this setback she made up her mind after she was assured that she could get married in six months" time. Instead of becoming a bride Rosery got the chanc e of becoming her sister's bridesmaid."I always wanted to become her bridesmaid. It was very difficult as I was bald. But I was willing to wear a wig and the most surprising thing was that no one found out I was wearing a wig. It was the happiest day of my life, my boyfriend was the best-man,"she said. All throughout her chat Rosery seemed very subdued and was able to control her emotions, but al l the pain and trauma she underwent in life seemed too much and she broke down when speaking about her fiance."It is his love and faith that keeps me going in life. There are times when I want to giv e up, but how can I do such a thing, when he has so much faith in me.

He knew about my illness even before we started the affair." But he says his love can conquer everything. It was the same when we decided to get married. He is a gem of a man. It is true that I have gone through a lot but the love and support I get from my family, my friends, and relations

helps me to overcome all the pain," she said. Last October Rosery got a new lease of life when she was told she could undergo a bone marrow transplant in India. But money proves to be a problem. The

family has appealed to donors and is determined to take her to India.When we asked Rosery what she feels about the transplant, she gave us a charming smile and said that she felt it was a miracle.

"My family suffered for four years with me. It was God's power that helped us all, and this too has been done by God and I strongly feel that I will get the money to go to India. I have already won half

the battle with my twin sister Immaculate coming to my aid. The doctors say that I have an 80 percent chance because it's done through my twin, so what else do I have to fear," she asked bravely.The family has already appealed to the President's Fund but have not received any reply. "We are not rich

people. Already my family has spent millions on my treatment. The only thing we have is a house and land which could be valued at a round 20 lakhs, but I keep telling my family why should they sell it

because they too should live," she said.Finding such a large sum of money may be difficult, but Rosery has not given up hope. She also says that if she had the money she would open a special fund for

patients who need treatment overseas. "There are young girls like me who do not even have the ability to write a letter to the President. At least I have friends and family who can do something. I am determined to help others because I know the trauma one has to go through," said this courageous girl.

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