Steffi Mac (acute lymphoblastic leukemia): “My battle to glory”.

Steffi Mac- Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia Cancer Survivor

I was 24 years old when I was preparing for my Ph.D. course in 2013. My life was on track when I cleared the entrance. Suddenly, I experienced bleeding in my gums. Gradually, I experienced fever and loss of energy. I saw a dentist first and then visited my family doctor, who gave me antibiotics for the temperature that also stopped the bleeding in the gums. But my body has to manifest somewhere, and I started having nasty coughs where I would feel like life is being sucked out of me. It was then that I was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.

I underwent a urine test and a blood test to confirm my illness acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The doctors informed my uncle about my cancer, but he could not muster the courage to tell me. However, I had checked my symptoms online and had a sense that I had cancer. When I had earlier discussed it with my parents, they remained positive and adamant that things cannot escalate so quickly. Their parental love didn’t let the thought strike that, indeed, something like this is possible with their only child.

96% of my body was undergoing a cancer blast, it was a high risk cancer and I needed a bone marrow transplant to save me. Out of all the resources and channels that we used, we found only one matching donor in Germany. The treatment was essential because I would not be able to survive without it. Along with the surgery, my cancer treatment demanded chemotherapy and radiation. The side effects were unimaginable, and I lost weight rapidly. It dropped down to 35 kgs, and I showed immense weakness. There were moments when I couldn’t feel my legs or stand at all. It felt helpless not to be able to support my own body weight for even a minute.

Steffi Mac acute lymphoblastic leukemia Survivor

My treatment took place in Vellore, and I returned home after five to six months of treatment. My transplant was successful on the 6th of April 2014, but life has not been the same ever since. One of the biggest challenges that I faced was to gain weight healthily. Moreover, initially, my body did not have the stamina to take up a full-time job. I started working as a visiting faculty in a leading national educational institute, but that was restricted to two lectures a week. When I registered for my Ph.D. in 2016, my college asked me to join as full-time staff.

To put it simply, my lectures would shoot up to 18 from 2. However, my doctors advised me against it. I took six months to improve my body, mind, and overall stamina. The first thing I did was, I joined a gym and touched around 48 kgs weight. It gave me the confidence to work and make my name in the industry.

acute lymphoblastic leukemia Survivor
Steffi with her father

I got married to my long-term boyfriend in 2018. He was a constant support throughout the battle. Right from visiting me in Vellore for a week to watching me at my worst, he stood by it all and never let his choice flicker. I published a book on my experience with the disease. It is called That Girl in the Black Hat. In my first Ted talk, I spoke about the importance of registering as a bone marrow donor. DATRI is a leading bone marrow NGO that needed a voice, and I needed a platform. Presently, I am their Goodwill ambassador.

Bone marrow donor acute lymphoblastic leukemia
Steffi's bone marrow donor Aylin flew in from Germany with her friend and she was her maid of honour.

One of the most common questions or suggestions that people have is regarding alternative treatment options and the effectiveness of these methods. I want to inform everyone that integrative cancer treatment is an option that you can take to reduce the side effects of chemotherapy. But, for now, I am not aware of a replacement to avoid a chemo session altogether. Similarly, homeopathy is also helpful in alleviating the side effects and reducing your pain, but I am told that it is not a substitute for chemotherapy in any way.

Though I have defeated acute lymphoblastic leukemia at a superficial level, my battle continues to date. I have post-treatment stress disorder and often face days of depression where I need to fight it with all my will. I have a compromised immune system, and each year, during December or January, the cold months, I fall sick with colds. My period cycle is irregular, and I am under therapy right now

I don’t have any particular role model as such, but what inspired me were the people around me. My mother was always there for me. My father used to work abroad back then, but he left everything behind to stay by my side and read intensively about the treatment. He educated me as well. The doctors, hospital staff, and each of my family members supported me. I invested my time in reading books, writing my book on cancer and watching a lot of cookery shows.

I do not have any message for cancer patients, but I would like to educate all those who are around cancer fighters. Please do not create a difficult environment through constant advises, questions and tips on battling cancer. Rather support them through your positivity, prayers and unconditional love. No pain is small, and it’s commendable how humans are always ready to run the extra mile to fight such fatal battles.

That Girl in the black hat - Cancer Book
Steffi Mac's book about her cancer journey