Celebrating my Life… Part 3

When I was diagnosed with cancer of the breast in February 2009, I was shocked but was positive that I was going to beat it.

Surgery for breast cancer can either be a mastectomy or a lumpectomy. My surgeon suggested a lumpectomy for me (removal of just the lump as against removing the entire breast), which meant my right breast would be smaller than my left. Fittings for bras and blouses were going to be difficult in the future. That was going to be the last of my worries. Being around to wear those with beautiful sarees was priority.

My surgeon at Apollo Hospitals was very understanding, patient and friendly and that is very important especially when you are undergoing a major surgery. He explained the entire procedure and put me at ease.

The surgery took around 2-3 hours during which the lump from my right breast was removed along with the lymph nodes and sent for biopsy.

Then started consultations with oncologists regarding the course of treatment. They were emphatic that I needed 6 cycles of chemotherapy followed by 28 sittings of radiation to the area. We took three independent opinions on the treatment.

The treatment for cancer is a nightmare in itself. It drains you and your near ones out physically, emotionally and financially.

Chemotherapy drugs, cycles, dosages, methods differ from person to person, type of cancer, stages of cancer, location of cancer.

The oncologist explained the side effects of chemotherapy, some of which were going to be temporary. Each cycle would be 3 weeks apart.

I decided to go hep and get a boy cut done before my first chemo.  (This was the first short hairdo for me!!!) I was anyway going to lose all my hair during the treatment. I lost all my hair two days before my second cycle. I did not get a wig but just used colourful scarves to cover my shining bald pate. I saved on shampoos and conditioners for 6 months… J Surprisingly I did not lose my eyebrows and eyelashes. My nails turned black.

The chemo drugs induced nausea and acidity. The first two days after the chemotherapy were not very comfortable…nausea, mouth ulcers, acidity and a general tiredness. The key to counter all these was to eat right. It was important to keep the blood count up and remain healthy.

After the 6 cycles were completed we started with 28 sittings of radiation which were relatively pain free. All these were completed by the first week of September and we breathed a sigh of relief.

I was advised a PET CT scan in December to ensure that no rogue cancer cells were left behind in my body.

The entire journey was, to be honest, painful but I consider myself truly blessed that I won that battle.

I forgot the entire nightmare when I saw my daughter graduate as a lawyer, get married to a good person, blessed with a wonderful family. The pain was forgotten when I held my little grandson in my arms immediately after his birth. Every moment of those 7 months are worth it when I share a cup of coffee with my husband and chat.

I go for my annual check-up without fail, meet my oncologist for a physical examination every 6 months and am always alert to any changes in my body.

It was exactly on 27th of Feb 2009 that I went into Apollo Hospitals to meet the doctor and set the ball rolling. It has been 7 years now. And I am cancer free.

I can proudly say I AM A SURVIVOR!!!

Celebrating my Life… Part 2

This post is not the story of my journey but of that of a young girl – a former student of mine. This is a tribute to her bravery in battling and winning! To showcase my respect for her better half (well in this case truly the better half) that had to be expressed yet cannot be expressed in words!

My first post on my journey with cancer brought about a plethora of likes and replies. A few of them were under the misconception that this post pertains to the current period and were so worried for my health. Of course they are not to be blamed. Which sane individual writes about something that happened 7 years ago and posts it on a day dedicated to the same disease?

Well, I have been thinking of sharing this for a long time, but sadly I turned out to be the Mistress of Procrastination! J

The reason for starting this series of blogs is not to blow my own trumpet or to receive pats on my back from people known and unknown to me for the courage with which I faced the stupid disease. It is primarily to give a wakeup call to all those reading this.

I received a number of messages showing their appreciation and love but the one message which turned out to be a long chat was the one that left me shaken to the core. Here I was trying to showcase my courage at age 45 and being a narcissist (though unintentionally) and at around the witching hour pops up a chat message on messenger which brought tears to my eyes.

An ex-student of mine who was, is and always will remain very dear to me… a very beautiful girl… a talented singer… The courage that this girl showed is remarkable. She has been married for just 4 years now and blessed with motherhood a year ago.

One year into her blissful married life, she walks in for a medical check-up only to find her world turned upside down. She was diagnosed with cancer of the left ovary. With the support of her two sets of parents and her doting husband, she underwent a surgery to get the affected ovary removed. She underwent chemotherapy which resulted in her becoming bald for some time. She fought valiantly and has bounced back.

For a 23 year old girl who had just embarked on a beautiful journey with a handsome prince, it must have been traumatic.

She told me that the chemo sessions were very difficult for the two of them but ‘…he was my strength throughout. When I was low he gave me strength and positivity. He took it as if nothing happened to me. And I came out bravely and started looking forward to a long life. Now it’s all gone and never gonna come back… WE fought it!!’  (Note the WE).

This is a tribute to her wonderful in laws who have stood by her through those trying times. They have given a new meaning to the relationship that is a result of the marriage of two individuals.

I salute her husband who has been her pillar of strength. It must have been very tough for him to see a beautiful new wife suddenly go bald one day, suffer through her pains and yet keep smiling throughout. It goes to show beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. He has understood and lived the vows of the saptapathi that he had repeated after the purohit at the time of their marriage. Take a bow, beta!!! I am proud of you. I look forward to the day when I can meet you in person and give you the tightest hug possible. I thank God for having brought you into my girl’s life (as her teacher, am I not a mother figure?).

