Ovarian Cancer Diagnosis
I came from Spain to India and found my tummy slightly bloated. The bloating was so subtle that no one could notice it except me. I thought that my body might be reacting differently since I came from a very cold temperature country to a very hot and humid one. But then, two weeks passed, and I realized that something was wrong.
So, I reached out to more than ten doctors, but no one could diagnose it.
I was 23 at that time, and the idea that cancer could happen to someone so young and that too, ovarian cancer, (which is usually diagnosed at 55) was totally unknown to everyone. But having a good understanding of my body’s patterns, I kept pushing; I eventually got diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
Ovarian Cancer Treatment
I was advised that its better to have surgery as soon as possible before the ovarian cancer could spread further. The time after that was no less than a rush for life. I was going from one doctor to another, hearing my own prognosis, something that has come out of the blue, listening to my prognosis number, hearing what all they are going to remove from my body, hearing about surgery, and it all took a lot of courage.
I was making an excel sheet on which doctor to talk to and what consultation to take. We were running from one place to another. It takes a lot of courage to write about your own cancer, about the appointments, but I had to do it.
Initially, the PET scan did not show that I was at an advanced stage; it showed that I was on stage 1 or stage 2 ovarian cancer, so I was feeling good and hopeful. But, when the surgery happened, we realized that the PET scan had not detected everything. I underwent radical surgery where both of my ovaries got removed.
In my case, it was a rare sub-variety of ovarian cancer known as LGSOC, where chemotherapy and anti-hormonal therapy do not have a strong evidence that they work.But we wanted to make every move we can, in the best of our abilities, so we chose to still go ahead with six cycles of chemotherapy. After that, we again spent a lot of time in getting opinions and talking to experts on anti-hormone therapy. There was not much evidence that it would work and the medical community was split into two, but there is always a ray of hope.
I was reading through the side effects and was wondering whether I wanted to live such a life where I am just hoping that something might work? After a lot of thinking, I ultimately took the decision that I want to live, and I will go with it. I would figure out how the side effects turn out and maybe then make a call on whether I want to continue or not.
Currently, I am on hormone blocker therapy because my ovarian cancer turned out to be hormone positive.
The Physical Side Effects
Chemotherapy could be summarized as an altogether different life. Everyone knows about the physical side effects of chemotherapy. Indeed before every chemotherapy I used to sign a 4 page long list of side-effects.
A lot of it is the physical exhaustion, but when chemotherapy starts, a lot of other impacts also come into the picture.. Such as chemo brain. What can also not be ignored are the mental side effects, arising out of the trauma, and lack of any hormones in the body that could manage your mood. I was diagnosed with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) at the same time because of the shock that the ovarian cancer news had induced. OCD was another big thing that tried to spoil the quality of my life.
Cancer does so many things to your mind; it makes you slow; it turns you to the negative side of life. I was a person who was always into fitness, I was taking good care of myself, and it hurt me how I was losing my hair and my muscles. It was very heartbreaking, but I tried to see the positive parts of it because of the people who reached out to me to shower their love and support. That was a very positive part of that time, and it made me realize how blessed I was to have these people around me.
I tried to make good use of my time. I realized that I had been working so much that I didn’t really get the time to de-stress myself, so I took that as an opportunity to de-stress myself. I spent my time sleeping and watching Netflix. I also learned magic tricks at that time. When I would go to the chemotherapy centre, I would try to show magic to the kids and the staff around me, and they used to be very happy seeing that.
I was feeling uncomfortable with myself, the way I looked, the way I felt. I was losing control of my body; I was losing my muscles and strength; I was in a lot of exhaustion. I passed the initial one month just feeling pity for myself until I read the book “A Man’s Search For Meaning,” and I realized that self-pity will not help me with the predicament that has been given. So, after one month, I chose to get off my bed and really do something which would make me happy.
I was into fitness a lot, so one day I went for a run, and that made me very happy. But, after some time, I was so exhausted that I could not get off my bed for the next two days. At that time, I decided that no matter whether I got off my bed for the next two days or not, but I was going to run for that one hour.
