Ovarian Cancer Diagnosis
It was in 2017 when my mother suddenly started feeling a bit fatigued and developed a bloated stomach. Physically, we all were very healthy, so I told my mother that she was just getting fat. We didn't take it seriously, but then she developed a urinary problem. We consulted a general physician, but he brushed it off, saying that it was nothing major.
She was also having cough and fever, so we thought it might be viral fever, and took her to another doctor who prescribed some tests and told that there was some fluid in her stomach, but not anything to be concerned about. He advised us to go to a laboratory and send the fluid for testing.
I am very close to my mom, and I always accompany her to the hospital, but I had an exam that day, so my brother and sister took her to the hospital. Her fluid was taken out and was sent for the test. When my siblings went to the doctor with the previous blood reports, he said that it could be two things; TB; which gets cured in 6-12 months, or cancer.
When my siblings came home, they didn't tell me anything; they felt that I won't be able to accept it as I was the youngest and closest to mom. When the reports came to me, I started looking them up on the internet. I have a friend whose cousin is a doctor, so I sent the reports to him, and then I got to know that it was Ovarian Cancer. But none of us said anything about it to my mother.
My mother doesn't like to eat food from outside because she thinks that there are germs and it can affect your health. But just 2-3 weeks before she got sick, we had dined from outside, and thus we told her that the fluid and Pain in her stomach was because of the germs. We felt that she would not be emotionally strong to accept it as she had a family history of cancer, and had lost her close ones to cancer. So we thought that if we told her she had ovarian cancer, her whole morale would go down, and that will affect her chances of survival.
Ovarian Cancer Treatment
When we got her tested first, reports showed that it was only in the ovary, but when we took her to another hospital, we found out that the fluid was in her abdomen, lungs, and near the heart too.
Days were passing, and her health was getting worse. One day when she fainted, and we rushed her to the emergency. We told the doctors everything about her Ovarian Cancer diagnosis, and they told us to be prepared for anything. She was not able to breathe, and her heart was not pumping, so the doctors said that they would do the Surgery first to take out the fluid and then will focus on other things. But due to some issues, the Surgery got delayed and her health further deteriorated.
Eventually, the doctors came and said that they were taking her for the Surgery. They gave me a form to sign. I was so scared that I asked them about the risk factor, and they said, If we don't do the surgery, she will die, but if we do, then there are chances that she might live. So I signed the form. The operation took around 12-14 hours. She had a pericardial window and was on the suction machine. We were not sure whether she would survive the Surgery as it was too dangerous.
When she was given the first chemotherapy, the doctors told us that she would have many side effects like hair fall, nausea, constipation, etc. So, they advised us on how to handle the side effects and told us to take care of her.
We had to hide it from her
She didn't have any idea about what was happening to her. The biggest fear for us was that she would have hair fall. Doctors said she wouldn't have hair fall in the first chemotherapy, it would happen after the second or third chemotherapy, in around a month. So we had one month to prepare her mentally for everything.
When we used to go to the hospital, we used to dress up very well and even put our lipstick on because she always said that when our eyes see good, our heart also feels good. We also used to eat together with her so that she won't think that her children are sad or something was severe. She only knew that she had germs in her stomach, and within a short period, she would be okay.
On 11 December, she got discharged, but she came home with her suction tube. When she had her CT scan, we found a blood clot in her body, so we used to give her blood thinner. When the nurse came home for the first time, I asked him to teach me how to give injections and do suction. I learned everything from him and gave her injections and did all her work myself so that we won't need a nurse daily, which may make her suspicious.
Gradually, we told her that the medicines she was taking were so powerful that she might have nausea, vomiting, ulcers in the mouth, and even some hair fall too. When we told her about the hair fall, she asked us to tell what had happened to her. We laughed and said that Chemotherapy was used for many diseases, and not just the disease that she was thinking of. We tried to brainwash her a little.
Our doctors were upset with us because we were not telling our mom about the ovarian cancer, and it's their policy that a patient should know about their disease. But we said, If you want your patient to die, not because of cancer but because of the mental trauma, then you may tell her. We knew that she couldn't take it, and that was the reason we were hiding it from her.
I was having a semester break, so I used to be at home and would shower her daily, dress her up and comb her hair. Whenever I bathed her or combed her hair, I never told her about the hair fall she was having. It was only when she combed her hair that she noticed the hair fall. She was never totally bald, and she had some hair till the end of treatment too.
