I was 35 when I was first diagnosed with breast cancer. I was lying in bed one night when I felt a lump on my right breast and thought it was odd. I asked my husband if he thought so, too, and he suggested that I get it checked. When I went to the doctor, he told me I was too young to have breast cancer, but to be sure, we would take a sonogram.
The sonogram did show the lump, but the doctor did not think it was cancerous. But he asked me to go for a mammogram to be entirely sure. The technician who did the mammogram saw the results and suggested a biopsy, so I did that too, and a week later, I was diagnosed with cancer.
My first reaction to the news
I remember that I was at work when I got the call from the doctor. I had been bugging my gynaecologist for a while about the results because I did not want to begin the weekend without knowing what it was. I got the call on Friday evening, and the doctor told me I should come for a consultation on what to do next after the holiday.
I felt the ground slip from under my feet when I heard the news. I thought of my son, who was barely two years old and the things happening in his life that I would miss, and those thoughts terrified me, and I was utterly taken aback.
Treatments I underwent
This was back in 1997, so there weren’t any advanced, targeted treatments. The doctors checked my Oestrogen and Progesterone levels and found that my hormones were not feeding cancer, so we went ahead with chemotherapy. The drug they gave me was nicknamed the “Red Devil” because it makes the patient feel horrible. I underwent surgery, four rounds of chemotherapy, and 36 rounds of radiation.
At that time, I was so caught up in worrying about my son and what would happen that I did not think about taking any alternative treatments. It was not until years later that I understood how complementary therapies work.
I started reading a lot about the diagnosis and treatment of cancer and began Cure Magazine in 2003. It was a very new thing in America then, and the idea was to help lay people understand cancer so that they can get a better diagnosis and know about all the best treatments for their cancer.
In 2006 one of my friends got diagnosed with the same cancer that I had, but she was not responding to the treatments as I did. This was an eye opener for me, and I understood that each person reacts differently to different treatments.
My family’s reaction to the news
When I was diagnosed the first time, we were given the news and immediately told about how the doctors were planning to treat it, so it was mostly us focusing on the process rather than the disease. I remember one incident with my son when he was at daycare playing House and saying that his mommy’s booby was sick. The caretaker put him in a corner and told him he couldn’t say bad words.
When I went to pick him up, I was told about the incident, which made me understand that my two-year-old was trying to communicate that his mother was sick, and their first reaction was to say to him not to speak about it.
So my son and I sat down and had a fantastic conversation. We shared our thoughts and feelings, and he told me that he liked me better with hair and wished I wasn’t so tired all the time. I explained to him that the hair would grow back once I got better and that being tired and sleeping more is part of the healing process.
My experience with the doctors and medical staff
When I was diagnosed for the first time, I was utterly clueless about what to do and how to approach the whole thing. The doctors did not provide me with detailed information that would help me. They gave me the standard treatment, and luckily, the treatments worked.
I was also diagnosed at this age when there wasn’t much support available for breast cancer patients. There were a lot of support groups for older women who typically get breast cancer, and all these group meetings were in the middle of workdays, which did not work for me. That was another thing that I felt was lacking in my journey.
Another thing was that chemotherapy affects your menstrual cycle. The doctors had told me it would start again after I completed the treatment, but it didn’t. When I asked them about it, they said they had been aggressive with the treatment because I was young, and as a result, I had lost my fertility. This affected me greatly; even though I already had a kid, being infertile was never something I imagined for myself.
Lifestyle changes I made
The main change I made was getting closer to my family. I was always a busy person who had to work away from home, but after cancer, I made sure the jobs I took up were closer to home so that I could spend more time with my son.
I also completely changed my diet and started meditating. I don’t meditate as much as I should, but I try to do it whenever possible. I am turning 60 this year, and to others, it is a big deal, but I am just grateful and happy. I have a life, and I celebrate everything I have. I have a fantastic son and a wonderful husband who celebrates every day with me, and I am thankful for that.
My message to cancer patients and caregivers
When I went through my cancer journey, I initially failed to see that I had a voice and that it affected my treatment process. You need to understand that you know your body and have the power to determine the quality of your life. You should decide the kind of treatment you want to go through and can choose to live without the debilitating side effects.
I also think that treatment options are not discussed enough. There are some fantastic targeted therapies that can help patients effectively. The only problem is that the patients don’t know about it.
Summing up my journey
I believe cancer has reshaped who I think I am. I feel that before cancer, I was less confident and questioned myself a lot, but after this journey, I’ve started to believe if I can defeat cancer, I can beat anything. I think cancer has been my destiny which has led to me helping people through this journey, and it has been incredible to give the people who are struggling a helping hand. I am very grateful to have had the experience and to have survived it so that I can help others.