ACCEPT YOUR JOURNEY
I’m a breast cancer survivor based in Canada. Even though 2019 was a very prominent year for me, my journey started almost 15-16 years before it. I felt a lump in my left armpit and got it checked by a doctor. The doctor did not find anything dangerous and asked me to apply primrose oil, eat a healthy diet and follow a healthy lifestyle to overcome it. After some time, I felt a lump in my breast. I got it examined. The doctor told me it was benign, and it is pretty common for those over the age of 25 to get fibrocystic breasts, thus making me feel relieved. I got my ultrasound tests done every six months and did not find an increase in the size and shape of the cyst.
However, in 2018 I felt the upper side of one of my breasts move up. It felt stiff and unable to push it down. My doctor sent me for another ultrasound, post which they could not detect any changes but could handle it. I was advised to return for another appointment three weeks later. Even though a mammogram is usually not recommended for fibrocystic breasts as it only indicates the density, I still went for one. The mammogram was extremely painful, a kind of pain I had never experienced before. Post the mammogram, one of my breasts went up. I started holding the mammogram accountable and regretted getting it done. I went to the doctors, and they repeatedly kept asking me to get an ultrasound. They understood that there was something but didn’t find evidence of something suspicious in my body. I waited from August 2018 till February 2019 to meet a breast cancer specialist.
During my appointment, he left the room to ask for my biopsy report. As they were short on staff that day, I got the biopsy done the next day. The breast cancer specialist told me he was concerned about me. I had my tickets booked to leave for Mexico on holiday. The doctors, however, asked me to wait until my results came. I was alarmed when I heard that because I understood something was fishy. It all seemed absurd, too, as, for eight months, I was constantly told that there was nothing wrong with my body, and I was over-worrying. After the results came, the doctors called me to their office and said it was Stage-3 Cancer. I was told it was spreading to the lymph nodes, and the right side of my body was getting impacted. I was unable to go on the holiday I had planned, as due to my health issues, it would require travel insurance to cover it if something happens on the trip.
After the diagnosis, I became a famous person! I started getting calls for CT scans, MRI scans, etc., which made me wonder where these people were when I’d told them that something was happening with my body. I even decided to go for a short haircut as I was aware I would lose all my hair shortly. That time was tough, but my husband and I adapted to the circumstances. At that time, I decided to open a public Instagram account and use it as a medium for sharing my story and a public journal. It also became a platform vis-à-vis connecting with like-minded people. It felt like a support group.
Before my chemotherapy started, the doctors told me they spotted something in my MRI spreading to my chest and ribs. They said it might not be Stage-3 cancer, but Stage-4. I was even told that chemotherapy might not work for me. It was highly distressing. Eventually, I started with one chemotherapy session per week. I began to shed hair by the 14th day and decided to shave my head completely. The process of losing my hair was arduous. I kept continuing with the chemotherapy, but the oncologists kept telling me they didn’t know if it’ll work or not. There were spots on my ribs, back and even pelvic area, but I could not get a bone biopsy done as they were pretty minuscule. I found other treatments too, but as they weren’t covered by health insurance, they would end up being entirely unreasonable. My doctors discouraged me from getting them as they were trials. I was told there was no point in giving myself false hope as I had around six months to live. That time was infused with immense sadness for my husband and me.
A ray of hope emerged after a CAT scan carried it after my third chemotherapy session. The doctors noticed that the cyst had shrunk. The doctors were apprehensive about continuing with the same harsh and invasive treatment, but I had my mindset. It was milking good results, and I decided to continue with it. After three more rounds of the same treatment, the doctors noticed the cyst had shrunk even more. The next step usually in such cases is mastectomy, which again the doctors were concerned about cancer spreading to different parts of the body and was not just confined to the breasts. I was pretty firm on the idea of getting a mastectomy and decided to go for it. However, I was fearful of not having my breasts post-surgery. The thought of having plastic surgery to get reconstruction done also popped up in my mind.
But it was followed by many demerits like not being able to get MRI scans, the surgery being tiresome, etc., which made me change my mind. I went for a double mastectomy as I did not want to be constantly worried about my other breast. My body took some time to recover, and I even ended up getting an infection. Soon after, I went in for radiotherapy and had sixteen sessions to work on my lymph nodes. It led to massive improvement, and the doctors could take out the cancerous lymph nodes. During that time, the doctors found that the left breast also had cancerous lymph nodes that the tests couldn’t detect. I was called wise by the doctors to get a mastectomy on my left breast as well. I was surprised at how quickly I got accustomed to the idea of not having breasts. I accepted my body wholeheartedly, and it didn’t make any difference.
These treatments were followed by hormonal therapy, wherein I had to get monthly shots to control hormone production. This was when I got the idea to get my uterus removed, which again was dissuaded by the doctor as it shunned my chances of getting pregnant in the future. I thought about the prospects practically and decided to go for the removal, as I knew if I planned to get pregnant, it would harm the baby and me. I got my uterus removed in October 2020. I’m continuing with hormonal therapy, and the treatments as specific cells wouldn’t have gotten detected.
I call myself a cancer survivor, even though others don’t. My journey has taught me to trust my gut. I was told I had only six months to live but look at me today. It has been 2.5 years, and I’m still alive!
My advice to other breast cancer patients would be to accept the circumstances. One needs to realize that you haven’t done anything to deserve it. It can happen to anyone. Accept the stress, and don’t punish yourself for it. Understand that the treatments are necessary for you. If you wake up one day and feel no pain in your body, possess gratitude for it. You have today; you have now. You know your body better than anyone else. Do whatever is good for your mental health and makes you happy. And in all honesty, I loved my journey!