Diagnosis / Detection
I will never forget the day. At the age of 30, on 12th June 2015, I was diagnosed with Stage IV Breast Cancer. I felt a lump on my breast in December 2014 but didn’t get it checked out until April 2015. I thought it couldn’t be cancer as I was too young, but no one is ever too young for cancer! I was initially told it was just a cyst, but I went in for a second opinion. Everyone needs to get a second opinion.
I had two choices – to treat this as the most terrible thing in the world or as just part of my life journey. I refused to cry and instead thought about how to take care of it and get it out of my body. My cancer was being fed by my estrogen, which was very hard to get rid of as a woman. I have suggested a very aggressive line of treatment with Chemo, radiation, mastectomy, but I refused radiation. I went through 8 months of chemotherapy and then mastectomy in Feb 2016. I went through many surgeries and removed my ovaries as my cancer was genetic.
My family is from the Caribbean, and I was advised to take Soursop (Guanabana in local dialect), which was very difficult and expensive (50$ a pound) to get in Florida. Still, I managed and began taking it regularly. I want to mention a disclaimer here as I am not a Doctor, but when I went for my checkup after a month, the tumour was shrinking even though I had undergone only one session of Chemo. The doctor said the Chemo was working, but in my heart, I knew it was my faith in the fruit…whatever one does with confidence always has positive effects.
I did anything that anyone recommended as long as it was natural and holistic and continued with the chemo sessions. My mum travelled to Florida and made a special drink with various ingredients that included molasses and aloe plants. My treatment was a combination of everything.
I would listen to Motivational videos even before all this happened as I was working on my mindset. This one video mentioned, ‘whatever your diagnostics are, it is not the final result’, which stuck onto me, and I believed it doesn’t matter what the doctors said; it was not the end of me. I had a good job in Florida, but I had to move to New York for the treatment, and it felt as if my life was falling apart. I was tired from the Chemo gained a lot of weight from the steroids; it was a very draining time – physically, emotionally, and mentally.
I journaled a lot, especially when I was feeling low; I wrote, read many books, and was among my loved ones.
I went into depression for about a year and a half to two years as I didn’t like my body with its scars from mastectomy; the reconstruction process was long and yet didn’t look good. I felt like a part of me was taken, and I didn’t look nor feel the same. I was grateful to be alive, but I was lost.
I go for a breast cancer walk in New York every year, and in 2017 when I went for the same, another woman mentioned that many people here were walking on behalf of their family member who was no longer alive! It hit me that I had survived when so many others hadn’t, which made me feel guilty, and I thought it wasn’t fair to them, which made me very sad and depressed. I didn’t share this with my family and put up a happy front, but my two kids helped me quite a bit to overcome my sadness. Also, everyone handles differently talking to other cancer survivors.
What kept me positive during the journey?
The primary motivators were my kids! I wanted to be strong for my kids, who were 11 & 9 at the time. I wanted to see them grow up, graduate, get married, and have kids.
Also, I changed my mindset on how I saw life – Before cancer, it was just work, work, and more work as I had to support my kids and pay the bills. I was working for a company where I was second in command, immediately after the owner, so everything was my responsibility, and I was very focused on my work.
During this cancer journey, I realised I was not enjoying my life, I was not enjoying my family, I was not doing things that made me happy because I was so focused on just this one thing – work! I started to see life differently and began to appreciate life. People didn’t understand why I said these things and thought I was too optimistic. But I feel that when you go through a journey like this, you have two outcomes – either you turn out better or worse. I decided to turn out better!
I felt I took life for granted, but now I don’t live like that. I enjoy every moment, I want my family, I don’t stress, and I don’t make work the whole focus of my life. Look what happened with the pandemic – we had our jobs, made work our priority, and then everything turned upside down.
The happiest thing was learning how to live, to see the beautiful things we have in life. Earlier, I would not have the time to go for a walk even though I like nature, but now I decided to make time for the things that bring peace to me, surround myself with people who would help me grow, become better, and make me happy.
Grateful in Life
My aunt was my most powerful support system, and I am very grateful. I thought it would be my mother, but God had other plans. My aunt called me and said, ‘You are not the first person nor will you be the last person to go through this, but you are strong, and God knows this, and that’s why you are going through this.’ When I went to New York for my treatment, she was with me for every doctor’s appointment, every chemo session, every surgery, and every single thing. It makes me emotional even after so long because sometimes the person you think is the least going to be there for you is the one who will be there for you the most.
Choices during the treatment
I lost 30 pounds. I started eating even better and healthy. I started drinking more water and eliminated soda from my life. I used to go out with friends earlier and drink alcohol, but now I don’t need alcohol to have a good time. Also, I am more consistent with my workouts, like 3 to 5 times a week.
I was selfish before cancer; I only cared about myself. Everybody who knows me from then says I am a different person. After cancer, I started to appreciate people and things. I used to think it was necessary to look good, spend a lot of money to look good to go to an event to impress people that I didn’t even know, and they were going to criticise me anyway! It’s simpler now. It’s like this is what I will wear because I like it.
Lessons during the Cancer Journey
Not everybody is your friend. When you are going through the most challenging moment in your life, you will get to know who cares for you. There’s always a solution for every problem. Don’t leave anything for tomorrow that you can get done today. We have this fake notion that we have tomorrow and the future. We have today, and we have now, so do it now because tomorrow is not promised. You don’t know what will happen tomorrow, so do it now.
I re-evaluated my values in life. The things that were important before cancer was work, money and material things. After cancer, it’s family. The time I get to spend with them, the memories that I get to build. I am also providing value to other people’s life. It feels so good to make somebody else feel good.
Parting Message to Cancer Survivors
If you believe that you can survive this, you will. Before I started my chemotherapy, a nurse said to me, “The difference between you surviving and not surviving is going to be up to you because of your mind.” I never allowed fear to creep in as I had to keep my mind strong. I didn’t focus on it and didn’t let it stop me. I decided to continue to live as much as I could. Throughout my chemotherapy, I went to the gym till my doctor asked me to be careful as my body wasn’t as strong as earlier.
Summing up, cancer has been the most beautiful experience I have gone through. Even though there were so many different moments, it was still a lovely experience.