Pratima Shah (Breast cancer): “I decided to toughen up.”

Breast cancer survivor

Life as a grandmother in her 70s can sometimes get mundane. Until 2016, my routine usually involved doing housework, watching TV and going to the temple in the evening. It was on one such evening that I discovered a knot on my left breast. I obviously thought nothing of it in the beginning. I went to the doctor the next day and he suggested I get a mammography and some other blood tests done. I was so sure it was nothing that I went and got all these tests done on my own. My reports came in the same evening and that’s when things changed. 

My doctor told me that I most likely had breast cancer. I was dumbstruck, I even told the doctor that he must have someone else’s reports; I don’t have cancer, I said. As I sat there digesting the news, I called my husband and I remember his voice distinctly breaking. That’s the day I decided to toughen up and not shed a tear.

Soon after my diagnosis, I underwent breast removal surgery, my left breast was removed and the next step was chemotherapy. Because of my age and almost stage 3 cancer, I required multiple sessions of chemotherapy spread out over a long time. Chemo was obviously not easy; I was battling pain, swelling, occasional diarrhea and a lack of appetite. These were the days when my faith in god helped; I prayed and took each day as it came.

After a year of chemo, I was in remission, and I thought everything would soon be ok. But sometimes life just has ways of testing you, no?  Fresh PET scans revealed that I had at least 4 tumors on my right side. Thankfully, they were benign. But I still needed surgery to get them removed. I got the surgery done and thought that this would definitely be the end of operations and cancer. But once again, that wasn’t the case.

At the beginning of this year, my scans showed a presence of more tumors; 9 tumors, to be precise. My oncologist once again suggested surgery for removal of all the tumors. 

It’s the end of year now and I am hoping that my next set of scans will all be good. The last three years have taught me a lot.  I realised that you can’t be scared of cancer, treat it like any other disease and deal with it every day. My approach to chemo has surprised many people. This is because I decided to treat it like injections for a common flu. I didn’t think of it as something very big. I know that it is not possible for everyone to take things so lightly, but I did and it worked for me. 

What I am worried about though is the health of my three daughters. The doctors have told me that since there is a history of cancer from my maternal side, my daughters must get early testing done. I hope everything remains ok with them because they were my biggest support during my treatment.

Family and God, these are the two places one has to draw their support from.

Pratima Shah is now 75 and lives in Nagpur with her husband. She remains fiercely independent and insists on going alone for all her scans and doctors’ appointments.