Hodgkins Lymphoma Diagnosis
The first red flag was that I started getting tired very quickly when I was just 14. As I was obese then, I thought that was the reason for the excessive Fatigue and didn't give much heed to it. Then one day, I noticed a weird lump near my collarbone, and I was actually excited about it because my friend had recently had tonsils surgery, and she had got to eat ice cream later. So, I also thought that I would end up getting ice creams because of this new lump. But it was only when I was taught in school about the human throat that I found out that the lump was not growing where the tonsils were supposed to be. Therefore, I went to a local doctor with my parents, and I was diagnosed with mumps. But after some months, I developed a weird coughing fit that always ended with Nausea or fever. We decided to go to a multi-specialty hospital, and after biopsy, I was diagnosed with tuberculosis. And the weird part was that the doctor didn't listen to me. I think this is a major issue throughout India; the doctors think they have identified the disease, and they stop listening to what the patient has to say. So, I was put on medication for tuberculosis, and it had severe side effects on me. They also didn't give any advice on what to do when these side effects affect me. The medicines also didn't have any effect on my condition, and therefore, we went to AIMS like every other Indian family.
By the time we went to AIMS, at least six months had already passed after the first symptoms. It was only at AIMS that they discussed the possibility of having cancer. We then went to a private hospital, where they finally diagnosed me with stage 3B Hodgkin's Lymphoma. I was suffering from this Lymphoma for pretty much eight months before they could correctly diagnose me.
Honestly, I was relieved at the diagnosis because they had finally found a reason for all my difficulties. But my family and relatives were very shocked and scared by my Lymphoma diagnosis. Our family didn't have any history of cancer, and me getting diagnosed with one at the age of 14 was certainly more than they could handle. Childhood cancer is genetic, and therefore there was nothing that I/we could have done to prevent it.
Hodgkin's Lymphoma Treatment
After getting diagnosed with lymphoma, I was immediately put on Chemotherapy. The doctors initially decided to go with four sittings of hard chemotherapy, followed by four sittings of light Chemotherapy. But I ended up with nine cycles of hard Chemotherapy and 17 sittings of radiation too.
As the word got around, people started seeing me as if I had already died. People were visiting me just to show that they had done their quota of sympathy. Once the Chemotherapy started, its side effects also followed suit. But the good thing was that they had aftercare, and they used to pertain to all my needs and side effects immediately. If I felt nauseated, they provided medicines for that, and if my Platelets were down, they immediately gave me a Platelet infusion set. The Lymphoma Treatment went on for almost a year, and the part I had difficulty getting used to the most was the isolation. While peers my age were going to school, I was isolated from the outside world and people, and had to drop a year at school. I had started losing my hair, and it was hard for my mother and father. I was rather okay with the Hair loss as I didn't have to take care of it anymore.
I also reconnected with my old friends, and they reached out to me. I am grateful for that because you need people when you are going through this. More than sympathy, you need compassion and empathy. I was lucky to have a great support system during my first cancer.
Acute Myeloid Leukemia Diagnosis
I had successfully finished the Lymphoma Treatment and had started going to school when one day, I felt nauseated after returning home from school. When the Nausea didn't recede even after 20 days, along with upset stomach and period difficulties, I smelled something bad. I reconnected with my old doctor, who told me to come back to Delhi. After many tests and CT scans, I found out that I had Acute Myeloid Leukemia. So, I was diagnosed with the second cancer in my life; Acute Myeloid Leukemia, at the age of 16. This time, the Leukemia diagnosis hit me like a ton of bricks. I was shocked because I had thought that my cancer journey was over.
During my first Hodgkin's Lymphoma journey, I didn't even cry once and was really motivated to defeat the cancer. But during my second cancer treatment, all I ever did was cry. Leukemia was very hard for me, and I preferred crying over talking to others who came to support and assist me.
Acute Myeloid Leukemia Treatment
I needed a Bone Marrow Transplant since the treatment from the Lymphoma had suppressed my bone marrow to such an extent that I needed a BMT. I needed a donor, and my brother who was 11 donated his bone marrow for me. The Treatment for Leukemia was very different, and I didn't have the regular Chemotherapy but had a BMT done. A BMT basically wipes out all your cells' memory, and you start afresh. But due to it, the immune system becomes very weak, and that is forcing me to stay indoors now. After the BMT, I was in a hospital room for six months, that too in a small room with no visitors. This one was so much harder for me than my first cancer.
The second cancer, or the last cancer as I should say about it, molded me a lot in life. The main person who pulled me through everything was my mother, who was my primary caregiver.
When I had finished the treatment for lymphoma, I was elated and celebrated it, but when I completed the Leukemia treatment, I was like, okay, this is good, but I'm not going to celebrate this. Still, I was super happy inside to have finally defeated Leukemia.
Lifestyle after Cancer
Before cancer, my lifestyle was pretty normal, with a mix of homecooked food and junk food. During cancer, I was put on a protein-rich neutropenic diet with paneer, egg, chicken, rice, etc. But my diet right now is not good and includes subway and junk food along with homecooked food.
My mother was my primary caregiver, and I believe it was harder for her to see her daughter go through cancer twice. I think patients should just give the caregivers a warm hug from time to time and let them know you are thankful for all the help that they are doing for you.
Lessons learned from Cancer
I am super grateful to be alive and wake up every single day. I am happy to just socialize with my friends, take my dog out for a walk, and do everything. Basically, I'm just doing the things that I used to dream about when I was in the hospital, and therefore, right now, I'm just living my dream.
I think people should lose their preconceived notions about cancer. Pop culture, including cinemas, shows cancer as a synonym for death. But now, cancer is actually 70-80% curable. Therefore, we should just take it as a normal disease. We should surround ourselves with people whom we like and feel comfortable with.
Also, when you connect with people who have already gone through what you have gone through, you will feel a little less alone.
We should treat people with kindness. Reach out to cancer patients, and just be there for them, rather than telling them that cancer is huge and hard to defeat and such.
The patients should try to distract themselves from the disease by watching movies, Netflix, music or friends.