Then, I went to my doctor and took permission from her to join the gym. So, I joined the gym and would always carry a mask and sanitizer and started from scratch. I had lost all the strength, but somewhere I was still there, and that’s what was important for me. Earlier, what used to be my warm-up exercise became my maximum, but still, what mattered was that I was there every single day. Slowly, I started regaining my strength, even while the chemotherapy was going on. My body had gained 33% of extra fat, but the mere conviction that I want to be there working for whatever is left out of it was the biggest thing that kept me going. It didn’t matter how well I was doing; it just mattered that I was there every day. Because you know “It becomes easier. It does become easier. The key is to do it everyday. And that’s the hard part. But it does become easier.”
Slowly, I increased my workout hours, and my fitness levels ended up becoming much better than what it was pre-cancer.
The mental toll of cancer
I had a lot of slogans of positivity, “Nishtha think positive, don’t be pessimist, try to think that you will live.” But there were a lot of thoughts around it, that if I am going to live, then what kind of life would I be living? What would be the quality of life? How long am I going to live? How do I think positively in all these scenarios?
That’s when my wisest friends made me realize that you cannot be positive until you embrace and accept the negativity that is flowing into your life. Until you accept what is going on, you will not become comfortable with it. We often try to push away the feelings we don’t like, but this is not how our human brain works.
Once I started accepting the negativity, it stopped eating the better of me, and I could start focusing more on the positive parts. I started giving more focus on my mental health, and I started taking therapy, something which people are very hesistant to take.
I started doing meditation, reading good books, surrounding myself with positive people, and people who accepted me with my negativity, telling me that it’s okay to be
negative, and then bringing me to the path of positivity.
Cherish the people in your life
Once the chemotherapy started, a lot of people left my life. It was tough for me to believe that it could happen, and it broke me. I tried to forget about it, ignore it, but I was deeply hurt. I used to cry thinking why some people would just change out of nowhere.
But then I tried to realize the blessings in my life; many more people entered my life who I never thought would. People who were my regular friends became my closest friends. I got to know who is there for me, and I cherish them sincerely for all the love and support they gave me. There will be people who leave you, but there will be many more people who will come into your life.
Looking on the positive side, accepting the negativity, trying every day, and being there with people who support you and love you is what got me over the physical, social and emotional pains of undergoing chemotherapy.
Life after cancer
I was already living a healthy lifestyle. I never used to drink, smoke, or drink even any soda, and I was exercising regularly. So, when the ovarian cancer struck me, I was taken aback. I had no family history, and I had a perfectly healthy lifestyle, and no one could figure it out why it might have happened.
The lifestyle change that mainly came was that I started working even harder on my body, which was very counterintuitive. I worked every day for two and a half hours to ensure that I still had my muscles because my ovaries were removed, my bones were losing its minerals, and I was having a lot of other side effects. I wanted to ensure that I was doing great and not merely existing.
Earlier, I used to get spooked out at the little things, but after cancer, I don’t take much stress. The only thing I take stress about is my mental and physical health. Earlier, I used to work a lot, but now I take time to spend time with my family because that matters to me so much more now.
Caregivers play a vital role
Initially, when I was diagnosed, my parents were living in Kolkata, and my sister was living in Canada. At that time, my then boyfriend was the only one in the hospital with me. He became my primary caregiver until my parents came. It was a challenging moment for my parents because they never imagined this.
The idea of death didn’t scare me in the way that I will die, but it scared me at the thought that I won’t be there for my family.
I tried to pen down my emotions. I wrote a poem, just in case, I didn’t make it through the treatment. The poem mainly consisted of the parts of my life that my loved ones were going to remember and how it should not make them sad.
I got in touch with some amazing people who were going through different hardships. It helped me to look on the brighter side. That’s a challenging part of going through cancer; watching your caregivers suffer alongside you.
The support system is essential. It’s important to cherish whoever or whatever you have. The thing that helped me most was the ability to detach myself from the subject of the tragedy that I was going through and have a look at it like any other project I was doing.
Anxiety would come in, negativity would come in, but it is normal. The slogans of positivity surround us, but it is okay to be negative. Take help from people with whom you can discuss your lows. Discuss it with your therapist, accept it, and move on. And a wise friend told : It’s not going to be a straight line; it’s going to be a journey with ups and downs, and one day you will feel at the peak, while another day you will be very low, but keep on moving. Do what you love.
People will leave your life, but there will be many more who will enter your life and cherish you with unconditional love. Also, learn to self-love; your worth is not determined by what others say.
Know that your caregivers, family, and your loved ones are with you because they want to be with you, or they would have left. So, don’t feel that you are the burden; you would have done the same thing if they were there. They love you, and you love them, and that is the only thing that matters.