Shruthi is a postgraduate student in physiotherapy. She is a Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor. She was diagnosed with stage 4 Hodgkin’s lymphoma cancer in 2019. She underwent 12 chemotherapy sessions and now is free of cancer.
It was around 2017 when I was 19 years old. My first symptom was that I was bloated. My parents and friends used to tell me that I am putting on weight and have to maintain a proper diet. But I knew that something was wrong with my body and understood it was not a healthy weight. The second symptom was red rashes in the form of patches. As I was in the medical field I presumed it would be a rheumatoid or a similar condition given the symptoms and cancer has never crossed my mind and that would be the last thing I could imagine happening to me.
I went to our family doctor who ran a few tests and the reports didn’t show signs of cancer or anything suspicious. I believe that was the time when cancer started to develop inside my body.
After some time when the pandemic started, I was at home not attending college. I started having a persistent cough for 2-3 months and when I observed I could see nodules deep down the throat in the mirror. I felt something wrong and went to the pulmonologist. It was in March. As I worked in a government hospital during my internship period which could be a potential place for infection the doctor suspected it as a bacterial infection and prescribed antibiotics and supplements. Eventually, the cough subsided and there was no further suspicion.
One day during the internship period my friend noticed a nodule near the neck and assumed it could be TB wherein I also agreed with her thought. I ignored the nodule that has shown up as I was having fun with my friends visiting places after graduation.
In December the cough came in again harder along with back pain. Knowing physiotherapy myself I contemplated that the pain has something to do with the nodule and the infection, I concluded myself as TB. I visited the same pulmonologist and he suggested getting an x-ray along with medication for the cold and painkillers for back pain. The consultation with the doctor was online due to the pandemic. After getting the X-Ray I sent the picture of the x-ray to the doctor. The doctor said there is something wrong with my body and concluded it was TB. The doctor referred us to another pulmonologist in Coimbatore. After getting a Contrast CT scan, the reports showed a probability of Lymphoma.
Biopsy was prescribed and I have to get admitted to the hospital. That was when I started getting scared because until then as a physiotherapist I worked within the hospital and now I had to get admitted, this scenario scared me. I was convinced by the general surgeon to get admitted, as the doctor explained the procedure of the biopsy in detail. I was also stubborn to get discharged on the same day of surgery. The biopsy report came after 15 days. Those 15 days were horrendous.
The reports were a milestone of the journey. My reports stated Classical Hodgkin’s lymphoma, nodular sclerosis type. I went alone upstairs in the hospital to get the reports and when I saw the reports I was able to understand the diagnosis of cancer. Everything in front of me blurred and I sat down for a few moments letting down the tears and stabilizing myself. I told myself that this is just the diagnosis, still, there is a long way to go. I wiped off the tears not wanting to show them in front of my parents downstairs. As the diagnosis was done for both cancer and tuberculosis, I was waiting for the tuberculosis reports. While waiting there was a small hope that the report diagnosing cancer could be false and the tuberculosis report could be positive.
Tuberculosis reports came in an envelope that was negative. Not wanting to tell my mother, I told her that I haven’t read the report and let the doctor confirm them. While waiting to meet the doctor there was a time that I could speak to my father only, so I told him about the reports and he was calm asking me about the later procedure. While in the doctor’s room after cross-checking the reports the doctor asked me to wait outside. I told the doctor that I am aware of the reports that it is lymphoma and I want to stay in for the rest of the discussion to which my father also accepted and the doctor continued with the diagnosis report. The doctor told me that the cancer type I got has a lower mortality rate and is curable. We temporarily moved to Coimbatore for treatment.
After coming out of the doctor’s room, breaking the news to my mother was another milestone for me. I told her it was cancer without telling her any other details. Later I went to the general surgeon to show the report as part of the protocol. This time my mother came inside the doctor’s room, where the doctor talked very calmly and poised to which my mother was convinced.
We moved to Coimbatore then got an appointment with the oncologist that has treated my grandmother. I was told to get a PET-CT scan to diagnose the stage and the places that cancer has spread to. The reports were directly sent to the oncologist. The doctor said that it can be treatable and cancer has spread to the back which explains the back pain. Then I underwent surgery to insert a chemotherapy port as it was hard to find veins.
There was a funny memory while preparing for the surgery. I had to cut my hair and remove all the jewelry. At one point I looked like a boy. When I went in for the surgery the surgeon welcomed me by saying ‘hey gentleman, hello, how are you to which he later realized that I was a girl. I said the incident to everyone I met after the surgery and we used to laugh about it every time.
When the chemotherapy started I was able to withstand a few medications but with Dacarbazine, I was thrown off from reality and it felt like death near me. Even today I can feel the pain I felt during that time. . I had to take care of everything as I was not able to cope up with side effects and the first chemotherapy session was a nightmare. The doctors advised me to get admitted to the hospital for the second chemotherapy session as I did not do well with my first chemo session. Being stubborn I convinced the doctor to give me one chance and I’ll manage this time and be strong. I convinced myself that nausea and dizziness are just feelings and are not real. I repeatedly told this to myself as chanting and to my surprise, I was able to feel fine during the chemo session. Then I realized that it is all in my mind. Even though the chemo is painful all we have to do is believe in ourselves and our strength to complete the treatment. Throughout the journey, even the side effects were a routine.
After four sessions of chemotherapy, I was asked to get a CT scan to find out the prognosis of the treatment. The doctors then told me to get eight more chemo sessions to make sure that cancer does not relapse.
With the number of Chemo sessions progressing the side effects have worsened. Some side effects subsided after a few days. And every day I woke up stronger than the day before.
The happiest day was the day of my last chemo session. I cried with happy tears saying that this is the last one.
After the final chemo session and the CT scan, the doctor told me that I am cancer-free and asked me to the hospital for regular follow-up every three months.
Now I am cancer-free, leading a happy life studying and working.
Chemotherapy is hard, but it will treat cancer. All we have to do is to believe in ourselves, our strength and we can do it.
Do not restrict your diet unless you have other complications like blood sugar or hypertension after checking with your doctor. Food keeps our bodies sane.
Live every day to the fullest without stressing about tomorrow, because no one knows what life holds on for the next day.