My story starts in 1995 when I was in the last year of my graduation. I was losing weight rapidly, but I was too busy with my studies and kept ignoring it. I didn't have much courage to open up to my parents that I was having Pain in my stomach. It was only later that I found out that I had a big tumor in my stomach.
Stomach Cancer Diagnosis
I fainted once in my college, but I requested my friends not to tell my parents because I was not sure how they might react. I was asking myself, is everything okay with me? Have I done something wrong? I consulted the doctors, and was eventually diagnosed with Stomach Cancer.
Stomach Cancer Treatment
Cancer was considered a death sentence at the time. We didn't think of the treatment or how it happened, but everyone thought that I would die. My first Surgery happened on 13th November 1995. I was 20-years-old at that time. It was a national holiday, and my mother took me to the doctor. The doctor told my mother that my condition was terrible and that I would survive only for two-three months. My first reaction was, "how can I die like this!
Later, I took radiation and Chemotherapy also.
When I was out from my surgery, everyone started talking about who will marry me? And who will take care of me after my parents? I was educated, I did my graduation from one of the best colleges in Delhi, but they were unsure whether I could take care of myself.
Just when everything was on track, cancer came again in 1998 in the shape of Renal Cell Carcinoma. The doctors removed my kidney because the cancer was already at the last stage. I was so busy with my professional life that I had ignored my health.
The second time was harder since it was not just the cancer but also the memories of the first cancer. I knew how much the surgery, Chemotherapy and radiation would affect me and never wanted to revisit those days. I was able to manage the first time because everything was new, and I was relatively young to give the thought that I would die. During my Stomach Cancer treatment, I was not able to speak for two days. I was not able to accept it. I had always followed a healthy lifestyle, not eating out, always on time, doing everything perfectly, and I was dejected, thinking about how it could have happened to me.
The second time, the treatment started with the memories of the Stomach Cancer journey, and I was scared of the pain, chemotherapy, radiation and blood investigations. But my mother was very strong; she told me, "if you want to die, then don't go for treatment. You will have pain, but if you can bear the Pain to die, why can't you bear that Pain to get the treatment.
It was on 4th October 1998, when I had my second Surgery. The Surgery went well; the doctors removed my right kidney. To remove the kidney, the doctors had to remove a little bit of the rib also. I was in a very critical situation at that time. Later, my Chemotherapy and radiation started, and my health started deteriorating further. I started getting continuous fever and had a lot of Pain. The doctors used to remove pus from my stomach four-five times a day, which was very painful.
Going into a Coma
Cancer is as much a mental disease as it is a physical disease. We create problems in our minds that do not happen to us in real life. One day, my mom had to deposit some cash in the morning and had to be away from me for six-seven hours. I was in such a mental state that I could not think that it would take her six-seven hours to come back because she was the only person who was with me in the entire treatment. My brother was very young, and my father was not able to handle me. I started thinking that she had left me and would never return because she had gotten tired of my Pain and illness. I thought that the next morning the hospital staff would throw me out since I didn't have money. I was thinking all these things for three hours, and as a result of this, I ended up being in a coma. Incidentally, it was my birthday, 24th December 1998, and I was in a coma.
When I woke up, it was summer. I was scared of sleeping. When I came out of the coma, I was entirely in a very rigorous state. I was not even able to get a glass of water by myself.
Once, I was in a wheelchair outside the radiation room, and someone hit the chair because there was a lot of rush. My neck fell on the other side, and I was so weak that I couldn't get my head back, and it started bleeding. My mother had gone to the doctor to get some reports, and when she came back, she cried a lot thinking about why she had left me even for a moment. After coming out of the coma, I had three drain bags, and my weight was just 24 kg.
My mother never left me. She used to give me massage thinking it would give me some comfort. She used to cry a lot when I lost my hair because I had very beautiful long hair, but she never cried in front of me. She used to pray to God to take me with him. She also had diabetes and used to think about what would happen to me because I was too weak. No one excepted that I could do anything by myself. No one expected that I would be fine or that I will gain some strength; everyone was just so worried. Later, by April 2000, I started walking again.
My Caregiving Journey
In 2001, my mother was diagnosed with advanced-stage Cervical Cancer, and she passed away in 2004. When my mother was admitted to the hospital for her surgery, the same doctor who operated on me operated on my mother too.
