Ovarian Cancer Diagnosis
It was in November and December 2018 that I noticed that I had variation in my periods, and I realized that something was wrong. I called my husband and told him that my cycle was not regular, as it used to start and then suddenly stop. Because of my work, I used to travel a lot outside India, and at that time, I was in Melbourne. I used to walk a lot because I didn't have a car when I was living there. I started losing weight from all over my body, except the stomach.
So when I came back to India, I told my husband that I am going to get myself checked. I went for a check-up, and doctors asked for an Ultrasound. I am usually very active, a multitasker, I do a lot of things at home, then my work, and go out to do my regular chores. But the day before my scan, I couldn't drive, I was feeling very weak, and that's when I realized that my body was giving up on something so I immediately got my scan done. And it was on 13 March 2019, on my wedding anniversary, when I found out that I had two huge ovarian tumours, the size of a football, in both my ovaries and the doctors could feel it from the top of the stomach. I didn't even know about it because, in general, we don't take it too seriously. The new technology and new enhancements in life sometimes don't help us because in my case the menstrual cup didn't give me an understanding whether my periods were really bad in terms of the cycle and volume. But other than that, I didn't have any problems health-wise, I was doing absolutely fine. I wasn't sleeping well, but I thought it was probably because I was working and travelling a lot.
Initially, I was very positive that nothing was going to happen to me, and I will be fine. I was the only person running the family. Still, when doctors told me that you have a tumour, I was like okay it's a tumour, you can do a Surgery and get it out, it was not even an emotional moment, because I knew I was in good hands. But then the doctor said it might be malignant and could be ovarian cancer, and we need to check because it doesn't look good in the scan. That is when it started hitting me that okay, this is something serious; my mind just stopped working. I might be away from my family for a long time, I was not emotional, but I was getting into the reality that it could be Ovarian Cancer. But since my family had no cancer history,( at least from the last two generations I had not heard cancer in my family) so I was very confident that the reports will be negative and I won't get it, but unfortunately, the reports came back as positive. I was diagnosed with Stage 4 Ovarian Cancer which is also known as the Silent Cancer.
I was asked to meet the Onco surgeon, and the day I met my oncologist, it was hitting me hard, but even then, I was not emotional. The only day I cried was the night before my Surgery because initially, doctors were saying that the Surgery will take 4 hours, then it became 6 hours and eventually when the scans and other tests were done, they knew that it had spread, and a couple of my lymph nodes were impacted, so they had to operate the lymph nodes too. Doctors then told me that it's an 11 hours surgery, you will be in complete anaesthesia, it will be a major critical milestone from the health point of view for you. And that was when I cried the morning I walked into the hospital as I had to leave my child behind at home, and that was the thing that shook me, how I could get it when I have such a young child.
I think I cried only on that night. I was writing my will and was telling my dad to pass it to my spouse in case I don't come back, but to be honest, I was well prepared by the doctors for everything and thinking about 'what comes next' helped me. That was the very emotional part that kept etching me saying that I have to fight it, and I always went with that spirit that I have to fight it.
One thing I asked my oncologist was, what is my runway, how long I am going to be alive? and he said five years. I told my doctor that okay five years is a long time, I mean, nobody can predict what can happen when you are driving out the next day, so I shouldn't cry about five years life.
Ovarian Cancer Treatment
I underwent my Surgery for Ovarian Cancer on 25 March 2019, at a hospital in Banglore. During my surgery, I underwent something called a high pack, which is a hyper infusion Chemotherapy. This was done directly in the operation theatre, where doctors administrated the Chemotherapy liquid in the peritoneal, which took around 90 minutes. It enabled the oncologist to kill the cancer cells, which were beyond their vision, and then they did the Surgery. It was a costly 11 hours of surgery, after which I was in the hospital for ten days.
Later, I had to undergo a small Surgery again for the chemo port on my right shoulder.
My Chemotherapy cycles then started from 22 April, and I took 13 IV Chemotherapy cycles, six constituting. I think the combination of the high pack and aggressive Chemotherapy helped me a lot to scale up faster, and I had two different chemo regimes that were given to me during my IV Chemotherapy process. That was very aggressive, but at the same time, very effective from a recovery point of view.
In October, when a scan was done, I came out clean and was tagged as a Ovarian Cancer survivor. Currently, I am on oral Chemotherapy. I was on a break from work for six months, but I presumed work from last November. I am doing absolutely fine, I am doing my regular work, taking care of my home, and I am quite normal. I know a lot of people are surprised when they hear me, saying that I don't sound like a sick person, but then I do live on oral Chemotherapy now. I can't thank enough on how well medical science has evolved, and we can address cancer in the most phenomenal and at the same time in a common, understandable way for people because not all of us are very aware of the scientific terms and cannot understand the complications and all.
