My story started in 1995 when I was in the last year of my graduation. I was losing weight rapidly but was too busy with my studies and kept ignoring it. I didn’t have much courage to tell my parents I was having stomach pain. Only later did I discover I had a giant tumour in my stomach.
Stomach Cancer Diagnosis
I fainted once in college, but I requested my friends not to tell my parents because I was unsure how they might react. I was asking myself, is everything okay with me? Have I done something wrong? I consulted the doctors and was eventually diagnosed with Stomach Cancer.
Stomach Cancer Treatment
Cancer was considered a death sentence at the time. We didn’t think of the treatment or how it happened, but everyone thought I would die. My first Surgery happened on 13th November 1995. I was 20 years old at that time. My mother took me to the doctor on a national holiday. The doctor told my mother my condition was terrible and I would survive only for two to three months. My first reaction was, “How can I die like this?
Later, I took radiation and Chemotherapy also.
Everyone started discussing who would marry me when I was out of my surgery. And who will take care of me after my parents? I was educated, and I did my graduation from one of the best colleges in Delhi, but they were unsure whether I could take care of myself.
When everything was on track, cancer came again in 1998 in Renal Cell Carcinoma. The doctors removed my kidney because the cancer was already at the last stage. I was so busy with my professional life that I ignored my health.
The second time was more challenging since it was not just cancer but also the memories of the first cancer. I knew how much Surgery, Chemotherapy and radiation would affect me, and I never wanted to revisit those days. I was able to manage the first time because everything was new, and I was relatively young to give the thought that I would die. During my Stomach Cancer treatment, I could not speak for two days. I was not able to accept it. I had always followed a healthy lifestyle, not eating out, always on time, and doing everything perfectly, and I was dejected, thinking about how it could have happened to me.
The second time, the treatment started with the memories of the Stomach Cancer journey, and I was scared of the pain, chemotherapy, radiation and blood investigations. But my mother was powerful; she told me, “If you want to die, then don’t go for treatment. You will have Pain, but if you can bear the Pain to die, why can’t you bear that Pain to get the treatment?
It was on 4th October 1998 when I had my second Surgery. The Surgery went well; the doctors removed my right kidney. To remove the kidney, the doctors also had to remove a little bit of the rib. I was in a very critical situation at that time. Later, my Chemotherapy and radiation started, and my health started deteriorating. I started getting continuous fever and had a lot of Pain. The doctors used to remove pus from my stomach four-five times a day, which was very painful.
Going into a Coma
Cancer is as much a mental disease as it is a physical disease. We create problems in our minds that do not happen to us in real life. One day, my mom had to deposit some cash in the morning and be away from me for six-seven hours. I was in such a mental state that I could not think it would take her six-seven hours to return because she was the only person with me during the entire treatment. My brother was very young, and my father could not handle me. I started thinking she had left me and would never return because she had gotten tired of my Pain and illness. I thought the hospital staff would throw me out the following day since I didn’t have money. I was thinking about all these things for three hours, so I ended up in a coma. Incidentally, it was my birthday, 24th December 1998, and I was in a coma.
When I woke up, it was summer. I was scared of sleeping. When I came out of the coma, I was entirely in a very rigorous state. I was not even able to get a glass of water by myself.
Once, I was in a wheelchair outside the radiation room, and someone hit the chair because there was a lot of rush. My neck fell on the other side, and I was so weak that I couldn’t get my head back and started bleeding. My mother had gone to the doctor to get some reports, and when she returned, she cried a lot thinking about why she had left me even for a moment. After leaving the coma, I had three drain bags and weighed just 24 kg.
My mother never left me. She used to massage me, thinking it would comfort me. She used to cry a lot when I lost my hair because I had long hair, but she never cried before. He used to pray to God to take me with him. She also had diabetes and used to think about what would happen to me because I was too weak. No one excepted that I could do anything by myself. No one expected I would be okay or gain some strength; everyone was so worried. Later, by April 2000, I started walking again.
My Caregiving Journey
In 2001, my mother was diagnosed with advanced-stage Cervical Cancer and passed away in 2004. When my mother was admitted to the hospital for her Surgery, the same doctor who operated on me operated on my mother too.
