Breast Cancer Diagnosis
It was the beginning of May 2014. There was a feeling of heaviness in my left breast, together with a grim foreboding that something was seriously wrong. The next day, I decided to visit our family hospital. Earlier investigations (an FNAC test and a mammogram) conducted years ago, had revealed a small harmless lump that had been left untouched on the advice of the lab technician. Negative thoughts now crowded the mind even as I tried to maintain the outer calm. I recalled my sister-in-law’s husband’s words. A renowned surgeon, he had then advised me that any kind of tumor, benign or malignant, small or significant, should be removed immediately to avoid any future complications. In retrospect, his words seemed prophetic!
The next day, the routine tests were done. The sonography revealed something suspicious, and the look on my sister in law’s face said it all! The first operation took place on the 5th of May and the lump was extracted. During the surgery itself, my sister-in-law’s husband had an inkling of what would follow, but he considered it prudent to wait for the biopsy report to arrive a couple of days later. Those were anxious days of waiting, the mind playing games, swaying to and fro like a pendulum between hope and fear. Honestly, nothing can prepare one for such an eventuality unless one has mastered the art of living in the moment in all practicality!
The children were informed vaguely so as not to burden them with undue anxiety. Anil, my brother and a Vipassana assistant teacher was away, conducting a course and kept abreast of the developments. He sensed my mental state and shared the Buddha’s wise and relevant words – “Change is never painful; the resistance to change is painful.” He exhorted me, “This human birth is for a higher purpose. Never let that out of your sight.”
Finally, the D-day arrived, and the biopsy report confirmed that I indeed had breast cancer. The prognosis was quite good; it was Stage 2 breast cancer, and I had good chances of recovery. I still vividly remember the scene; the initial reaction was of shock and disappointment, but soon the waves of turbulence subsided, and I felt somewhat relieved because the suspense was finally over. The mind games had come to an end, and the speculation was over; the matter finally put to rest. I resolved to fight this battle head-on.
Breast Cancer Treatment
Soon after, I underwent the second operation on the 14th of May, wherein the affected organ and the lymph nodes were removed adeptly by a cancer surgery specialist aided by my sister in law’s husband. The following days were fraught with bouts of physical pain abetted by the immobility of the affected arm. Twenty-one days later, the chemotherapy sessions began with four cycles of ‘Fac’ succeeded by another four rounds of ‘Taxol.’ After the second chemo, the adverse effects of intravenous transmission of medication became apparent. I got a ‘chemo port’ transplant done on the timely advice of my daughter, who had access to invaluable feedback provided by a friend’s mother who was in an advanced stage of cancer and from other acquaintances facing similar circumstances. It was a very helpful alternative which minimized the adverse effects of intravenous transmission by eliminating the need for needle sticks, thus reducing the risk of infection, swelling in the affected arm, skin irritation, and damage to the tissues. The initially planned four cycles of ‘Taxane’ with three weeks of intermission between each were converted to 12 cycles separated by a week’s interval to allow for a diluted form of medication that would be easy on the already weakening physical frame. Finally, I took radiation treatment as well, which was now a cakewalk compared to the earlier taxing chemo. It was almost a year by the time the regular visits to the hospital ended. What a relief!
A Healthy Lifestyle
As suggested by my daughter, I followed a strict diet regimen, which was instrumental in fighting off the disease, in keeping me strong enough to face and withstand the side effects of chemotherapy medication and nurture the body back to its healthy state. She was, in turn, guided and briefed by a close associate whose mother was undergoing treatment for an advanced stage of breast cancer. He had done a good deal of research to arrive at a wholesome, balanced diet that served to keep the body alkaline and starved off the cancer cells.
- Avoid sugar entirely as cancer cells thrive on it. One can consume it in natural forms like fruits etc.
- Reduce intake of common salt, switch to natural forms like rock and black salt in moderation.
- Avoid refined flour, wheat flour (because of gluten). Switch to cereals like sorghum (jowar), pearl millet (bajra), finger millet (ragi), buckwheat (kuttu), amaranth (rajgira), green gram (moong) etc.
- Avoid dairy products or consume them in moderation as they are acidic. Try tofu, soya-based products.
- Say NO to bakery products and processed foods.
