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Harsha Nagi (Breast Cancer Survivor)

Harsha Nagi (Breast Cancer Survivor)

I was forty when I noticed that a part of my right breast was hard, and it would hurt if I touched it. My menstrual cycle was also delayed. I saw these symptoms in august, and I did not worry about them for around a month. When the skin was still sensitive a month later, my husband suggested I meet a gynaecologist to get an opinion. 

The gynaecologist suggested a series of tests, including an ultrasound, and they still were not sure if it was cancer because the lump was benign. The multiple tests we took showed abnormal results, so the gynaecologist recommended an oncologist for me to consult. The oncologist suggested a biopsy, and the results showed that I had stage three breast cancer. 

The beginning of the treatment process

Within a short period of ten days, the diagnosis was made, and the oncologist told me the process of the treatment. The oncologist said I would first have surgery to remove the lump, with a breast conservation surgery followed by chemo, radiation and immunotherapy. 

I was given some time to think about the process, and during that time, we did a lot of research and went for second opinions from other specialists in the area.

We concluded that we couldn't delay the surgery anymore, so on August 16th, I had breast conservation surgery. 

Recovery after surgery

It took me three weeks to recover from the surgery, and I was given some exercises and physiotherapy that I needed for my right breast since there were a few lymph nodes removed from under my right arm as well. Since I am a fitness coach, I followed all the exercises given to me very religiously, and I also took a lot of walks during recovery because I did not want the swelling and pain to increase. 

My experience with chemotherapy

After the three weeks of recovery from the surgery, I was given a two-week break before the chemotherapy sessions began. I was suggested to take eight chemotherapy cycles involving two main drugs. The chemotherapy sessions started in September and lasted for sixteen weeks, with each cycle occurring every two weeks. 

The period when I went through this process was challenging because there were a lot of side effects to the treatment. For the first four cycles, I experienced a lot of fatigue and I had a lot of heartburn and nausea. These side effects made me lose my appetite, and sometimes I would feel really hungry but could not eat anything I liked. So to accommodate my treatment, I had to start having bland food with very little oil. I even had blisters in my mouth that prevented me from eating anything that had even a little masala.

During the next four cycles, I experienced tastelessness and tiredness, which made me lose all motivation to keep up my fitness or do anything productive. My nervous system also faced many issues where I would have intense itching episodes.

Apart from these physical side effects, I also went through phases of mild depression. I was told that I would start losing my hair after the second cycle of chemotherapy, and I had nice, long hair during that time. I have wanted to cut my hair short since childhood, so I thought of this as an opportunity. But when I went to the salon, most of my hair had already started to fall from the roots, so I ended up shaving my head completely. That gave me a lot of perspective about my life during the treatment. 

People and practices that supported me during the process

My family has been the best support I could ask for during those times. Even though this news of the disease shocked them, they gave me all their love and support and were there for me throughout the process. My husband used to help me with every tiny thing I needed support for, and my parents and in-laws were very understanding and supportive. Even though they were very young, my daughters understood that something was happening and acted mature for their age. 

But one thing I understood from this journey was that only you could fully understand what you're going through, and how you treat and talk to yourself will shape your mental and physical health. Knowing what is happening with your body and having a positive outlook while going through the treatment is crucial. 

Lessons that this journey taught me

I like to write a lot, which is one of the practices I kept up during my journey. I wrote a lot of blogs as a way of expressing what I felt. Even today, I am going through preventive treatment, and when I go to the hospital, I remember some memories that are not really pleasant. When such memories resurface, I tell myself that life is like a book, and not all chapters are meant to be rosy. I tell myself that my cancer journey is just one of the chapters and not my entire life. I learned only to take the lessons that this chapter has taught me. 

The process also made me understand how expensive cancer care is, and I was lucky to be in a position where my family could manage the treatment's financial aspects without many problems.

Since then, I have always encouraged the people I know to take insurance because you never know when you will fall sick. Even in my case, I was a very healthy fitness coach, and ever since I got cancer, I have come to realise that your health is vastly different from your body's wellness, and you never really know what is happening inside your body. 

My message to the patients and their family

One thing that this journey has strongly made me understand is that health is wealth. Being in the fitness field, I believed that I was very healthy, and this disease made me realise that there was cancer growing inside me for years, and I did not even realise it. People need to learn that body fitness does not guarantee a healthy life. Wellness is a holistic journey, and you need to understand its dimensions of it.  

It is essential to take care of yourself and make sure you have regular checkups. Have a positive outlook on life. It is not always a happy, rosy picture, but how we perceive our journey helps us shape our lives.  

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