In my case, things worked well for me because I was in good hands. I am forever grateful to my medical practitioners because they changed my life 360-degree in terms of what I have gone through. I feel fantastic now.
Keep yourself abreast
I started to counsel people after my personal experience with Ovarian Cancer. People break down, cry and think that it is the end of life when they are diagnosed with cancer, but what I want to tell people is to look beyond it. Science has evolved so much today that there are so many options available in the medical industry, and I think somewhere we need to keep ourselves abreast and know what we are going through.
I had started reading a lot about cancer between my diagnosis and Surgery. I used to ask questions to my doctors; I have doctors in my family, so I started asking them. I think I started preparing myself emotionally, so it didn't hit me hard from a cancer point of view. I was very determined. Most of my Pain was due to the side effects of Chemotherapy because mine was an aggressive one. Except for that, I don't think I ever had a scratch about being an Ovarian Cancer patient, and I never shied away from talking about it either. I have been an open book talking on social media about my experience, talking to cancer patients that I have met, and my friends and relatives. I keep telling them that yes, it's an emotional journey, but if you have a positive mindset, then you won't find it difficult.
Cancer is still a stigma
Cancer is still a stigma in our society, especially Breast Cancer. People don't talk about it; they are are not open about their situation. We need to value ourselves as a person and keep the best interest of ourselves to call out for it and talk about it so that you can get over it emotionally.
I believe one of the ways that helped me to scale up emotionally was that I was very open-minded about it. I have pictures of my entire cancer journey. After the 4th chemotherapy, I had to shave my head, and I asked my husband to do it because if I am going to look beautiful, It was for him. I said, okay, you do it so that you know how beautiful I look when I shave my head. I have a huge scar from right under my breast till my genitals, and I wear it very proudly. We need to come out of the shackles of what is a taboo; we think everything and anything as a taboo; don't talk about periods because it's not nice, we shouldn't talk about it in front of our brothers and dad because it's not nice. I grew up in a household with only girls, but I have a lot of cousins who are men, and I don't think that I should be shy talking about the menstrual cycle in front of a guy, because it's a normal process, like all of us say.
I have always wondered why people don't even talk about cancer when it's not even your fault, it's a genetic mutation, so there is nothing wrong to say I have cancer. One thing that my mother used to ask was why I was putting all the articles related to cancer on social media. People might not come and ask for your daughter's hand; people will say don't marry her because she is the daughter of a cancer survivor. But people need to understand that cancer is of different types; not every type runs through families. Not all cancer types are transferrable. As soon as I had ovarian cancer, I told my family members that let's do all the tests because I thought my siblings and my daughter could get it. We got all the tests done, and the doctor said that no, Ovarian Cancer is not transferable, and therefore none of them was in any risk.
So many people are getting cancer because there is something fundamentally wrong in the way we are eating and the way we are living; the lifestyle, use of plastic, use of a microwave and such. In old times there wasn't too much of diagnosis, and we didn't really know about it, but today we have science, and we can diagnose it but then what are we doing to educate people about it? The stigma of not talking is the first education we should give to people; talk about it and create awareness about it. People are thinking, "Why should I share my personal information with others?" But it's not about personal information or personal journey. It's for the greater cause because then people will definitely tend to understand what is happening, how it's happening and it will inspire other patients that if they can come out if it, then we can too.
When I spoke about my journey, so many people appreciated and came back and said: "thank you for telling this, my father is going through this, or my mother is going through this".
You shouldn't do the self-loathing, I never asked the question "why me"? I was like, "okay it's cancer, I will fight with it and come out of it". One of the things that my oncologist used to say was, "Two patients with the same cancer diagnosis and the same treatment show different levels of recovery, why? It's about your mindset, and it's about how you are mentally preparing yourself."
Even educated people talked behind my back that she has cancer because my head was shaved, I used to wear a bandana, and I was looking very pale and different from my usual self. So when I could hear anyone hushing at my back, I was like okay, I have cancer no big deal, but I am at least fighting it out and proving to you that I am going to be normal like you. People have perceptions, and I think we need to create that awareness to erase those perceptions. We need to go back and tell people how Love heals cancer.
