My biological age is 57 but I was reborn four years ago. I am a breast cancer warrior and my journey has been one of perseverance, strength, acceptance of my mortality and learning to live each day to the fullest.
Being an Air Force wife, I have been quite aware and diligent about having regular annual medical examinations. While pap smear (every three years) was always included in the routine check-ups, at 40, I also added mammograms (every two years), despite having no family history of breast cancer. My diagnosis of the big C happened in 2019 during a routine mammogram. My world turned upside down, though momentarily.
I immediately consulted an oncologist. He couldn’t feel any lump during the physical examination despite an ultrasound and mammogram indicating otherwise, because the lump measured only 8 mm. So, the doctor asked for a biopsy. My emotions oscillated between hope and despair before the biopsy result. But surprisingly, despite the reports showing invasive ductal carcinoma (breast cancer), my spirits rose rather than nose-diving because now I knew what I was fighting against.
Since the PET scan had shown that the cancer had not spread anywhere else in my body, the doctor advised a breast conservation surgery (where only the affected part is removed and not the whole breast). He also recommended only radiation therapy. I was relieved because I was not going to face the debilitating effects of chemotherapy that I feared more than my cancer.
However, on the operation table, doctors found out that the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes. So, when I came out of anaesthesia, with a drain inserted under my right breast and terrible pain in my underarm, I realised the worst was yet to come.
Post-surgery, I went through eight cycles of chemotherapy because of the cancer’s spread to lymph nodes. I also had to take 20 radiation fractions (doses), so as to kill any hidden malignant cells.
The much-feared chemo was expectedly torturous not only for my body, but also my emotions. However, a sensitive and caring family made it bearable. My husband, who has known me since my childhood, has been my rock in the tumultuous times, bearing my temper tantrums and tears with great fortitude.
The drugs given during chemo cause nausea (worse than vomiting), headaches and fatigue. The radiation though proved worse than chemotherapy because l had third-degree burns afterwards. But I discovered reserves of strength and continued to indulge in my passion for cooking and gardening and looking after my family.
I also sought some alternative therapies like reiki. I don’t know if these were effective or not, but these at least gave me mental peace at times when I was unable to sleep. My pain would also disappear, at least for a while. The year-long treatment was overwhelming but I found that venting my emotions provided relief. A bout of tears, I found, would strengthen my resolve and vigour to beat this disease.
I also drew inspiration from a very dear friend, Dr Gayatri Bhat, a paediatrician, who fought multiple myeloma (a type of blood cancer) and bone cancer for 10 years and emerged victorious. She has been cancer-free for 11 years now and is a beacon of light for many people fighting this disease.
I would like to tell other patients and survivors not just of cancer but of any malignant disease that the only thing that can keep you going is a positive attitude and doing the things you love, as well as meditation, faith and prayer.
I never said, “God, why me?” — not even once. Instead, I decided to focus only on the ‘can’ in cancer. I would go for my treatment dressed in my best clothes and jewellery, complete with a bright lipstick. I am grateful that my never-say-die attitude became a source of inspiration for my fellow cancer warriors.
I am now part of a support group and from time to time, I am called upon by my treating oncologist at Manipal Hospital, Dwarka, New Delhi, to deliver words of encouragement to other patients.
I also get calls from other breast cancer patients for advice and wanting to know my experience in handling it. I am passing on the good deeds done for me.
My only resolve and focus now is to keep this dreaded disease at bay for good. The medicines I have now, I consume with a sense of gratitude for they are keeping me healthy. There are some side-effects but I take them in my stride, for how could something for my well-being be bad!
I am proud to say that I battled cancer, and even depression at times, and have emerged a winner.
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