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Swagathika Acharya (Nasopharyngeal Cancer Survivor)

Swagathika Acharya (Nasopharyngeal Cancer Survivor)

Early symptoms

When I was diagnosed with cancer, I had no idea about it. I was only 19 and was in the final years of my law degree. My life was all about fun with friends. It was all of a sudden for me. I started swelling in my neck, which was a little painful. I'm a sports person playing for my college cricket team. I had to go for early morning practice. So, doctors thought that the swelling was due to cold weather. I took antibiotics which didn't help. It all happened in October 2017. The swelling grew and covered all of my neck. I consulted with many doctors, but they all said the same thing. One of them said that the swelling might be due to gland tuberculosis. I was on medicine for tuberculosis for four months. In February 2018, I suddenly collapsed. My reports showed a WBC count of only forty thousand. One of the doctors there suspected my illness to be something different. My father's old friend helped a lot. He is a paediatrician. He insisted on performing a biopsy of neck tissues. 

My first reaction of my family and me

I was the one who opened the report. My family members were shocked. They thought that I would be shocked and upset. But I am a very positive person. But I took it well. I believe in living in the moment. If you live your present moment nicely, your next moment becomes excellent. I thought that my father was stronger than my mother. After hearing the news, my father was the one who got nervous. He thought about how I would react because anyone would be overwhelmed after being diagnosed with cancer. On the other hand, my mother stayed strong and handled the news well. 

The emotional impact on my family

When I went to Tata Memorial Hospital, the queues were very long. My father was so stressed that I often misheard what doctors said. So, I stood in the queue instead of him and even talked to doctors myself. One day, he came to my room and started crying. He said to me why he didn't get cancer instead. I consoled and explained to him that everything happens for a reason. If he had cancer, it would have been difficult for us to treat him. After seeing my optimism and courage, my parents got the strength and positivity to keep fighting.

Treatments underwent and side effects

I went to Tata Memorial Hospital. But it was crowded, and often it takes a month to get your treatment started. The doctors there suggested that I carry out my treatments in my city, where I could start my treatments sooner. I underwent three cycles of chemo and 35 sessions of radiation in Bhubaneswar. My dad's friend helped to arrange the treatments.

During my chemo, I started to lose my hair. I had long hair, and I loved them. There was hair on my bed. So, I asked a nearby Salon guy to shave my head. My parents thought that I was shocked. But I asked my friend to take a picture of me. I posted and wrote about my cancer journey online. People often see outer beauty. But beauty has no definition. I realised that I looked prettier without my hair. It was just like when we were too young and were without hair. 

Since I have had head and neck cancer, doctors have already told me about the side effects. I would get mouth ulcers, my skin tanned, and my food pipe squeezed. Slowly, side effects showed up, and my whole mouth was full of ulcers. I was on a liquid diet and took only one glass of water, barley, and rice starch each, four times a day. I almost lost my voice for four months. My parents were upset as I was a very talkative person. I used a writing pad to express my thoughts. I still have the side effects. My saliva formation has not started yet. I cannot breathe properly as my nasals are a bit stuck.

The moment when I felt like giving up

Radiation was very tough on me. I couldn't eat anything. Everyone has cravings, and so do I. After going through the food blogs and FB posts, I decided to start cooking. I cooked something new the other day and packed it in small lunch boxes. Then I sent these lunch boxes to the less privileged ones. When I saw the satisfaction on their face, I felt very nice. It gave some solace that at least I was helping them to have something nice. 

One day, I wanted to give up and take the nasal feeding. But my doctor said I want to keep it when I have covered most of the journey. This inspired me greatly, and I continued to eat without nasal feeding. 

Support system

My mother, father, uncle and aunt were there for me throughout the journey. My mother is a strong woman, and she also gave strength to my father. 

Positive outlook

I always thought of cancer as a disease. I never thought of giving up. We have two thoughts in our heads. One of them is positive, and the other is negative. I relied on positivity. My doctor said that I had two options. I could face the treatments boldly and become a winner. Another option was to cry like a little girl and give up on everything. I wasn't the one who would be scared. So, it was all normal to me. 

I kept a journal. I used to count the days left of my treatment. It helped to stay motivated. My family and friends helped me a lot through all this. My doctors helped me too. I celebrated my birthday in the hospital. My doctors gave me chocolate and asked me not to worry because I would be given a new life.

Lessons that I have learned

If someone meets with an accident, they die suddenly. They don't get any time to share any thoughts with their family. But cancer gives you time that you can spend with your family. You get a chance to say things you weren't able to say before. Another lesson I learned was that we often see how long we live. We forget about the quality of life. I also started to live in the moment. Cancer has made me a better version of myself. I feel proud of myself because I can now help other cancer patients. Cancer also lets me know who is on my side and who isn't. I now believe that however it might be in life, you should wear a smile. 

Cancer taboos

I faced a lot of cancer taboos. Some people stopped visiting me when they heard about cancer. They thought they would contract this disease from me. Some even demoralised my parents, saying that it would be hard to find a suitable groom for me because of cancer and no one would accept me in society. They even suggested keeping my cancer a secret. They found a witch doctor who would cure me in a single day. When I used to go outside, people stared at me because of my shaved head. There are a lot of taboos in Odisha. We need to spread awareness about cancer. We can use social media for this, especially in rural areas. I have a trust to spread awareness, provide financial aid and help with treatments. We do campaigns and webinars regularly.

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