I think my biggest support was the trust that I had upon my surgeon, medical oncologist and even my onco nurses; they were so sweet, and they all took good care of me. I used to go every second week for Chemotherapy, and it was one full day in the hospital and two days at home. I never met my daughter throughout my chemo phase because my physical appearance had changed a lot. I had aggressive chemotherapy, so my palms and face started darkening, and of course, I had my head shaved, so physically, I looked very different. I couldn't hug my child because I was smelling chemo all the time. I was very conscious not to pass that smell to my child. Those are the emotional aspects that will touch you, and that is where family and friends come in. Two of my best friends used to come to meet me every alternate Sunday, and they used to shower me with gifts. My husband was always by my side, holding my hand. Whatever I went through, he was continually supporting me. I think those are the small and beautiful things that we need to count while going through this journey and talk about it, appreciate how it has changed your life. My mom and dad were very emotional because, for any parents, its too difficult to see their child go through that, but I think we should scale up all of that; we should pass on the knowledge to people so that people can benefit from it.
I feel that I didn't fight cancer alone, I had my family, my spouse and my friends with me, and I think the belief that you can get over it is the confidence boost that you can have. I always kept telling my husband that I need to get back to work, and when I was bedridden, not able to move, I still kept listening to audio files. Cancer was not a stop; it was merely a comma in my journey.
Looking forward to what you want to do in life can help a lot. I wanted to see my daughter grow into a beautiful woman, and I wanted to be with her in her teenage and talk to her about every tiniest thing, and that kept me going.
Have a good lifestyle
During the treatment, most of the time, I could not eat properly due to the side effects of Chemotherapy. Going to the restroom daily was a painful event, and I used to cry about it. I used to get very scared about doing my morning chores; that was the phase where I considered whether to go on a liquid diet.
Two things that I am struggling with now during the lockdown are menopause and secondly, physical exercises. I need to do a lot of cardio and maintain weight, so that's the area I am still improvising. I am into Intermittent fasting now, which is helping me a lot. I drink a lot of liquid in a day and have a lot of protein-based diets. I never thought so much about what I am eating from different food items, but now I have started paying attention to it. If everybody is following a basic sound diet, good healthcare, and doing exercise for 25-30 minutes daily, then many health problems will be reduced.
I never had so much awareness for myself; I hadn't prioritized several aspects of my life, like sleeping on time, eating on time, or even working out.
I would say life after cancer has changed for the good. I realized that we generally take our self for granted. I developed a lot of respect for myself and my emotions and developed an unbiased thought process about my priorities. I was always a positive person, but cancer has made me more positive about life.
I have changed physically, as well. I don't have long black hair anymore, I have a short boy cut, and the other side effect is that I have 80% grey hair now. I sometimes ask myself whether I should colour it black, having grey hair at 38, but I say to myself that I should only do things for me rather than doing it for others. I am confident with this look, and that is all that matters to me now.
When I had to decide about my hysterectomy, my doctor asked me that you have one kid, so are sure about the decision? My uterus was completely healthy, so the decision was mine to let go of my uterus or not, since my ovaries were getting removed. So I told the doctor that I am not going to have another kid and therefore if there was even the smallest risk that it could become a problem later in life, you should get rid of it. In the beginning, when I came out of the surgery, I used to look at myself and think how much of a woman I was if I didn't have uterus and ovaries? And I was like why am I asking this stupid question; you are as much a woman as any other woman. It was true that I couldn't give birth to a child, but that was fine. I am a Godmother to so many other kids, and I adore and respect my child. I don't get periods every month, and therefore I don't have to pay for tampons and menstrual cups. It's all about the way you choose to look at it, and this is something that I have learned or enabled myself to learn through the recovery process.
We spend lots of money in malls in every way to eat and waste food, then why shouldn't we spend some money on an Ultrasound and mammogram every year. We live in a world where there is too much pollution, and we don't know where things are impacting us in the triangle. So considering the people, you love and the people who love you, get your tests done. And always think about putting yourself first because if you are not there, then there is no point in doing things for other people that you love. Self-love is essential. Be positive, be resilient, do good and share your journey, write about it, and feel proud about being a survivor.
Key Points from Shridevi Krishnamurthy's Healing Journey
- It was in December 2018, when I was in Melbourne, and my periods were not regular, that I realized that something was wrong. So I didn't delay, and when I came back to India, I got myself checked.
- The doctors found that I had a football-sized tumour in both my ovaries. I urgently needed surgery, but I was optimistic that the tumour wouldn't be malignant as I never had a cancer history in my family.
- When reports came, it was positive and showed that I had Stage 4 Ovarian Cancer. I underwent Surgery and 13 Chemotherapy cycles. I am now cancer-free and is currently on oral Chemotherapy.
- We need to keep ourselves abreast. Not many people know about cancer, and it's still a stigma. People should talk about it openly; it's a disease that anyone can get, and it's not their fault.
- If we have money to spend in a mall, then once in a year, we should spend it for an Ultrasound and mammogram too, because cancer is curable if detected early.
- Be positive, be resilient, do good and share your journey, write about it, and feel proud of being a cancer survivor.