Back in 1991, my husband and I were living in Japan as he was posted there. Our lives were going on as planned but it all changed the day I got diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. It was the early 90s and basic knowledge or conversations surround such issues didn’t really happen. We were far away from home, my husband was devastated and I was just left shocked because I’d never even thought that something this grave could happen to me in my 30s.
However, after the initial shock passed, we had to decide on a line of treatment, doctors had initially suggested a lumpectomy that would preserve my left breast. However, after much consideration, I opted for a more aggressive option and understand a mastectomy. But the operation obviously wasn’t the end of the road for me, I had to undergo about 25 cycles of radiation. Radiation is a fairly standard form of treatment for advanced cancer today, but this was the early 90s and technology wasn’t as developed.
The radiation cycles took a toll on me; my thyroid gland and food pipe were burnt, it was possibly the worst time of my life. But this bad time passed and I was doing for over a decade. But in 2010, my cancer reoccurred in my right breast. It was devastating, obviously, but at least I was more prepared, I knew what I had to do. I took the decision of getting another mastectomy done. I was also clear that I didn’t want chemotherapy or radiation, I was scarred from my first experience and I was absolutely sure that I didn’t want to go through any of that again. I resorted to taking natural treatments along with Tamoxifen tablets, which are commonly used to treat high risk breast cancer patients.
It’s been almost ten years since my second battle with cancer and I now occupy myself with social work and outreach. I have been fine most of the time, unless you count the 2 stents in my arteries! Looking back, I can say that I did many moments of weakness when I would think “Why Me?” but I’ve learned to toughen up. There were days I’d console my husband and tell him “I’ll survive this, you don’t worry”.
For all those out there who are going through cancer, I can say – Hang in there, this too shall pass.
Kokila Mehra is now 68 and based in Delhi. She spends her time immersed in social work and outreach.