I am Anuja, and I will be sharing my mother’s cancer journey. She was a pancreatic cancer patient who passed away in 2011. Cancer treatment has come a long way since that time. We did not have cancer care camps or healing circles where we could talk about our doubts and queries and gain support from people who were going through similar things.
My mother was very hale and healthy, and she was diagnosed with cancer when she was 54 years old. It started when she had a high fever which lasted for 20-25 days, in 2010. The doctors took multiple tests to determine why she had that fever. They could not find the cause of the fever, and the testing lasted two to three months. Finally, we went to the Delhi Institute of Liver and Biliary sciences, where we got the diagnosis. She was admitted there for a few days, and we were informed that it was stage 2 pancreatic cancer,
There is a specific cancer marker test called the CA 19 test, and I would recommend anyone going through unexplainable symptoms take this test. My mother had multiple MRI scans and tests, and it was finally concluded that she had CA pancreatic cancer in the head. We consulted numerous doctors, and there were different opinions on her treatment plan; and we finally went to AIIMS, Delhi, where she successfully underwent 12 cycles of chemotherapy.
Unfortunately, the cancer relapsed after seven months and spread to the liver, lungs and other body parts. We had a few surgical procedures done, but it was shattering to see my mother, a Botany professor, who went to work every day, suddenly become so sick within three months that she couldn’t even do her daily activities. I was the eldest child, so it was my responsibility to take care of her.
I emphasise on noticing the symptoms early on and getting a proper diagnosis because it can make all the difference; the initial symptoms she had were loss of appetite and a rise in sugar levels. The doctors during that time did not connect the increase in sugar levels to problems in the pancreas, but it is an important aspect that should be considered. Another significant symptom was the weight loss that she experienced, which happened gradually over two months. She lost around 10-15 kgs.
The doctors suspected problems with the liver, and none of them even thought about the pancreas. My mother also had multiple ultrasound scans, which did not detect cancer. There was no family history of cancer as far as I know, but during her treatment, we learned that this cancer has a genetic component.
Our first reaction to the news
Even Though the news shocked us, our whole family was hopeful till the last minute. We, for some reason, believed that she would somehow recover from this, but now that I think about it, I feel that my mother deep down knew she would not survive this, although she never disclosed these thoughts to us.
We all got hopeful when she responded well to the first few chemo cycles. The first four chemotherapy cycles improved her condition, and she even regained her appetite, but when she reached the seventh cycle, her condition got worse.
Alternative treatments we tried
We had to ensure that her platelet count was stable because we knew chemotherapy would affect it, and maintaining a healthy count was essential to continue the treatment. As a means of alternative therapy, the main thing we followed was having wheatgrass juice regularly. This helped maintain her platelet count.
Our emotional well-being during the cancer journey
Emotionally it was a very tough time for all of us. My dad had an accident while we were going through this, and he was bed-ridden for some time, and that took a greater toll on our life. I worked in Bangalore during that time, so I had to constantly shuttle between the two places to care for my mother and work simultaneously.
But my mother never admitted that she was going through a difficult time. She even told me she would travel to Bangalore with me when she gets better. I have seen what a patient goes through with the treatment and how weak it makes the body, but she was very strong through the journey.
One thing we as a family feel is that we lost the critical three months in the diagnosis process. Maybe if we had diagnosed the disease in time, things would have been different.
But during this difficult time, I think God only gave me the strength to go through it. The family and relatives were the best support we could ask for. Another thing that is very important to help you go through this is the financial stability to afford the required treatments and medicines, along with good people around you to support and help you through the process.
Many doctors initially suggested surgery to remove the pancreas, but a doctor in AIIMS advised us against it because it can aggravate cancer and make it spread more quickly. My mother had a stunt surgery done on the liver just for palliative care so that she experiences less pain and the doctors can monitor the enzyme levels. Other than this, the only treatment she had was chemotherapy.
Lifestyle changes that were inspired by my mother’s journey
After watching my mother go through this journey, we switched to a healthy lifestyle. We try to have an informed approach to how we live because we did a lot of research while she was going through the treatment, and we learned a lot about how nutrition and our body works.
We knew that cancer had a genetic component, so we studied what food practices aggravate cancer and learned to adapt a lifestyle that suits it.
Lessons that cancer taught us
The biggest learning that we learned was never to lose hope. We watched our mother fight the disease and never lose hope until the very end. If there is one lesson I would carry throughout my life, it is always to be brave and never lose hope.
My message to the people
My message to anyone reading would again be never to lose hope. I have seen many people survive cancer, and I am still in touch with many of them ten years later. A cancer diagnosis does not mean that your life is over. Never lose hope. You can still survive it and come out and start living your everyday life again.