I am Snehal Ponde, 38 years old, based in Singapore for the last two years. I am a mother of an 18-month-old toddler. And I am undergoing treatment for my breast cancer.
It all started with breast engorgement
I delivered my baby in April 2020, and breastfeeding was very difficult for me. One of my breasts was always engorged. I tried different home remedies, but they did not work. I tried heat packs and massages, and I used to get up every two hours at night to pump out my breast milk. Despite feeling something was amiss, I decided to postpone my visit to the hospital as Singapore was in its circuit breaker. However, I thought it was high time to call in a lactation consultant to help me with my declining breast milk supply by August. There was no lump, and the lactation consultant suspected that it might be mastitis, a common breast infection that nursing mothers face. She then recommended a breast doctor to me.
Breast cancer diagnosis
The doctor performed a 15-minute procedure called fine-needle aspiration biopsy, in which a small tissue or fluid from her left breast was removed with a needle attached to a syringe.
After a couple of days, the clinic called asking me to return – and bring my husband along. I wondered, what did she need my husband for? When we reached there, the doctor informed me about my cancer. I don’t remember much of that conversation because it was shocking to hear that I have cancer. After that, there was a marathon of tests. An ultrasound, biopsy and PET scan revealed stage four metastatic breast cancer, which had spread to my lungs, liver and bones.
My first reaction
My first reaction was that I was going to die. Especially when I came to know that it is stage 4 cancer, I must confess that the internet is a very scary place for reading about cancer. I could not believe it; I was numb for such a long time. I didn’t have a family history of cancer, nor did I know anyone who had cancer. I was also worried about navigating the treatment and recovery process, including getting a second medical opinion in a new country and environment.
Pregnancy-related breast cancer
When I asked the doctor about my possible reason for cancer, they did not have an answer to that. They said it could be related to pregnancy since my cancer is estrogen positive. And during pregnancy, you do have a high amount of estrogen in your body, so that could be a reason, but doctors are not sure.
Treatment side effects
I underwent hormonal therapy and chemotherapy as a part of my breast cancer treatment. Hormonal therapy was in the form of a tablet. Then I went through chemotherapy—twenty-four cycles of chemotherapy with three different drugs. I am still undergoing treatment with chemotherapy.
I felt like a victim for a long time. ‘Why me’ was haunting me. What did I do wrong? Did I not eat right? Did I not exercise? When my chemotherapy started, I started losing my hair, no eyebrows, no eyelashes. When I looked in the mirror, I felt terrible. I was not able to recognise myself. That was very weird. I had stopped going outside and meeting people.
My body and self-esteem also took a massive hit from the chemotherapy, from my changing appearance to fatigue and nausea. My hair started falling out, and I was bloated. All these side effects had a very negative impact on me.
One of my friends is a councilor. She helped me come out of it. The first thing she insisted on me was to accept it. She helped me deal with all my fears.The kind of support system I had was incredible. My mother-in-law had come to help me with my baby. She came a month before my delivery, and she has still been with us. It has been almost one and a half years. Cancer is a mind game. How you look at it, mentally and emotionally, is equally or sometimes more important than what is happening to your body.
Cancer taught me who is important and what is important. My kid is the biggest motivator to fight this battle. I do regular exercise, cycling, yoga, I just try to see what is working and what is not working. ‘You have cancer’ is a very painful word. But it is always good to remember that you are not alone. It is okay to reach out for help. It is not a sign of weakness. Cancer is a mind game. Any healing will begin when you start accepting that you have cancer. In our entire race of physical health, we can not ignore our mental and emotional well-being. I still feel low sometimes but now I know how I can manage it.
I started loving myself and started taking care of myself. Self-care is something that we never do. We should take care of ourselves as much as we should.
ZenOnco.io is really doing a great and noble job. I saw how ZenOnco began. It is an emotion. Mission and vision of ZenOnco is so powerful. You do not only look at the medical side but all the side like emotional, financial everything. It is a tremendous job. I feel privileged to be associated with ZenOnco in any way. It is wonderful work you guys are doing.