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Pankaj Mathur (Sarcoma): Saw Hope In Family's Eyes

Pankaj Mathur (Sarcoma): Saw Hope In Family's Eyes

In early 2017, I noticed a swelling on my right calf that initially appeared as a tiny bump. At first, I dismissed it as a minor inflammation. However, after a few weeks, I observed that it had grown larger, resembling a hard lump. Concerned, my wife and mother urged me to get it checked.

The first doctor who examined me at AIIMS told me to undergo a fine-needle aspiration (FNAC). The test is a kind of biopsy procedure used to examine lumps and masses that might be cancerous. Still, I wasn't panicking; I genuinely thought it was going to be something minor, just an inflammation, maybe an infection, but nothing major. However, the test results were a rude shock.

However, a couple of days later, I managed to push away my fear away and go in for the Surgery to remove the lump.I was operated on within a week of my diagnosis. Doctors removed a lump just under 5 centimeters. The surgery went fine, but my recovery wasn't too smooth because a skin graft was used, and a substantial part of the skin from my thigh was removed. My wound wasn't healing fast enough. I was away from work, mostly in bed, waiting for my wound to heal. These were the days I was most scared; I didn't know what was going to happen to me.

Meanwhile, my worst nightmare had come true. The Biopsy report confirmed that I had a high-grade soft tissue sarcoma known as myofibroblastic sarcoma, it is a rare tumor prone to relapse. The reports left me totally shattered and devoid of any hope, but my family stood by me like a rock. My wound took two and a half months to heal.

After my surgery, my first set of scans were normal, but the second follow-up did not go well. Fresh scans showed two small nodules in my lungs. Once again, I found myself grappling with what this news meant. At every step of the way, I was trying to become as cancer-literate as possible! Doctors said the nodules were small, and the only thing that could be done was to wait and watch. So we waited and naively hoped for the nodules to disappear. But that obviously didn't happen. By the next follow-up, both nodules had grown considerably larger in size. The doctors were then officially convinced that my cancer had metastasized and that I had stage 4 cancer. The funny thing is that at the time, I didn't know that stage 4 was the most severe. I thought there must be a few more stages! The humor in my situation was short-lived, and I had to undergo another surgery to remove both nodules. I got the surgery done at the Tata Memorial Hospital in Mumbai in October 2018. What followed was six months of intense chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy is the actual scary part of treating cancer. I had pulled through 2 major surgeries, but chemo was a whole different ball game. On bad days, the side effects of chemo make you just about exist. I could feel myself falling into a bad place mentally. I kept thinking, 'Why me?' But then I thought to myself, when I achieved all the great things in my life like studying at an IIT, marrying my love, or working with UNICEF, I didn't question why I was chosen. I lapped up all those successes without questions. So, this too I'd have to just accept and fight on.

My 6 cycles of intense chemotherapy ended this year in February. The latest follow-up was just last week. For now, I am in remission, and I hope I stay this way. I'm trying not to think too much about the future. I take each day as it comes and set short-term goals for myself.

Cancer is scary, and people often think, 'I am going to die'. But you have to get out of that state of mind. What helped me is seeing hope in my family's eyes. I saw them fighting for me, and that helped me fight for myself.

Pankaj Mathur is now 46 and lives with his family in Jaipur. He continues to work as a Programme Specialist at UNICEF India.


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