I am from West Bengal, and I was working in Mumbai and had been newly married. Four months into the marriage, I noticed a lump in my breast, and my first thought wasn’t cancer. I observed it for some time and thought it might be related to my menstrual cycle or just gland swelling due to hormone change. I discovered the lump in February, waited for two months, and observed it till April.
After April, I decided to visit a gynaecologist, who also didn’t suspect much and gave me medicines for fibroadenoma – which was very common amongst women my age. I was 30 at that time. I also gave an efficacy test, which returned positive for carcinoma. I got the news on April 25th and started treatment soon after.
I went through eight rounds of chemotherapy, a mastectomy, and fifteen rounds of radiation therapy. Right now, I am on oral pills as follow-up care.
My family’s response to the news
Cancer was not something new to me. We have a family history of cancer. My mother is a cancer survivor; I have lost an aunt to cancer and have encountered cancer ever since I was a little child. Growing up, I had always known that there was a possibility that I might get affected by cancer too.
But the thing that came as a shock to me was that I was diagnosed at 29 years old. All the cases I had seen around me had been people way older. My first reaction to holding the report was that this couldn’t be right. And at such a young age, the thought of the worst happening to me did not even cross my mind. The doctor sat me down and told me that I had to break the news to my entire family and, at the same time, stay strong.
It was tough for me to convey the news to the elders of the family, I have always been an active person who is into sports, and this happening to me created a lot of anger and mistrust towards my own body. Still, I knew I had to start focusing on the treatment and plan everything smartly.
Practices I began along with cancer treatment
I stuck with what my oncologist suggested as far as the treatment was concerned. The only thing I focused on apart from the treatment was ensuring I followed a perfect diet. I ensured that my food had a lot of fruits and vegetables necessary to give me energy during the process. I knew that chemotherapy would affect my stomach, so I made sure I took food that did not aggravate my side effects. I included as much protein as I could. I am a Bengali, so I already had a lot of fish in my daily diet, and I included chicken.
As far as dairy products are concerned, I tried to find alternatives to milk and paneer that did not make me nauseous. But I made sure that I took enough dairy to keep myself healthy.
Lifestyle changes during the treatment
I was not leading a healthy life before. I was active, but the food I ate or the lifestyle I followed was never healthy. My food habits consisted of a lot of junk food, and once I started the treatment, the first thing I did was avoid junk foods altogether.
Before cancer, I did not have a regular sleep cycle either. So, that was another thing I made sure I rectified once treatment started.
Physical and mental well-being during the treatment
One of the main things I did while going through this process was look out and search for support groups that had people going through something similar. I soon learned about this person through my oncologist, who was a year older than me and was going through the same thing.
I met her in the middle of my chemotherapy sessions, and she was in the final stages of her treatment. The treatment process took a toll on my mental health because my parents, whom I am supposed to take care of, were taking care of me. I tried seeing a therapist, but online therapy was not working for me. That is when I came across this person who helped me a lot.
I had my family and friends always there to support and give me all the support that I needed throughout my journey, but at that point, all I wanted was to go out and speak to people who had had similar experiences. Even today, I have realised that in India, a lot of people are going through this process but are hesitant to talk about it.
I was conscious not to google all my treatments and medicines. I knew that doing that would not help my mental health, which is one piece of advice I would give anyone who would listen to me. I would strongly suggest that you read the success stories online. The stories that give you hope and motivation are what you need through this journey.
Things that helped me during the dark times
I made sure I kept myself engaged during the whole treatment. Apart from reading stories that motivated me, my husband and I used to watch shows on Netflix, and my work was also of great help to me.
It is easy to fall into a depression spiral while your body is not at its best. So I kept myself in a positive mindset and engaged myself throughout. People at my work were very supportive. I used to work three days a week, and that time at work helped me live a life outside my disease and treatment. These little things helped me get through each day and kept me positive through the treatment.
A few things I learned through my journey
The first thing that cancer taught me was that I needed to have a fighting spirit. I must put my head in the process and not let it overwhelm me. The second thing is to be mindful of what you consume. I would urge the patients to research their food themselves. Of course, your family and caregivers will make efforts to understand what you are going through, but it is better to do your research because you will not only know what is going on but also have something that keeps you busy.
The last thing I would tell the people going through this is to look out for support. You can get a lot of help and information, which is very important. Also, talk about your journey because you never know who is watching and listening.