My first rendevous with breast cancer was as a caregiver to my elder sister, and that experience played a major role in me still being alive today. I didn't have any children for many years, and then I was blessed with twins. And around one and half years after that, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Breast Cancer Diagnosis
It was one while taking a bath that I noticed that my nipples had become very hard. As I was aware of the symptoms of breast cancer after caretaking my sister, I immediately rushed to the doctor. Since I had a family history of breast cancer, the doctor suggested a mastectomy followed by chemotherapy and the usual treatment procedures. It was hard as my children were just one year old, but I was confident that my family and my in-law's family would take good care of them.
My whole family was shattered when they came to know of the breast cancer diagnosis. My mom had already lost one daughter to breast cancer, and she couldn't stand to lose one more. My husband was also shattered as we had just had our twins, and we were at the height of our happiness. The cancer diagnosis came as a slap across our face, bringing us back down to the earth.
Breast Cancer Journey
Initially, I decided to resign from my job at the State Bank of Travancore, but my doctor persuaded me out of it. He convinced me that I could do my regular job and compelled me to continue doing all my daily activities. My management gave me complete freedom to work only when I was able to, and they gave me immense confidence to defeat breast cancer. The whole treatment took around seven years, but never did I think that I couldn't do it.
I took six chemotherapies and did not need radiation. I did suffer in my third chemo, but I bounced back and completed my cycles in time.
I used to have long, beautiful hair, and it was hard for me to lose it. But after every chemo, it started growing back and soon, I had my beautiful old hair back. I dealt with that rough period too and used to wear a scarf and wig and became quite used to it.
During my cancer journey itself, I used to talk to other patients and impart them the knowledge that I already had. My doctor also told me that I should definitely join the Indian Cancer Society once I retire from the bank. That's how I joined the rehab department in the Indian Cancer Society, and now I am enjoying every moment there, helping patients. I started as a volunteer, but now they have absorbed me, and I am fully engaged with them. Even during this lockdown, there hasn't been one free day, but I am happy to be of service to cancer patients.
We help the cancer patients by giving them processes to do, for which we pay them a nominal amount also. We basically deal with the underprivileged class, who are not fortunate to get the benefits that are available to us. When they talk to me and realize that I have been cancer-free for so long, they get a renewed hope that cancer is beatable and that we can lead a normal life after it.
My sister's initial symptom was a gland in her breast. Her son had been born recently, and therefore the gynecologist dismissed the gland as milk gland. But in 3-4 months, the gland became the size of a chikkoo. She did her operation in Indore, and we brought her to Mumbai for further treatment. She was doing good for the initial six months, but then her cancer spread to her brain, and there was very little that we could do about it. I took leave for 100 days and looked after her, and that taught me how to fight back and handle my illness.
I was unmarried at that time and used to accompany her everywhere, to the clinic to see the doctor, and took care of her. She used to confide everything to me, and we were very close as sisters.
The cancer journey affects the caregiver also very much. I know this clearly because I have been both a caregiver and a patient. While I was a caregiver, I could barely eat one chappathi as I was continuously worried about her. When the phone rang, our hearts used to stop.
I also used to caretake my mother and mother in law. I love taking care of people and doing the nurse's job. And when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, they all took great care of me. My family support was just great, and still, they don't allow me to do some things. My doctor also was a great support. I could ask him a doubt at any time of the day, and he would gladly respond. It is thanks to his advice and care that, to date, I don't have Lymphedema even after 20 years.
Self Examination and Early Detection
It is very important to do regular self-examination. I found out that my nipples were harder than they should be while bathing one day. And in ten days after my self-detection, I had done my surgery. In fact, it took ten days only because the doctor was on holiday due to Navaratri vacations. And my request to everyone reading this is to do a regular self-examination, as it will help you diagnose your cancer much earlier.
My lifestyle has not changed much after my breast cancer diagnosis. I have always been a vegetarian, and my social and work life also continued as such.
When I finally came to know that I was cancer-free, I was engulfed in tears. Now I am just doing everything that I want, without letting my age come in between.
The word cancer is scary but is curable if detected early. We should look at it early, and if you find any symptoms, we should get it checked. Nowadays, even third and fourth cancer patients are getting cured. Therefore, it is not beyond us to defeat cancer. Many people are still there who feel that cancer diagnosis means their death statement is ready. But it is not like that, and I am the best example that I can give of that.