In 2005, my brother got diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma, and he recovered, but in 2008, he had a relapse. Again in 2011, it got relapsed, and in 2013, he passed away. My brother fought from 2005 till 2013. He had epilepsy, tuberculosis, jaundice and pneumonia, but he never stopped fighting; internal strength matters a lot.
My mother and the whole family went through a lot. I believe that as much as cancer is a patients' journey, it is also a caregiver's journey. There are doctors to ask patients what they are going through and everything, but no one is there to ask caregivers whether they ate something or not, took rest or not, and such. When I was a caregiver, my mother used to ask me to take some rest because she has been at my place and knew what the caregivers go through. It is a challenging journey for the caregivers too.
You can come out of it, but you will need support from someone who would never let you down, like my mother in my case, who never gave up on me. She used to scold me just to eat something. She used to put oil on my head, hoping that I would get my hair back soon. Today, I have long hair and everything, but my family is not there. The person who was supposed to die 26 years back is alive, but the family who took care of her is not there. Life is very unpredictable. Taking care of yourself and not giving up is very important.
My Blessed Half
I was married in a wheelchair, with three drain bags. My husband told my family that he wants to marry me. My doctors and parents asked him not to get married to me because everyone thought I was not capable of doing anything; I could not even cook food for him. My husband is a healthy person, and when I asked him why he wanted to marry me, he just said one thing: "If a woman can fight with so many diseases all alone, then no matter what the situation is, she will never leave me. He said, "I want a person who never leaves me and will be strong in every situation of life. He also told me that "You don't think that I am a selfish person since I decided to marry you because I know you will never leave me or betray me and support me in any situation. I am not doing any favor to you; I am doing a favor to myself.
His family and friends left him because he was getting married to me. They didn't want him to spoil his life by getting married to someone who was not sure she could survive or not. Also, they were concerned that if the cancer relapsed again, who would manage the finances and do the household chores. Everyone was against him, but he was very firm. My doctors showed him my CT scans, discharge reports and everything, but he said, "I don't want to see these; I just know her as a person. You know how she is physically inside, but I know what she is inside as a strength, as a person. I am not getting married to a cancer survivor; I am getting married to someone who is fighting cancer with all the bravery.
We have now completed 20 years of marriage, and my son is now 14-years-old and proud of me. When I conceived, every doctor told me that my child would have major health issues, but when he was born, he was born with 11 other children in the hospital, and he was the only child without jaundice. He was the healthiest child out of those ten children. I believe that when you trust yourself, and when you want to live, you can change your life.
In these 20 years, he never once mentioned that I had any health issues. Even though it took two-three years, his family also accepted me. I feel I am very blessed.
Lessons from Cancer Journey
My cancer journey taught me a lot of things. Had I not been diagnosed with cancer, I would be one of those South Delhi girls who love partying, but I would never be "The Kaajal Palli that I am today.
Once, I was walking through the hospital, and a woman crossed me and asked, "Kaajal, you are still alive? I did not have any answer to give her; I just said yes, and she started crying, saying that if I could survive, then her daughter could survive cancer too. That experience really touched me. That is what I want from my life now; people should see me and believe that if I could do it, then they can too.
Before cancer, I was a free bird kind of person. I was doing everything perfectly; I never thought anything like cancer could ever happen to me. When I realized that I had cancer, I calculated what I did wrong but couldn't find any reason.
Now, I run marathons, and running and Yoga are the best part of my routine. I eat everything, but I take care of the timing as it is very important. I wake up at 4 a.m. and do meditation. I make sure that I go in the sun because connecting to nature is very important.
I think you have to shift your focus from your problems to what you can do with whatever you had. Today, I am an entrepreneur, spiritual healer and have won many awards for my work with cancer patients. I am the same person who people thought would die 26 years back.
Respect your life, body and yourself. If you cannot love yourself, then you cannot love anyone. Don't fool yourself that you are not taking care of yourself because of other works; it is because you don't love yourself. Your first responsibility is your body. Keep your health a priority. No one can take your Pain except you, so take care of yourself.
When I got cancer and was coming out of it, I used to think that if I die, how many people would want to come to my funeral? I started thinking that when I die, at least 1000 people should attend the funeral. Now, I think at least 5000 people would come. I feel that when we go, we should go by leaving an impression on everyone.
Don't meet negative people or people who tell you that you would not survive or have a normal life. Keep yourself positive, and for that, you need positive and good people around you who can tell you that everything will be fine.
It's been 26 years that I survived cancer. Don't think of cancer as a death sentence; it is just a medical condition.