How it all started:
I was diagnosed with (stage IIIB large cell high-grade diffuse – all jargon that I don’t understand even today) lymphoma on 1st January 2016. Actually it all started with an unexplained weight loss – which I was very happy about. My brother’s wedding reception was in November 2015 and everybody commented on my slimmer frame. And I was basking in those comments. I attended my cousin’s wedding early December and I could not eat my favorite fish curry and rice. My alarm bells were still not ringing. I guess it is a case of unconsciously thinking that ‘bad things happen only to other people’. Today I know that unexplained weight loss is a signal from the body that all is not well!
Then came the bad backache and persistent fever that refused to go even with continuous medication. I had done a complete Health Checkup in October 2015. So I finally went for a blood test on my General Practitioner’s (GP) insistence. When I walked into my GP’s clinic, the first thing he asked was what I was doing to lose weight. And when I said – Nothing, he did not seem happy at all.
Anyway, the blood report showed an ESR of 96. Whoa! Sonography showed a spleen which was thrice its size. I was hospitalized for some days where a plethora of tests was performed. The doctor said that the PET scan showed cells with very high ‘activity’. Finally, I knew what was coming!
Support from the family and doctors:
I was blessed to have a great experience with the medical fraternity – my hematologist, my oncologist, their assistants, the nurses, the hospital staff. During my chemotherapy I used to look forward to my doctor’s visit. He had a smile and an uplifting attitude – ALWAYS!! When I asked questions, I was not denied any answer. The doctors and nurses were patient and supportive.
My husband, with whom I had frequent arguments and disagreements, served me selflessly. I don’t think I will be able to do the same if the tables are turned. And of course, I hope he never has to face any major illness. I live with my parents and it would have broken their heart to see their first born go through cancer. And my then 11-year old, silently suffered the absence of her mother during her exams. I hope one day she shares with me what she went through.
I am blessed to have a whole lot of friends who did not hesitate to provide the love and support that I needed during that time. The conversations and laughter they provided, were important ingredients on my road to recovery.
How did I cope:
The doctors don’t have an honest, transparent discussion with the patients. They do not want to alarm the patients. There are so many side effects of chemo. They do not know which side effects will manifest. And strangely for the same patient, where the protocol is the same, different side effects will manifest in different sessions
So for a patient like me, this was not a step in the right direction. I would have been more confident if I was fortified with all the information. But this uneasiness lasted only for the first 3 weeks. When I went for my next chemo I went through the entire list of side effects with the attending doctor.
The first week of the chemotherapy cycle is always difficult – lethargy, body pain, food tasting like cardboard, totally debilitating. I did not feel like seeing TV or reading any books. I enjoy both these activities even today. So, I had to constantly remind myself that this would happen every time, and that it would last only for a week. I used to tell myself that through this process the toxicity in my body is being expelled.
Viktor Frankl’s words echoed in my mind – Everything can be taken from us but the freedom to choose our attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose our own way.
I did not know why I had cancer, but I knew I had to heal.
My advice to cancer patients:
You are not the first and not the last person to get cancer.
Make friends with your doctor and the chemo nurse. You should be able to call them and talk to them when you are at a loss to decide what to do.
Don’t fight your cancer. You will be fighting your own body. Embrace and lovingly bid it goodbye. Believe me it will stay away more effectively.
Do not go for alternative therapies, and choose one over the other. Go for complementary therapies which will work in tandem with your medical treatment.
Adopt for a holistic approach to healing within after you have finished your medical treatment.
My advice to humanity at large:
Have a comprehensive medical policy. We were lucky all our expenses were covered under our insurance policy. Every round of chemo cost us around one lakh of rupees.
Nurture and nourish your body. It’s your most prized possession. Treat your body as temple. Also, understand that food, rest and exercise are not the only inputs that affect the body. What we think and feel also affects our body. The state of our relationships affect our body.
We are given to endure only as much as we can. Don’t give up. Accept life with its ups and downs. Enjoy the roller coaster ride
We cannot control what challenges will be thrown at us. But we definitely can choose how we wish to respond to the challenges. Do we want to wallow and wail or graciously accept whatever has happened and face it with a positive attitude? After all tough times don’t last, tough people do!
My favorite books
I derive tremendous inspiration and strength from these three simple books:
- Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff (and it’s all the small stuff) by Richard Carlson
- You can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay
- The Five People You meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom