I always thought that Cancer could never strike me – Swati
I don’t know why, but I always had the confidence that I was fine and something as grave as Cancer could never strike me
The Beginning and Diagnosis
I had heard of a lot of stories of people suffering from Cancer, seen a few patients in my extended family closely, who had suffered. Some of them triumphed in their fight, some did not.
When I first discovered the lump in my breast, I was flabbergasted. After fretting over it for a few weeks I went to the oncologist. I had no symptoms apart from the report that I had in hand and a suspicious lump. I was a healthy individual: non-alcoholic, non-smoker and reasonably fit. I knew there was a lump but had been reassured that it was benign, and I thought there was nothing to worry about.
I also went for a second and even a third opinion to get the best treatment advice possible. My brother had spoken to an oncologist-researcher friend of his who had strongly recommended a mammogram.
An ultrasound categorized the lump as a Birads II, seemingly benign, but had a few living cells. So, I was recommended a needle biopsy. I went for it, but the results were inconclusive. Finally, I was told to undergo a surgery wherein a general surgeon would perform lumpectomy.
The results of the biopsy showed that I had grade-III carcinoma.
The surgeon-oncologist examined the affected area, asked me several questions and outlined the treatment. There were a few more tests to be done which determined the finer details of the treatment plan. However, broadly, he said, there would be one more surgery to remove the remaining cancer cells, followed by chemotherapy, radiation, and if I tested positive for it, then hormone therapy too.
My oncologist told me two very important things. First was don’t Google stuff about your illness. You will only hear doomsday theories, and it’s not good for your mental health. You are going to undergo severe mental trauma right now. So, it’s best to, you know, kind of cocoon yourself from all this by not searching online. The second thing was, he told me don’t discuss your illness with your friends, relatives, extended family neighbors, or let everybody will have advice for you. Do not meet too many people. In an Indian setup the problem is that people judge, you, they think you must have done something wrong to get cancer.
A surgery, 8 cycles of chemotherapy, 3 weeks of radiation and 17 doses of hormone therapy was the course of treatment that was decided. During the surgery, it was found that a few of my lymph nodes were also affected and had to be removed. As a result, the range of motions in my left arm was severely affected.
After the surgery, I had two tubes attached to my stitches to drain out fluid and dead tissue from my body. Chemotherapy was in another league altogether — the endless waves of nausea, fatigue, dizziness, cramps, pain, and bouts of feeling low took their toll.
A lot of queries were answered and reassured through the family support systems. My husband, my parents, my brother and sister were checking on me every day. My brother was monitoring my nutrition and everything else from California. He was here during my surgery and at the end of my chemotherapy. You can steal yourself, from the outsiders, but within the family, you need that support. Constantly checking on you and helping you with your mind. A lot of times the suffering becomes too much, you become too low and it’s like, things are getting from bad to worse but with family support you can see that things will get better. You need someone to remind you that this is the worst phase and then things are going to get better.
Every dose of chemotherapy and every fraction of radiation were considered as a part of a process that was going to make me feel better eventually. I had my own countdown ticking away in my head for each of those, and I admit, the foodie that I am, made a long list of recipes that I would try and foods I would eat again after I got over the bouts of nausea, weakness, and blackouts! I made a list of places I would visit, activities I would do, trips and catching up with friends, and so on.
Cancer made me realize that putting things on hold and thinking I’ll do this later, or I will do it five years down the line doesn’t help in life. I learned to be happy in the moment, being mindful of the present and the surroundings around you is what helps you enjoying what you have and not thinking of what you don’t have or what you could have had. People like us who are privileged, I think we should be thankful for what we have, having the finances required to undergo something that is expensive. I think having cancer in a way was a bit of a wakeup call for me to love myself more, take care of myself more and not neglect myself when trying to dedicate myself as a mother