I tricked Yamraaj and cancer couldn’t put my morale down – Vandana

“Losing my voice for a year, to being revived after my heart stopped, I have tricked Yamraaj and cancer couldn’t put my morale down”

It is said that nothing prepares you for cancer. And to be honest, I was not. I was just 36 years old and was in the clear. We were living in the North-East as my husband was in the Army. But life clearly had other plans. There was a regular discomfort that I started feeling with bad stomach aches. I decided to get a quick check-up done and didn’t ponder. The doctor suggested that I might have picked up one of the stomach bugs and he assured, that things will get better soon. But things didn’t get better at all.

Out of the blue, I discovered an unusually big lump on my neck. Although I am not an alarmist, however, I sensed the graveness and decided to travel to Delhi for further investigation.

It all started with a single rock-solid lump but went on to teach me many important life lessons, the first being – “Never Lose Hope.”

The State of Shock

As the diagnosis started, I was both scared and hopeful. I was scared of the upcoming future, but I was optimistic that soon I would be able to live my life. But, life is unpredictable.

The initial investigations at the Army Hospital Research and Referral revealed that an excision biopsy would help understand the cause behind the protrusion. The result showed it was a thyroid nodule. Almost 95% of the thyroid nodules are benign and my nodule was around 3 centimeters, which meant removing it would be the best bet. I had to undergo surgery to remove my left thyroid, but something unexpected happened. I croaked like a toad!

I was gutted and it took me almost a year to get my voice back. We later came to know that during the surgery, the surgeon had accidentally touched my vocal cord which led to the damage. We thought, maybe this was the end. Alas, there was more to come.

There was no respite. Although thyroid malignancy is uncommon, however, the biopsy showed that it was Hurthle Cell Carcinoma which is a rare and aggressive cancer.

At this stage, cancer taught me the second lesson – ‘Stay Focused, And Stay Hopeful.’

Plan B to Plan C to Plan D

With the diagnosis, I was called in for emergency surgery as the oncologists realized that the nodule had ruptured and there was a risk of cancer spreading to the whole body. I underwent complete thyroid removal which meant that I would be on thyroid supplements for the rest of my life. Yet, there was another unexpected consequence.

The surgeon accidentally knocked off my parathyroid and it meant that there was no way, my body will be able to produce any calcium. It had the potential to turn fatal if I don’t take my calcium supplements, even for a day. Post the surgery, I went into a calcium shock, which stopped my heart and I had to be revived. Once, I had recovered from my second surgery, I had to undergo the I-131 scan to identify the cancer cells in my body.

After going through so much already, I knew that there was no way I was losing this battle. I was only preparing myself to fight.

That’s when cancer taught me the third lesson – ‘fight, fight, fight!’

Fighting for My Future

For the I-131 scan, I was put on a salt-free diet, as my body was meant to be starved of all salts. This started a month before the actual treatment. Other than starving my body of salts, I was also put off from my thyroid supplements. This was done to get a better result out of the scan.

I still remember the D-Day clearly even after six years have passed. To give me the marker dose, I was taken to a thick-walled room where I had to gulp down a capsule with water that was kept inside another stone container. However, the most shocking part was yet to come. The medical assistant after instructing me ran and it looked like he was running for his life.

Later, I got to know the real reason behind it. I had ingested a radio-active capsule and my body was radio-active which meant that anyone who was near me was at health-risk. I was asked to stay away from people for more than two days. On the third day, I was taken to an ice-cold chamber and underwent the I-131 scan.  It looked scary for the first time, but soon I realized, I can’t be scared, I need to be positive. The scan was meant to take more than 35 minutes and I couldn’t move an inch. But, who knew that this would become my life!

This is when I learned my fourth lesson – ‘Always stay Positive.’

New Possibilities, and Hope

After the scan, they found malignant cells in my body and this period was one of the most unpleasant episodes of my life. These episodes continued for 6 long years and still continues. This is how my cancer was managed.

This new treatment was a big deal but I knew, I had to have a positive mindset to defeat cancer. The test was followed by radio ablation treatment. The treatment was meant to destroy any thyroid tissue that can’t be removed by surgery or for some form of the thyroid that has spread to other parts of the body. Here, I had to drink radioactive Iodine and strict instructions had to be followed so that contamination doesn’t take place. I had to be educated with all the nitty-gritty always. Again, I had to stay away from human contact and had to stay alone for more than 3 days this time. This treatment was meant to destroy the cancer cells in my body. Now, I regularly face scares and have to undergo a PET scan to push fear away.

I have accepted my fate and I have no complaints about anything. I don’t want to sit in one corner and mope. Right now, I try to make the most out of the day and also try to help others out. As long as I can, I plan to dedicate my life to help out cancer patients.

Next Steps

When I was fighting a rare cancer, one of the things that kept me going was a positive outlook. Right now, I am a palliative care counselor and I am currently associated with an NGO called Copewithcancer. I work with cancer patients to help them go through their fight with the disease. I constantly keep in touch, talk to them, give them the ray of hope so that they can fight it out too.

However, I interact more with breast cancer patients. I plan out interactive sessions for them at TMH where I bust myths, talk about breast cancer and teach women the basic exercises and hygiene. So along with corporate counsel, we had launched our campaign last year, called “Shoot It” that focuses on breast self-examination. I also enjoy speaking in forums and talk to young women to inspire them, on how to do better. Just like the cancer treatment, this has also become a part of my life and I enjoy every bit of living it. It feels amazing to be able to help out people and give them hope to fight for their life.

The last lesson that cancer taught and live by it every day – ‘Seize Every Day’

Hi, I am your Cancer Dost. Let me know how can I help.