Neeti Leekha Chhabra (Breast Cancer): My love for life kept me going

Breast Cancer Diagnosis

Initially, I thought that the lump in my breast was related to menses, and I didn’t give much heed to it for two months, thinking that it will go away.

I did not feel worried about the lump in those two months because it had completely slipped my mind. Two months later, I suddenly remembered about the lump and found that it was still there. At that time, I was sure that there was something wrong since it had not gone on its own, but I did not even know which specialist I had to consult for the breast lump. I didn’t know that someone like a breast surgeon even existed, so I googled to see whom I should consult!

I got an appointment for a week later. In that one week, I discussed everything I could think of on Breast Cancer with my sister. I didn’t google anything because I knew that it would only help to increase my worries. Then, my husband and I went for the first round of investigation, an ultrasound, and the report said that the lump was benign. We were ecstatic after hearing that news.

I screamed in my car that “Yay, I do not have cancer. We celebrated the whole day, but thankfully the doctor said we should not take the risk and go for FNAC. Since the lump was on the surface of the breast as the doctor could feel the lump, he also said that it was not a cancerous lump. We said yes, we know it’s not cancer.

I am a Professor by profession, and I remember that I was at my institute when I got a call from the FNAC center asking me to collect my reports with my husband! When we reached the center, I was sure that it’s Breast Cancer and that we were called because of it. I was okay when I got to know it was early-stage Breast Cancer. It was something that I already knew about, so I was prepared for it. The doctor instead told me to look after my husband because he seemed more distorted and disturbed J.

After that, we decided that we will go to my parent’s house to share the news with them and discuss what steps we should take and how to go about it. The only thought I had in my mind and what I kept telling my husband was how I would open up to my parents that their child has Breast Cancer.

I reached home and informed them that I had cancer. As expected, it came as a massive shock for them. I was the one who was consoling and hugging everyone and telling them how nothing will happen and it will all be okay.

I had very deep-rooted faith and was sure that I would be fine. Even when I was told that it’s cancer, I didn’t have any thoughts on whether I would live or not or how much time I would have. I had a very strong faith that it is just a phase and that I will come out of it. I told my family that we won’t go into a condition of “if and “but because it is very easy to go on that train of thoughts. Once you start thinking negatively, then there are ten different branches that you can keep on thinking about, and it’s a never-ending thought process.

Everyone around me agreed that we would not think anything negative, and they all had a very positive outlook on the investigation and treatment, and that really helped me.

Since my childhood, I have been a very carefree person, but then you lose that inner child somehow because you need to take care of many things.That came as a blessing when the diagnosis happened. Also, I strongly feel that there is no running away from the situation; you have to face the situation you are in.

The sooner you accept the situation, the sooner your healing starts, and then you can take action on it. There is no other way to deal with a difficult situation. I was blessed that I could accept it as soon as I got to know about it, and therefore I didn’t go into negative thoughts too much.

Breast Cancer Treatment

Though it was early-stage breast cancer, I needed a mastectomy (one breast removed), followed by Chemotherapy and then the hormonal treatment, which was supposed to be taken for six years. I used to cry on the 2nd/3rd day after every Chemotherapy cycle. I never thought anything negative, but I don’t know whether it was due to the drug I used to take, which affected me mentally and emotionally. I always believed that if you feel like crying, don’t stop yourself; just cry and let everything come out. I never thought about why it happened to me or what will happen in the future. I just used to cry my heart out and come out of it. I chose to take each day as it comes. My whole treatment got completed in December 2018. Thankfully, I had the proper resources to take the right treatment at the right time.

Conversation with Breast Cancer winner Neeti Leekha
Conversation with Breast Cancer winner Neeti Leekha
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Breast Cancer Treatment Side Effects

I had a lot of weaknesses. I never thought about hair fall because I feel it is the most temporary thing; they come back soon. The only thing I was scared of was Nausea because, as a kid, I have had horrible experiences with Nausea. The first two-three days, I used to feel very nauseous. I am a thalassemia minor, and despite how much we tried to maintain my blood counts, I still needed a blood transfusion.

In terms of hormonal treatment, I sometimes have Pain in my legs, but I don’t think about it much because these are the things that affect even people without cancer. It’s just one or two things; if I have Pain in my legs, then looking on the other side, at least I am alive, and I am with my family, helps me regain all the strength. I am at a place where I can do whatever I want, so no complaints at all. My love for life kept me going. I feel that if you can count your blessings in your difficult times, then it becomes your strength.

My Support System

I had the complete support of my family. My husband, my parents, and my in-laws were very supportive. My son was three years old at that time, so we couldn’t tell much to him, but we did have to tell him that I would not be able to play with him as much as before because my energy level was low. He was such an angel in those six months; I don’t remember even a single day when he troubled me. In fact, I saw him do formal prayers. I saw him standing in front of God’s statues with folded hands, saying, “please let my Mumma play with me. Despite him missing out on being with me, he was still so perceptive of what was going on.

Life lessons

I was getting back to my inner self and care-free nature. I now understand the importance of life more. Before cancer, I used to be confused about everything, but now it’s easy to make choices. Making choices has become easy because my priorities in life are clear now. I choose things that give me inner peace. Leading a healthy lifestyle has become a “must in my life.

Yes To Life

As a result of the cancer experience that I had, I started an NGO in 2014. It is one of the bigger purposes of my life now.

During my treatment, I met other women who were diagnosed with cancer, and they were around my age. They had very young kids, but their diagnosis happened at a very late stage. It hurt me because I always used to feel that if the diagnosis came at an early stage, then their quality of life would have been so much better. I used to think about what fears they would have when they think of their kids, especially when it’s an advanced stage cancer. When I discussed all of these with my doctor, she shared that in India, 60% of women go to the doctor when Breast Cancer reaches an advanced stage, even though this is a form of cancer that can be cured if detected early.

The second incident happened when I went to a government hospital. While I know that the hospital was doing everything they can, I saw patients lying on the floor waiting for their chemotherapy, and that again gave me a lot of Pain.

These two were the triggering factors to me, and that is when I decided that if there is something that is hurting me so much, then I should work on it. I decided not to go back to the full job and started “Yes to Life. I feel it is the biggest blessings that I have brought out of cancer.

We do Breast Cancer awareness talks & events (free of charge), cancer screening camps (free for EWS), support groups,counseling and support seminars, financial support, and rehabilitation support at our NGO.

We had recently launched an initiative called #UnhookTheBra challenge on my Instagram challenge @beyondbreastcancer, which is basically to promote breast self-examination.

Parting Message

For patients: Take each day as it comes. No one knows how our future will be, so why to think so much about it. If you have positive thoughts, you create positive energy, and you attract health, positivity, and abundance in your life. Every morning when I get up, I thank God that I am healthy and alive today. I thank my body for being physically healthy and fit. I thank all the cells, systems, glands, organs, parts of my body for being perfectly healthy, and it really helps. I would advise everyone to do this. We feel that each part and cells of our body are being blessed. Read or listen to anything that makes you happy and give you peace.

For caregivers: Caregivers are one of the most affected people in the whole journey. Don’t be pity full. Talk to patients, and do fun activities with them. Try to be normal with patients. Try to do whatever help you can do and make them meet people who have been through it and came out of it. Look after yourself too, because it is essential. Only when you are healthy, you can take care of your loved ones.

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