Breast Cancer Diagnosis
My life started taking me on a different path than what I had planned when I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer, that too on my birthday, i.e. 12th November.
Breast Cancer Treatment
After my diagnosis, I was initially puzzled as to how to move forward with my treatment. I was confused about whether to start my treatment in Indore itself or to go to Delhi for it. But I finally decided that Indore would be better suited for me, as after the surgery I would need more care which won't be easily accessible in Delhi with my family settled in Indore.
We consulted the oncologist in Indore, and on 22nd November 2008, I underwent breast cancer mastectomy, and the doctor also removed the lymph nodes. The size of the lump was 6-7cm, and out of the 33 lymph nodes that were sent for biopsy, 17 came back positive. The doctors planned six chemotherapy cycles which were to be followed by five weeks of radiation therapy. Since the port wasn't much preferred at that time, I took all my chemotherapy through veins. I have since been on hormone therapy.
During my treatment, I always believed that I would face cancer head-on and defeat it. This thought was ever revolving around in my head and gave me the strength to start my journey to recovery. After the chemotherapy cycles, there were several challenges like depression, mood swings, etc. which I encountered but I had seen my aunt going through the same situation and gained strength from the belief that this was just a phase that I had to go through. I always believed primarily in one thing; if you have faith in God, faith in your doctor and faith in yourself, you can always defeat this disease. Whether it is cancer or anything else, you just need absolute faith to get through successfully to the end of the line. During my treatment, I always had these thoughts in my mind, giving me the strength and confidence to come through the other side of the tunnel. I also used to find solace in chanting. Whenever I felt like I couldn't sleep, or felt negative thoughts creeping up in my mind, I used to chant Gayatri Mantra, so that my mind gets diverted from my body and my disease. Chanting helped me to relax and used to boost me up.
Positivity all around me
Another major factor that helped me immensely in my battle against breast cancer was the support I received from my family and relatives. My husband and daughter were my pillars of support throughout my journey. Thanks to their continuous support, I never panicked in any situation. There were days during my chemotherapy when I was not able to eat for 7-10 days continuously, but even during those days, they helped me to be confident and optimistic.
There was one other person apart from my family members who eminently helped me in my journey, the founder of the NGO Sangini, late Dr Anupama Negi. She was the one who counseled me after my first chemotherapy and guided me through the proper diet, right exercises and every other detail regarding the disease. Sangini is a rehabilitation centre that provides not just counseling to the patients, but also includes lymphedema management, where the patients are taught exercise, massages and bandaging to reduce lymphedema, which may occur after breast cancer surgery. I started following her and became so inspired by her that I decided to help cancer patients just like she did after I got through the treatment.
Thank You, Breast Cancer
I know this may sound strange, but in hindsight, I would thank cancer for coming into my life. My life underwent several changes after cancer. I started helping and counseling other patients which gave me a great sense of fulfilment. I started getting recognition as a counselor amongst doctors and patients in Indore.
Once my radiation therapy was over, my husband had to go through bypass surgery. During his treatment, I saw several cancer patients in the same hospital who were upset, and I started talking to them about how I had defeated the disease, how I was perfectly alright now and how the cancer treatment had become so much better now that everyone stood a good chance of getting cured. Gradually, I started counseling more patients. Being able to give back to society made me very grateful. It became a motto in my life to help as many cancer patients as I could.
There are a lot of queries that cancer patients and family members would have, and since doctors can't be expected to answer all of them, I started doing what I could, to alleviate their concerns. It's been ten years since I started doing this. I started this as a self-examination program and have now conducted over 125 programs. I also started gathering a team of volunteers to assist me, and now I have 15 volunteers with me, who currently counsel patients in different hospitals across the city of Indore. We have also participated in marathons and conducted a fashion show that spreads positivity to bring awareness about the disease. We also provide wigs and prosthesis to cancer patients. I always tell patients that they can approach me 24/7. I also provide them with a diet plan that they can follow to keep them nourished with necessary supplements during treatment. Some of my young patients tell me that I'm like their mother. The sense of fulfilment and gratitude that I receive from these patients makes me thankful towards cancer for giving me this opportunity in life. It's always added encouragement when you get appreciated for your efforts. I was also one of the 15 women from MP who received the Devi Award from CM Kamal Nath. I also received 51 most influential women in Indore and Akhil Bhartiya award.
I tell the patients that unlike conditions like diabetes which can stay with you for the entire life, cancer has a cure. While we don't have a choice as to how we die, we do have a choice as to how we live and enjoy our life. So I always tell my patients to enjoy their life to the maximum and not to let cancer overcome them.
Recently, in February 2019, I found that my cancer had relapsed to metastatic breast cancer with involvement in spinal cord and bone. After the diagnosis, I was given palliative radiation therapy for two weeks. I am currently on hormone therapy, fighting the disease and continuing to counsel cancer patients. But I am sure that I will be successful this time also, with the added knowledge of the disease and the belief that I have in myself and my doctors.
Breast Cancer Warrior: Parting Message
This is a short marathon, you are given a torch, and you have to carry it to the final destination. Always remember that you are not a sitting duck for cancer to come and affect you, but you will fight cancer with all your might, and you will win. Have complete faith in God, your doctor and yourself. You should always fight with confidence; cancer is just a word, not a death sentence. Don't ever try to hide your disease; instead, tell people that you are facing the disease with pride.