In 2005, my brother got diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and he recovered, but in 2008, he relapsed. Again in 2011, it relapsed, and in 2013, he passed away. My brother fought from 2005 till 2013. He had epilepsy, tuberculosis, jaundice and pneumonia, but he never stopped fighting; internal strength matters a lot.
My mother and the whole family went through a lot. I believe that as much as cancer is a patient’s journey, it is also a caregiver’s. There are doctors to ask patients what they are going through and everything, but no one is there to ask caregivers whether they ate something or not, took rest or not. When I was a caregiver, my mother asked me to rest because she had been at my place and knew what caregivers go through. It is a challenging journey for the caregivers too.
You can come out of it, but you will need support from someone who would never let you down, like my mother, who never gave up on me. She used to scold me for eating something. She used to put oil on my head, hoping I would get my hair back soon. I have long hair and everything today, but my family is not there. The person who was supposed to die 26 years back is alive, but the family who cared for her is not there. Life is very unpredictable. Taking care of yourself and not giving up is very important.
My Blessed Half
I was married in a wheelchair with three drain bags. My husband told my family that he wanted to marry me. My doctors and parents asked him not to marry me because everyone thought I could not do anything; I could not even cook food for him. My husband is a healthy person, and when I asked him why he wanted to marry me, he said one thing: “If a woman can fight so many diseases all alone, then no matter what the situation is, she will never leave me. He said, “I want a person who never leaves me and will be vital in every life situation. He also told me that “You don’t think that I am a selfish person since I decided to marry you because I know you will never leave me or betray me and support me in any situation. I am not doing any favour to you; I am doing a favour to myself.
His family and friends left him because he was getting married to me. They didn’t want him to spoil his life by marrying someone who was not sure she could survive. Also, they were concerned that if cancer relapsed again, who would manage the finances and do the household chores? Everyone was against him, but he was steadfast. My doctors showed him my CT scans, discharge reports and everything, but he said, “I don’t want to see these; I just know her as a person. You know how she is physically inside, but I know what she is inside as a strength, as a person. I am not marrying a cancer survivor; I am marrying someone fighting cancer with all the bravery.
We have completed 20 years of marriage, and my son is now 14 years old and proud of me. When I conceived, every doctor told me that my child would have significant health issues, but when he was born, he was born with 11 other children in the hospital, and he was the only child without jaundice. He was the healthiest child out of those ten children. I believe that when you trust yourself and want to live, you can change your life.
In these 20 years, he never mentioned that I had any health issues. Even though it took two-three years, his family also accepted me. I feel I am very blessed.
Lessons from Cancer Journey
My cancer journey taught me a lot of things. Had I not been diagnosed with cancer, I would be one of those South Delhi girls who love partying, but I would never be “The Kaajal Palli that I am today.
Once, I was walking through the hospital, and a woman crossed me and asked, “Kaajal, you are still alive? I did not have any answer to give her; I just said yes, and she started crying, saying that if I could survive, her daughter could also survive cancer. That experience touched me. That is what I want from my life now; people should see me and believe that if I can do it, they can too.
Before cancer, I was a free bird kind of person. I was doing everything perfectly; I never thought anything like cancer could happen to me. When I realized I had cancer, I calculated what I did wrong but found no reason.
I run marathons and running and Yoga is the best part of my routine. I eat everything but take care of the timing, which is essential. I wake up at 4 a.m. and do meditation. I ensure I go in the sun because connecting to nature is very important.
You have to shift your focus from your problems to what you can do with whatever you have. Today, I am an entrepreneur, spiritual healer and have won many awards for my work with cancer patients. I am the same person who people thought would die 26 years back.
Respect your life, body and yourself. If you cannot love yourself, then you cannot love anyone. Don’t fool yourself that you are not taking care of yourself because of other work; it is because you don’t love yourself. Your first responsibility is your body. Keep your health a priority. No one can take your Pain except you, so take care of yourself.
When I got cancer and was coming out of it, I used to think that if I died, how many people would want to come to my funeral? I started thinking that at least 1000 people should attend the funeral when I die. Now, I think at least 5000 people will come. I feel that when we go, we should go by leaving an impression on everyone.
Don’t meet negative people or people who tell you you will not survive or have an everyday life. Keep yourself positive; for that, you need positive and good people around you who can tell you everything will be fine.
It’s been 26 years since I survived cancer. Don’t think of cancer as a death sentence; it is just a medical condition.