Debjani Saha (Breast Cancer): How I Conquered Cancer

Detection/Diagnosis

I come from a medical background. I am a psychologist and my brother is a doctor. Back in 2016, while I was changing my dress, I felt something unusual about my breasts. It felt like a lump. Although it was painless, I thought of getting it checked since I was pretty health-conscious. Somehow the check-up thing slipped from my mind. After a couple of weeks, I felt the lump again while having a shower, this time the lump was more significant in size. This was an alarming situation for me. I felt like visiting a doctor immediately. The next day, I went to a gynaecologist. She assured me that it’s a normal fibroid, and things will be fine. She suggested I get a Surgery done in case it further grows in size.

I was not satisfied as she was not sure if it was a fibroid or not. She suggested that I get it technically tested. The very next day, I went for the ultrasound, the doctor told me that it looked like a fibroid, but it had some rough edges. The doctors suggested an FNAC test so that I could be 100% sure if it was a fibroid or something else. Till then, I never imagined it to be something as big as breast cancer. All these incidents happened when I was in Bangalore, and my parents were in Kolkata.

I got my tests done before informing my parents. Luckily, I got an appointment for FNAC, and the doctor told me that I would have the reports in 2 days. It all happened so quickly. On Wednesday I had felt a lump, I had gone to the gynaecologist on Thursday and appeared for FNAC and Ultrasound on Friday. On the same day, I received an email from the diagnostic centre. When I opened the test result, it showed inculcating ductal carcinoma, and the moment I saw carcinoma, I thought that wasn’t something good. The instant thought that came to my mind was of becoming bald like my grandma once was.

I had lost my grandma to breast cancer when I was very young. I had seen her become bald due to her breast cancer and the thought of becoming bald was scary for me. I had never been so scared and thought it was the end of life or something like that and so I started thinking logically about my next steps. I reached out to my father, but he had gone to some conference in Punjab, so I couldn’t reach him. Then I called my brother and told him that I went for the test and it came out to be ductal carcinoma.

He just didn’t know what to say, and then he said that he would come to Bangalore soon and see what treatment can be done. Apart from him, I remembered a friend of mine whose husband was diagnosed with cancer. I connected with her on Facebook and got her number. I spoke to her that I was detected with carcinoma. I asked her to suggest their oncologist. My friend provided me with the doctor’s name and number.

The next day, I called the doctor and got an appointment for that afternoon. I went to the doctor, she did my physical examination and said that my breast nodes are affected, and that my breast cancer was in its early second stage. Being a medical oncologist, she couldn’t give me accurate information and referred me to the surgical oncologist. When I consulted the surgical oncologist, he asked me to go through a series of tests. When I went to the pathology lab to give them the sample, I found one of my friends working there. She connected me to the HOD of the oncology department who said that I don’t have to go through any test. They advised me to directly go for a PET scan and know what exactly is the stage and how big is the tumour.

On the following Monday, I got my PET scan done, and even before the physical copy of the results were out, the doctor said that the breast cancer was localized, and it hadn’t spread to other areas. Since there was a cancer history in our family, he prescribed me a BRCA test and some hormonal tests.

Conversation with Breast Cancer winner Debjani Saha
Conversation with Breast Cancer winner Debjani Saha
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Treatment

The doctor said that the Surgery can be done as the tumour was of operable size. The other thing was my age, I was young and so they could do a lumpectomy. Though, at that time, I was diagnosed with BRACA+ or Triple-negative. The two surgeries, lumpectomy, and reconstruction were done together to avoid double surgeries.

On Tuesday, I informed my parents about the Surgery. Wednesday morning, they were in Bangalore and on the same night, I got admitted to the hospital. The Surgery was done on Thursday. After the surgery, the doctor suggested I take Chemotherapy and radiation. I had eight cycles of Chemotherapy every 15 days with a 20 days gap. Then I had 21 days of radiation.

When I started losing my hair, I thought of getting my hair shaved. Instead of going through this process day after day, it was better to get my head shaved at once. When I went to the salon to get my hair shaved, everybody there was getting themselves dressed up or getting ready for a party. I knew the hairdresser for the past ten years. I had tears rolling down my eyes. I couldn’t imagine how I would look without hair. My hairdresser noticed my tears and said that it’s just hair and that it will grow back. She said that life is more important than hair.

After I got back home, I became very conserved in myself. I lost my self-confidence and feared that people would judge me and talk about my cancer or baldness behind my back, so I stopped going out or even looking at myself in the mirror because it was very depressing. This went on for a couple of weeks, but once while brushing my teeth, I suddenly had a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I looked into my eyes and found my reflection talking to me.

Something within me said that I am still beautiful. It didn’t matter that I didn’t have hair on my head then. I was still who I was. It felt like my soul was talking to me. I had a good collection of stoles, and I started styling them up and going out. My parents kept regularly visiting me during my treatment and my brother was always there by my side. My experience with breast cancer was pretty smooth in regards to finding the right doctor and getting the right treatment.

I started counselling

I joined a lot of cancer groups, one of which is The Indian Cancer Society. I wanted to be a psychologist, but I also wanted to do something wherein I specialized in my field. After my treatment was over, I knew that only a handful of people were doing counselling for oncology patients. I thought of choosing that as my path. An added advantage was that I had first-hand experience of it all. So, when I talk to them from my own experience, I get confidence and motivation.

That’s when I realized that talking to people with the same experience has more impact than talking to a person without it. So, I started counselling cancer patients and caregivers who are undergoing cancer.

Learnings from cancer

I learned that physical appearance and other materialistic things do not matter. The recovery is fast once you accept the situation. I was not one of those spiritual people, but cancer made me learn a lot about spirituality. I got myself into more spiritual practices. I started with Yoga. I got myself a certified Yoga trainer, did a lot of other practices like reiki, or past life regression, and everything together helped me a lot.

The entire journey was a door for me to meet spiritual people who would help me gain knowledge and overcome my cancer experience. Cancer opened a new chapter for me. I am grateful that I was diagnosed with cancer at a very young age as it helped me look at life in a much more optimistic way.

Parting Message

You find more ways when you accept things in life as they are. We should be grateful for everything we have. If we are grateful for small things, the universe will give us bigger things. The more optimistic we become, the more we will attract positive and beautiful things in our life. So, always be positive.

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