- Try natural, cold-pressed (kachi ghani) oils and leave out double, triple refined ones.
- Start your day with a glass of fresh wheatgrass juice in the morning. I grew mine in a handful of pots in the balcony.
- Switch to green tea, ginger tea, lemon tea.
- Have soaked nuts like almonds, walnuts, pecans, and after a while, soaked raisins, figs, and apricots.
- Consume a good deal of fruits daily, preferably on a relatively empty stomach after tea or breakfast (fruits are mildly or moderately acidic but essential for their nutritional value). First, take sweet fruits, which could include banana, apple, papaya, mango, sapota (chikoo), and custard apple (sitafal). An hour later, have citrus fruits like orange, sweet lime (mosambi), pomegranate (anaar), grapes, and berries. After some time, consume watery fruits like watermelon or muskmelon.
- At noon, enjoy a glass of raw or slightly boiled vegetable juice, which is highly alkaline. This could include bottle gourd (lauki)/cucumber/green apple/carrot/beet, tomato, and greens like a handful of spinach/mint/basil/coriander, a piece of ginger, fresh turmeric, and 1-2 lemons.
- Lunch should ideally commence with raw salad, then cooked veggies, dal, multi-grain chapatis etc.
- About 2 hours later, have two glasses of raw vegetable juice.
- Have warm lemon water or lemon shots (undiluted form) a couple of times during the day as it is alkaline.
- In the evening, you can munch nuts, channa, or savor any fruit.
- For dinner, have soup, cooked veggies, moong dal chilla, oats, upma, etc.
- Finally, relish a glass of nut milk (almond/cashew powder with a pinch of nutmeg (jaiphal)).
- Walking is a must as it keeps the body oxygenated. Simple yoga and breathing exercises are highly recommended.
- Keep yourself engaged in hobbies like reading. I enjoyed quilling, a craft activity.
- Last but not least, meditate regularly. It worked wonders for me!
Family – Pillar of Support
This challenging phase of my life had a silver lining – it knitted my family closer, cemented relationships further, and forged a stronger bonding as each one played a role, crucial and relevant!
My daughter, who was working abroad, flew to be with me during these times. She guided me precisely about the diet plan and measures to be taken during the chemo sessions to alleviate the pain and minimize the side effects. For instance, on her instructions, my husband set an alarm for three consecutive nights after a chemo session, wherein he would wake me up, give me a glass of water to drink, and I would then relieve myself; all this every 1-2 hours to mitigate the harmful burning sensations in the aftermath of the strong medication. In all, she was my emotional anchor!
My son was busy studying engineering in Vellore, but our telephonic conversations and his light and witty banter would lift my spirits high. It is amazing how children can display such levels of maturity and resilience during these moments, transforming the whole process into a practical learning experience!
Anil, my elder brother, who rarely shows up at home due to his commitments, actually took weeks off to spend time with me. We went for slow, short walks together, which I maintain is very beneficial in this period. His stories, interesting anecdotes, and advice on how to approach life, to embrace both the good and the not so seemingly good, and to prepare for this life-journey in right earnest helped me sail through moments when lingering doubts would assail the mind, or debilitating pain would cripple the physical body.
Sunil, my younger brother, donned the role of a physio to perfection, goading me to exercise my arm twice a day. Even tears in my eyes at times were not enough to melt his steely resolve. His firm stand eventually served to ensure that I developed no major swelling or hardness in the affected organ, and it soon bounced back to its normal self!
Veenu, my younger brother’s wife, attended to the kitchen and the constant stream of visitors in the initial months.
Kavi bhaiya (my brother-in-law), Jaya (his wife), and the kids were always by our side during crucial points of the treatment. Visits by close friends and relatives ensured a strong moral support.
My husband, a carefree, jovial, and happy-go-lucky person, had now his hands full; taking care of the grocery, making juices, giving medicines, ensuring that I was limping back to normalcy slowly and surely!
Don’t take cancer as a dreadful disease; it may be a bit painful, but treat it like any other normal disease. Use it as an opportunity to understand who you are. Try to focus on the physical and mental aspects by following a good diet and doing meditation. Do the things you love; enjoy what you do, and be mindful of what you do. Try to come out of it and lead a better life and help others.