In 2016, I noticed something in my breast that was the size of a peanut, but I was not too worried about this because my mother used to have fibroids in her breast that were there for 20 years and dissolved later. So, I related the lump with that and did not think much about it. Even the doctors I approached were very sure it was not cancer because I was just 32 years old. I met a homoeopathy doctor who told me the same thing.
I was very much into exercise and sports during that time, and I experienced a lot of pain in my underarm, shoulder and back, as a result of which I had to give up playing sports and going to the gym. This made me curious about my body because by then, my breast had started shrinking, and my stools were completely black. I started googling my symptoms, and I had all the signs that a cancer patient has.
After this, I kept asking the homoeopathy doctor if I needed to take tests to make sure it wasn’t cancer, and he kept telling me that he was sure it was not cancer. This continued for months, and my symptoms kept getting severe with time.
A year later, in 2017, the peanut-sized lump had grown significantly, and finally, the homoeopathy doctor asked me to do the tests I had been reading about. I finally went for a mammogram with a friend’s help, which showed that I had an advanced stage of cancer. The doctors yelled at me for not doing the tests earlier and told me it was best I started the treatment immediately.
Except for my father’s aunt, no one else in my family had cancer, so I am not sure if I can call this genetic.
Our first reaction to the news
When the Oncologist first broke the news to me, I felt completely numb, and the doctor had to shake me to bring me back to my senses, and I was in tears. The doctor told me a beautiful thing; he told me that many people give up as soon as they hear that they have cancer, but ultimately it is your choice whether you want to be a victim or a winner. You might lose this battle, but it doesn’t hurt to try. Those words stuck with me, and for the first 24 hours after I heard the news, I cried, and after that, I accepted it and looked at what I should do next.
My brother was getting married at the same time, so I kept the news to myself till the wedding was over, and it was very hard for me. I was going around giving tests during the day and attending the wedding rituals in the evening.
The next day after his wedding was over, I spent around 6 hours in the hospital collecting all the reports, and I finally met my Oncologist, who told me there were two ways to go with the treatment. One was giving chemo through a catheter, and the other was through a chemo pod.
I chose the chemo pod because, at that point, I was the family’s breadwinner and needed to be up and moving. The chemo pod was the more practical option, and I got the surgery done that day. They inserted the chemo pod on the right side of my neck, and that evening I told my family that I had cancer and was undergoing treatment.
The happy celebratory mood of the wedding completely shifted, and the whole family became sad and cried a lot because, in their mind, I was going to die. I had to sit them down and tell them that I was not giving up and that cancer was just another challenge for me. I also made it very clear that they couldn’t keep being this negative if they wanted to support me and told them that I could move somewhere else if they were not ready to give me the support I needed. They took around twenty days to come around, but after that, they were supportive.
Things that kept me going through the journey
As I mentioned before, I was the family’s breadwinner, and I knew that if I wanted to survive, I had to earn the money I needed. So, I was working through the treatment and was active. I went for the treatments alone and exercised as much as possible, and since the gym was just five minutes away from the hospital, I used to spend time with my friends there and then go for the chemo sessions.
Through all of these things, my family was supportive and made sure they did not interfere in anything I was doing. I have taken six rounds of chemotherapy and 36 rounds of radiation along with two surgeries, and through all of this, they never questioned why I was going alone or working. That support was a source of great comfort for me.
Meals of Happiness
I related to these kids because there were times when I was young when we could not afford food. So I began this NGO called Meals of Happiness that helped provide the under-privileged with food, and that served as a source of motivation for me to fight cancer. I believe this was more of a medicine to me and, in a way, saved me.
A beautiful thing happened while I was going through the treatment. A few kids came to me one day and asked me for money for food because they were starving, and I took them to a fast food shop to buy them food. I was supposed to buy them one food packet, but by the end, we had five packets because they pestered me to get some for their siblings who were home. The whole time I was so involved with them and happily laughing, I had completely forgotten I was going through cancer.
Learnings that cancer taught me
Don’t be scared of others’ opinions; when you get diagnosed, take it as a blessing. Because at least now, you know what is wrong and can start the treatment for the problem. The second thing is never to ignore the symptoms you get. You should check the suspicious things in your life and not become your doctor.
The third thing is that people should see cancer as just a disease they can overcome. It is not the end, and if you have strong willpower, you can overcome it.
My message to cancer patients and caregivers
Cancer can be a painful process, but you have to give your body the freedom to go through the treatment. You have to believe that you have the power to overcome the disease, and you have to tell yourself that you are capable of overcoming this. If you are going through this journey, you should understand that no one is stronger than you and believe in yourself ultimately.
I believe that the caregivers are angels. There are still a lot of gaps in sharing information about cancer and everything associated with it, which is why I think caregivers should share their stories too to bring more awareness about this disease.