They have now been blessed with parenthood and I wish them both a very happy future. A fitting response to the cancer which tried to rob them of this blessing..

During the chat she said ‘I stayed positive all the time. I knew I would get out of it and at that time I remembered you… your smiling face’. I am happy I have been able to spread a few smiles, some cheer and positivity!

On a lighter vein, I cannot disclose their names and taking a cue from Harry Potter stories, do I call them She who must not be named and He who must not be named? It doesn’t matter what they are called, what is important here is the lesson from their lovely relationship.

If you are reading this post my dears, I would like you to know that I have learnt a lot from the two of you on marriage, love, companionship and mutual respect. You are an example for veterans of marriage to emulate. I salute the two of you. My love, blessings and prayers are always with you!!! Cheers!!!

Celebrating my life… Part 1

Today is February 4, World Cancer Day…

It was on Feb 23, 2009 that I found a small lump on my right breast. I did not find it when I was doing self-examination but while taking a shower. I met my physician (a South African) in the afternoon who advised me to get a mammogram and other tests done. Easy to say, but when you live in a place like Liberia in West Africa it meant travelling to another continent to get it done and I mean it literally.
It was a Monday and I booked myself on a flight out of Liberia on Wednesday, February 25th. My husband was insistent that I meet the doctor the day I landed in Chennai. So we looked up the Apollo Hospitals Chennai website to fix up an appointment with a surgeon. We didn’t know the doctors from Adam but had to make a choice. We zeroed in on a surgeon Dr Prithviraj whose qualifications and experience caught our eye.
When I met with him on the 27th morning, he advised me to get an ultrasound, a mammogram and FNAC (Fine Needle Aspiration Cytology) done. FNAC is where an aspiration is made with the help of a needle from the affected area and then it is sent for testing.
On Monday when I collected my report at the appointed hour, my heart was beating wildly. The mammogram and the ultrasound reports were not alarming, but the FNAC report was very clear. The one dreaded word was up there… CARCINOMA of the right breast.
For a few seconds I was paralysed and almost in tears. I then realised it wasn’t the end of the world. Cancer is just a disease and not the end of the world. It can be cured. I called my husband who was in Liberia to tell him. He was shattered but he too said ‘it is alright. We will find out what is to be done next.’
I met the surgeon with the reports. He was shocked to see my reports because he couldn’t believe it. He then looked at me and asked me if I had gone through the report and understood what it said. I told him that I had been diagnosed with carcinoma which meant cancer. I still remember his reaction vividly. He walked around the table and came up to me, gave me a tight hug. I was wondering if this was what he did with all his patients… smile emoticon
I remember the conversation like it happened yesterday.
He asked me just one question ‘how is it that you still have the same smile on your face that you had on Friday when you came to meet me with a cheerful good morning doctor?’ And I said ‘I am willing to cry if it will change the report to negative for carcinoma. Instead of crying I would like to know what I need to do now because I am young and I have a long life ahead of me.’
The good doctor after a few minutes suggested I get admitted right away and get myself operated the very next day. I was stunned. I was all alone at the hospital. My husband was in Liberia, my daughter was at the University in Gujarat. My husband when we called him from the doctor’s chamber bluntly asked him if I was dying. The good doctor was at a loss for words. We then asked to the doctor if waiting 4 more days would be life threatening for me. It was decided that I would get myself admitted on Thursday and the surgery would be performed on Friday morning. My husband would land on the midnight of Thursday. All appointments fixed accordingly.
I asked the doctor if the report was correct because I had no symptoms at all (I do read up on stuff and keep myself updated). No fever, no weight loss, no tiredness, no loss of appetite… He explained patiently with a smile that I was very lucky not to have any symptoms because that would mean my cancer had progressed. Lucky me…
Now came the big question… what to tell my 70 year old mom and 72 year old mother in law? They were waiting at home for the reports. It was possible to hoodwink my mother in law, but difficult to do so with my mom. She is going to be a curious cat wanting to look at the report. She knows enough to recognise the CA word though spelt medically .
The doctor advised me to explain gently to them that it was the early stages of cancer and that after surgery and treatment I was going to be fit as a fiddle. Telling a lie wasn’t going to help anybody. I came back home and told my mother with a smile on my face that her daughter was diagnosed with cancer. She is one bold cookie, didn’t breakdown in front of me, no scenes of any kind, took it stoically and accepted it when I told her that I planned on living a very long life. My mother in law was shocked and upset.
The worst reaction was from my darling girl, Nisha. She broke down completely and was inconsolable. But she had a wonderful circle of friends who supported her through this.
I underwent the surgery, I diagnosed with Stage II A CA Breast, followed it up with 6 cycles of chemotherapy and 28 sittings of radiation (all that reserved for posts to follow) and here I am sitting penning my thoughts about my journey after 7 years.
I was diagnosed with Stage 2A CA Breast.
I am really thankful that I found the lump when I did and could get it removed before it started to grow in size.
There was going to be some discomfort during the period of the treatment but I was not too worried about that. I was looking at the rainbow at the end of the cloud. And it was bright. A full life ahead!
I was really lucky I moved so fast and got operated upon so quickly and followed it up with the right treatment.
All you guys and gals out there, keep checking for small changes in your body. React quickly, that is the key. Stay positive.

And like any other award winner, I would like to take this opportunity to thank my dear husband, my daughter, my two moms, my family and all my friends for their love and support through those trying times… smile emoticon(tacky, eh???)

Keep smiling…..

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