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Shreshtha Mittal (Breast Cancer): Thank You Cancer, for Healing Me

Shreshtha Mittal (Breast Cancer): Thank You Cancer, for Healing Me

My journey began in June 2019 when I detected a small lump in my left breast. I ignored it, thinking I couldn't possibly have breast cancer since I was too young, absolutely fit, and there was no history of cancer in my family.

Breast Cancer Diagnosis

Three months later, during a routine visit to my dermatologist, I mentioned the lump in my left breast, which had grown larger. She immediately conducted a physical examination, and her worried expression startled me. She urged me to get a sonogram immediately. Feeling the urgency, I rushed to have the test done. The radiologist detected something concerning, and the reports indicated it was of the highest grade and multiplying quickly. When I asked the radiologist what it was, she advised me to consult with a surgeon right away.

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Returning home with the reports, I found it hard to believe they were accurate. My husband and family, discussing it at our dining table, chose to dismiss the findings initially. However, the seed of doubt had been planted, so we decided to consult a surgeon.

Upon asking for recommendations in our community groups, I quickly received three referrals for oncologic surgeons. A family in my society who had referred us to their doctor connected us with a breast cancer survivor. We are immensely grateful for their help.

The surgeon examined me and initially thought the lump was small but recommended a biopsy to be sure. The results confirmed it was Stage 1 Breast Cancer. He also ordered a PET scan to check if it had spread to other organs. Fortunately, the scan showed it hadn't spread, though it appeared to be Stage 2 Breast Cancer. Each new test confirmed the diagnosis.

Determined to fight, I resolved to live fully each day, regardless of the outcome. This mindset helped me face the ongoing surprises of my cancer journey.

My husband supported me throughout. We met the survivor's family, who made us feel more hopeful. My father-in-law accompanied us to the doctor's visits, while my mother-in-law and brother-in-law struggled to accept the news, crying when the diagnosis was confirmed. I chose not to cry in front of my family to keep their spirits strong and urged them not to cry either, focusing our energy on the battle ahead.

I had not initially told my parents, but when we did, my father was visibly shaken, and my mother stepped away from the camera, unable to hold back her tears. I encouraged them not to cry, telling them their strength would help me survive. They silently agreed, and we all fought bravely against the cancer.

After my lumpectomy, the histopathology report revealed Stage 3 breast cancer, ER-PR negative, and HER2 positive.

Breast Cancer Treatment

I underwent chemotherapy for six months, followed by radiation. Simultaneously, I was on targeted therapy for a year, receiving drug infusions every 21 days.

By November 2020, I had completed my treatment. The reports showed no trace of cancer, although I was advised to continue regular follow-ups.

The lumpectomy also involved the removal of lymph nodes, imposing certain physical limitations on me. I couldn't lift more than 5 kg and had to avoid bruises or mosquito bites on my arm to prevent swelling. The treatment brought considerable discomfort; I experienced leg pain, severe nausea, and general weakness. My hair began falling out by the second cycle of chemotherapy, prompting me to shave my head, especially since I had a baby at home and wanted to avoid any mess. The medications disrupted my sleep, making rest difficult. During radiation, I suffered from fatigue, darkened skin in the treated area, and breast pain.

The emotional upheaval during treatment was significant. It was crucial to connect with loved ones, share burdens, and find relief through communication. Sharing has a healing effect. During my cancer journey, I wrote blogs, which not only served as an outlet for my emotions but also revealed my inner writer. Initially, the blogs were a personal release, but as they gained recognition and helped others, they became a source of encouragement and healing for me as well.

My Son was my Motivation

One of the greatest joys during this challenging time was having my two-year-old son by my side. As a mother, I was determined not to let my illness overshadow his need for care and attention. His presence was a blessing, helping me navigate through my treatment with greater ease. His smiles and laughter helped me momentarily forget all the pain I was experiencing. Despite the demands of his job, my husband made a concerted effort to spend quality time with our son every day, compensating for the moments I couldn't be fully present. This not only ensured our son's developmental milestones continued uninterrupted but also significantly strengthened the bond between him and his father.

Life Lessons

I learned a lot of lessons on my cancer journey. I am working on a manuscript and looking forward to publish a book about the lessons I have learned during my cancer journey.

Cancer came as a teacher and gave me so many life lessons. They say, "Our higher power decides our fate, but our choices and decisions decide our destiny", and cancer showed me that. My fate gave me cancer, but my choice and decision was how I took the entire journey. Cancer taught me that whatever challenge you have, you always have that decision in your hands.

Parting Message

"Begin with the end in mind" is particularly poignant advice, even in palliative care. When faced with the gravest prognosis, you still hold the power to shape how you'll be remembered. Make a conscious decision to live without regrets, whether you have years left or merely months.

During this time, it's crucial to connect deeply with yourself and prioritize activities that bring you joy. Practice gratitude daily and cherish even the smallest pleasures in life. Remember, energy flows where attention goes—focusing on positive aspects can help cultivate a more positive environment.

Lastly, give your best every day. For caregivers, it's important to remember self-care. Don't be overly critical of yourself in your efforts to care for a loved one. To truly provide support, you must first ensure your own health and well-being.

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