Have a positive mindset
It was a tough time, but we always kept her motivated. I used to tell her that if you go with the mindset to fight the disease, then you will win. I believe that being on the bed all day would only make you feel more tired and mentally ill, but if you get up and do your work, it won't bother you much. We used to take her to the park and the mall. I think if you 'want' to feel good, then you will.
Then we had the BRCA test done to know if the cancer was BRCA positive or not. When the results came, it was neutral, neither negative nor positive. We were supposed to give her treatment according to that test result, but it came as neutral, and it blocked our way entirely. Our aunt also got diagnosed at the same time, and her BRCA results came out to be negative. This made us assume that it would be negative for our mom too. So she took the Chemotherapy based on that assumption. And in August 2019, her treatment got completed, and she started leading a healthy life.
In Feb 2020, we took her to an optician as she had some problems in her eyes. He said it was nothing but just an infection and prescribed some medicines.
Her eyes became normal, but she had a dual vision. So we went to another doctor, who did an X-Ray and advised us to consult a neurologist as it could be nerve damage rather than an eye problem. We consulted the neuro physician, and he asked for an MRI.
When her MRI was getting done, I asked the operator if he found anything, and he said that there was a small clot. When the reports came, they said to go for a second MRI and consult an oncologist. We went to the hospital, but our doctor was out of town, so we discussed everything with the people who used to work under her, and they asked for a contrast MRI.
When we got her contrast MRI done, and got to know that the cancer had spread to her midbrain, and it was very dangerous. We sent the reports to the doctor, and she asked for a PET scan to ensure that the cancer had not spread to other parts too. We got her PET scan done and found that it had only spread to the brain and not to any other parts.
The doctor said that mom had to be given radiation therapy, and two types of radiation were suggested: cyberknife and whole-brain radiation. After taking many opinions, we decided to go with the latter. She went through five days of radiation, and she had side effects like hair fall, fatigue, and dizziness. She had hysterectomy too, and doctors confirmed that most of her cancer was removed.
Grateful to my mom
She is so much better now, and I am happy for her. We didn't expect her to ever return home from the hospital or to do her work on her own. We never thought that she would cook again or would go shopping together. I used to sleep with my mom thinking whether she will ever be by my side again. Even the cardiologist said that she never thought our mom would become so perfectly fine, judging by the way she came in.
My mom once asked me, Don't you get frustrated by always giving me medicines and food? I told her, When we are young, we are completely dependent on our parents, and you never said no to us. You tolerated all our tantrums, and when it's my turn, how can I say I'm tired? I had lost my father when I was a year old, and my mom played both roles for me. What I am doing for her now is nothing compared to what she has done for us. We are always grateful for the love and care we received from her.
Counseling is important
I didn't have anyone to share what I was feeling; I was very depressed. I am very close to my mother, and she is my best friend, but when she was sick I was the one who was holding a secret, and I couldn't tell her that secret because that would affect her. So I took the help of a psychologist. When I went to her, I told her that my family was very supportive, but there are a lot of people outside of the family who were not, and this thing was affecting me. I used to tell her what my fears were and shared everything with her, and indeed it helped me a lot.
I think people should take counseling because there are moments in life when you need someone to listen, understand, and guide you on this journey.
For Caregivers - Be strong and positive. Don't let your patient feel that they are a burden for you; don't let them know your inner worries. Talk to yourself, because self-talk is essential for a caregiver, say to yourself that 'Yes I am strong', 'I will do this' and 'I will give my patient a beautiful life.'
For Patient - Don't ever think that you will die of cancer. Fight till your last breath, at least for your loved ones; fight for the one who is taking care of you. Take care of your diet. Stay positive and hopeful.
Key Points from Maryam Battla's Healing Journey
- In 2017, she was feeling fatigued and was having a bloated stomach, so we consulted a doctor who asked for some tests. The reports came positive for Ovarian Cancer.
- We didn't tell our mother anything about her cancer because she had a family history, and had lost dear ones to cancer. So we thought that if we told her she had ovarian cancer, her whole morale would go down, and that will affect her chances of survival.
- She underwent Surgery and Chemotherapy and was leading a healthy life. But suddenly she had problems in her eyes, and after so many tests, we got to know that the cancer had spread to her brain.
- She completed the Radiation therapy and is absolutely healthy now. I think it was a miracle as even the doctors were doubtful whether she would make it through.
- Don't ever think you will die of cancer. Stay positive, hopeful, and fight till your last breath.