We celebrate the entire month of October as ‘Breast Cancer Awareness’ month. We honor the survivors, give hope to the ones sailing through cancer chemo, and in raising awareness among women about their own bodies. It is in fact the community’s way of standing in solidarity with women who have breast cancer or have had it in their past
The stigma around cancer:
My maternal grandmother passed away before I was born. She lost her life to leukemia (blood cancer). I have only heard about her through my mother. And what I learned from my mother is that cancer is traumatic emotionally on the person as well as the family members. It takes years of healing to come to terms with life and its normalcy.
It is 2020, but still, there is a lot of stigma around cancer. Right from undergoingng multiple chemo sessions, to eventually losing hair and delving into characterized appearances. The suffering is traumatic.
The relevance of ‘Breast Cancer Awareness’ month:
The prime motive of Breast Cancer Awareness month is also to focus on the underlying truth – Women are their worst enemies. As primary caregivers in a family, they go through a lot – emotionally and physically. “That is where we stop thinking about our own health,” says the writer- Udita Saklani. “Most of the time we tend to look past strong symptoms that our body signals towards!” echoes the content editor, Rakhi Jayashankar.
As part of ‘Breast Cancer Awareness’ month, I had a chance to speak to some power punch, determined, high on life and happiness ladies. I read their stories, had a good chance of interacting with them. In the end, I was feeling overwhelmed and a bit emotional. I cannot even imagine what their family might have felt at that point of time.
What left me spellbound is the fact that all these women have grit as strong as the Pyramids of Giza, and that there is absolutely no doubt that they have ‘nerves of steel’.
A small tete-a-tete with some breast cancer survivors:
TCT met a few of the fighters who confronted breast cancer head-on, fought the war, and emerged victoriously. They attained this with their will power, perseverance, and the immense desire to live for the family. They spoke their heart out while talking to us. Today we would like to take you all through their lives.
I will not ask you, what was it like to have cancer, but do you recall the very first moment, when the doctor broke the news to you?
Ashley: Yes. My mind was racing with a thousand questions but a part of me also felt very detached and numb. It was difficult to accept that it was happening to me. It didn’t feel like it could have actually struck me that I had cancer.
Neha: I was watching a movie on the laptop with my husband when my doctor called me up at 8:15 pm at night. With a thumping heart, I went to the balcony to speak with him. He told me that the results are positive and I have invasive breast cancer. I went numb. Everything went dark. I told my husband to come for a drive so that I can break the news to him. It was 5th June 2020 – I felt cold, dark, and chilly. I had never ever expected to be a cancer patient at the age of 32. Having lost my father exactly 2 years before because of cancer, everything went dizzy, hazy, and numb at that moment.
Dilpreet: I was shocked to have gotten it at the age of 30. That was my biggest reaction.
Sunita: I was all alone when the doctor broke the news. For some time I was absolutely mum, but I gathered all my strength to accept the fact and to think about how to disclose the truth to my family. I was the pillar of strength to both the families of mine, above all I had 5years and 5 months old only child.
What was the initial prognosis given by the doctor?
Sunita: I had to immediately go for a mastectomy as the cancer was in an advanced stage and then with Chemotherapies.
Neha: After knowing the results are positive, I asked my doctor bluntly how many years I have. He told me considering the size of the lump and the fact that it persisted from the last 8 months after my pregnancy, it could be metastatic cancer.
Dilpreet: They all told me I would be fine but some were more convincing than others.
Ashley: The doctors told me that I had Stage 2 breast cancer. The details were a bit blurry as I was diagnosed and treated overseas with a language barrier.
What was your second most rational fear apart from your own life?
Dilpreet: My children, I thought about my survival and what would happen to my children.
Sunita: Apart from losing life my main fear was that the child I brought into the world. What will happen to her as she was my lifeline. I just can’t imagine her life without me, as we both were and are very possessive and protective of each other.
Neha: My daughter’s life! That feeling of not knowing how she will look like in school, missing her prom, not able to pamper her boyfriends, how will she turn out to be was extremely pathetic and heart sinking.
Ashley: I have two little boys, and I feared that I would not be the mom I want to be while in treatment. Not being around your kids while they are growing up is probably the worst kind of nightmare come alive for any mother!
What’s the role of a doctor in the process of healing – Physical and emotional?
Dilpreet: Yes, I do think that doctors make a huge difference in your outlook towards the disease.
Ashley: Yes, definitely. My doctor was wonderful and made me feel like I had a powerful ally on my side to help me fight and win. I totally agree with the fact that apart from your family member who provides you constant support it is the doctors and the supporting staff who work day in and out to make you feel better both physically and mentally as well.
Neha: Yes definitely, doctors have a very major role to play in cancer, especially in emotional healing. I had extremely honest conversations with my doctors. Additionally, they helped me with the diet, meditation, and emotional healing as well. They answered all my questions with patience. Moreover, they connected me with other cancer patients as well as support groups. Overall, my entire team was very positive and radiated god vibes only.
Sunita: Absolutely true because healing is not just by medicine it has a 3600 approach where first the doctor needs to be positive. He had to make their patient believe in them and in the treatment. They should give emotional support and have to be full of life to give the courage to fight.
“To conquer the disease along with the patient, as it is not a one-way battle for the doctors.” – Sunita
The body doesn’t feel the same? What did you feel when you looked at yourself? Any apprehensions?
