Interview with cancer survivor Vandana Mahajan: Breast Cancer Awareness

Vandana Mahajan is a cancer warrior and a cancer coach. She works with an NGO called Cope with Cancer and has been working with Tata Memorial Hospital for the last four years. She is a palliative care counselor and has conducted various sessions with cancer patients.

How must a Breast Cancer patient undergoing treatment take care of their diet?

The patients, while undergoing chemotherapy, are immunosuppressed. Due to this, their chances of picking up an infection are higher. The Breast Cancer patient has to be very careful about what she eats. No raw food should be taken because the chances of getting infections are higher while consuming it. They should keep to cooked food as much as possible to reduce the risk. It’s also very important is to understand the signals given by the body. Try taking food that provides strength and which are rich in protein. A healthy diet is essential. The vegetables should be cooked appropriately. Obesity is fuel to cancer cells, and therefore even after cancer treatment, the patient should eat everything only in moderation.

How can Breast Cancer patients restore confidence after mastectomy?

Losing a breast can be very traumatic for a woman, and therefore it very important for a woman to go for counseling to make her realize that her breast does not define her sexuality. The loss of breast in no way brings down her feminine appeal; if a breast has been lost, it is because she has cancer in it. She can still be as beautiful as she was before the Surgery. There are so many ways to maintain the image, and one of them is through prostheses. There are many points where a woman does not want to undergo a mastectomy, and at that point, the counselor or consultant should tell the woman what could happen if she doesn’t get the mastectomy done. So, there is a choice between losing the breast or letting the cancer spread.

What exercises should be done during and after the treatment?

When a breast or lymph node is removed, the patients refuse to move their arms. Once the Surgery is over, the patient doesn’t want to move the arm because of the fear of pain, but that can cause future problems. So post-surgery, the patient should start a range of motion exercises, which they should follow religiously for a year. Also in addition to that, there is a need to do exercise to prevent lymphedema. As obesity is the fuel to cancer, walking for 45 minutes every day should become a habit. An active lifestyle, being mobile, and doing Yoga should be included in their daily activities.

How can Breast Cancer survivors take care of the diet after the treatment?

Survivors can eat everything, but only in moderation. It’s essential to have a protein-rich diet to regain muscle mass, so they should include protein in daily life in the form of paneer, soya, eggs, and grains. The raw food should be washed well because it could contain pesticides. The patients also have to avoid red meat and junk food as much as they can.

How to manage PTSD?

There is a considerable stigma attached to cancer, and it is believed that a cancer patient can pass on cancer to the other people. A lot of people have asked me whether cancer is contagious or not. This is a huge societal thing as the patient is kept away, not allowed to meet people, and even their food is given separately. All this leads to PTSD setting in. The role of the counselor is essential here. PTSD in India is still not dealt with the way it should be. Every patient should get a well-prescribed module of counseling so that PTSD can be avoided.

What is a healthy holistic lifestyle comprised of?

Holistic living is essential after the trauma that the patient has gone through. There are a couple of things that the patients need to keep in mind:- 1. Do not dwell on why it happened because you will never find answers to it. So now that it happened, concentrate on dealing with the present and the future. 2. Do not blame your karma. 3. Start believing in yourself and let the positive energy flow through you. You are the creation of God; you have been given birth for a particular reason; you have the power in you, so enrich the power. You have to enrich the ability to control the disease and the negative emotions that come due to the treatment. 4. Positive thoughts and thinking can help keep the disease away. So start believing that you can and you will. 5. Do meditation because it calms your mind. Do things you love, dance, music, sketching etc. Inculcate any hobby, and that hobby will convert into a form of meditation for you. 6. Believe in the higher power and accept the situation because acceptance of what has happened to you will help you deal with it better. 7. Start counting your blessings, do yoga, interact with positive people, and keep the negativity away.

What are the chances of reoccurrence in breast cancer?

Statistics say that women under 40 are generally diagnosed at stage 3 or 4 Breast Cancer because of the lack of awareness. If the patient gets diagnosed at a later stage, then the chances of reoccurrence are high. The patient has to be cautious post the treatment as the chances of reoccurrence in the first five years is high. A woman who has been declared breast cancer-free should strictly follow what her doctor says and do regular breast self-examination to detect the reoccurrences early.

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