Sunita: I had beautiful straight silky and very long hair. My husband married me because of my long hair, so I felt very upset about losing my treasure. Nevertheless, I had no choice but to accept the fact. But God is great and in one life he showered me with beautiful hair that a person can ask for without spending money i.e. straight silky fine long hair and beautiful thick curly hair. So I have absolutely no regrets. I never bothered about how and what society would think about it and hence it helped me develop a positive attitude.
Neha: No, never, not even once! For me, internal beauty that is a person’s soul is more important rather than the outer state. In fact, I shaved my hair myself only and started looking for ways to rock the bald look. Even now, when I am supposed to undergo bilateral mastectomy, I am not even a cent percent concerned about my breast! With or without breast, I am going to make it and come out stronger. I felt during my journey that if you accept yourself completely then nothing matters. Society will only look at you through your eyes. So first thing is to accept yourself completely. And even after that someone’s negative opinion should not affect you. After all it’s your life journey. Do not give power to anyone to undermine you!
Ashley: I learned immediately after my diagnosis that I would lose my hair (temporarily) and a breast. In fact, I decided to embrace a bald head and not cover it most of the time. I became much more uncomfortable when I lost my eyebrows and lashes because then I really looked visibly ill and more people took notice.
Dilpreet: Losing my hair made no difference to me, I did think about losing my breasts and what kind of impact they might have on my relationship with my spouse.
What kept you going through the treatment?
Ashley: I reminded myself that the treatment was a process that I need to go through and it would eventually come to an end. Apparently, I focused on my husband and my children. In fact, all the things that I wanted to be able to do with them when I was well and back to my good health again.
Neha: Dreaming about my future. I want to live and live for the next 100 years. To climb the mountains, travel the world, rise high in my career, attend my daughter’s wedding. I would rather spoil my grandchildren. Basically being a dreamer, I love my life and believe in living it to the fullest. So even on bad days, I used to remind myself that good days are coming soon and I have loads to achieve before putting my soul to rest. I am a firm believer in ‘dreaming for the future’- I guess it makes you want to live.
Sunita: Determination, strong willpower, optimism were just the words for me pre-cancer. I strongly learned the live meaning of these words, implemented them with full confidence, and definitely, today what I am is just because of these 3 strong powerful truths of life.
Do you look at life through a different lens now?
Ashley: I think it’s impossible not to. I take things for granted less, stay grateful for little things.
Dilpreet: I do, I’ve realized that as women we tend to ignore and cover up our own aches and pains and emotions. The truth is that no one can look after us better than ourselves. We should really take the time to look after our own needs and listen to our bodies.
Neha: Yes, cancer has changed my perception completely. I have started living in the present now along with the future, I have started appreciating small things. Cancer helped me in understanding the importance of self-care, family, friends, letting go of unnecessary drama, the stress in my life. I have also stopped all my expectations from everyone. The realization that life is precious and that it comes only once has also struck me. I want to make the most of it. To live a healthy, happy, and balanced life is my goal. Because in the end, all we have are memories.
Sunita: Yes now I am not afraid of losing life, very passionate about enjoying each and every moment of life as it comes. For life is very precious and worth living each bit of it then nagging and losing the charm of the moment.
What is your advice to women?
Sunita: Advice that I can suggest with experience is to be alert, and not neglect your health as the body gives signal much in advance. And then too if you come across any disease then fight it out and conquer it.
“During my chemotherapies, I was in a job, and in my office, no one knew that I am suffering from CANCER except my boss. And my strong will power made to tolerate the after-effects of Chemotherapy that I never took a single day off. In fact from the office, I use to go to Hospital for chemotherapy and then straight back to the office”.
Dilpreet: I think self-examination is a must and having a reminder is definitely a plus point. Again we need to be able to look after ourselves if we want to look after anyone else. So eat right, exercise (plays a very important role). Meditate and be happy!
Neha: Health is Wealth! Women tend to ignore their health because of n number of factors – Family, household chores, office, relationships, etc; I guess our health is the least of our priorities. We should stop doing that. Instead, we should focus on our physical, mental, emotional being as much as we focus on other areas of our life. We should be our number one fan and our topmost priority. And, we should start looking after ourselves the way we look after others in our life. Additionally, I would advise all women to go for bi-yearly check-ups, full-body examination; prevention is always better than cure.
When you don’t have the youth left in you to fight cancer:
The unbelievable story of Sudeh Shorey
Ms. Sudesh Shorey, 76, survived breast cancer. Here, what she has to say is not about the painful chemo or the fact that her late husband who survived cancer for 11 years left her during the second round of chemo. She was undergoing it in the harsh winter of 2013…What she tells us is not a story of grief, sorrow, or the fact that how her husband became her pillar of strength yet she lost him to cancer. The same C she was battling herself.
Here is what she says. What she says, you must read gently: “While dealing with immense emotional defeat, and physical struggle (it took up to a year for the area to recover from surgery, the nerves to repair and any skin changes from radiotherapy to settle down), the ordeal of looking and feeling a bit better was my agenda.”
Surprisingly, India doesn’t work towards helping cancer survivors lead a normal life for reasons such as aftermath and post-trauma services in our country are not there!
“One thing that no one knows about breast cancer is the act of surviving the consequences of a missing breast is not uncommon. Initially, after breast surgery, I had swelling. Trying to find a bra that would fit a 75+-year-old woman.”
She adds, “A bra on the loosest hook, so it could be worn looser and then, gradually tightened as the swelling goes down, wasn’t a style ask. It was a genuine ask. I asked my daughter and granddaughter who looked up on the internet, but there weren’t many options. It was also embarrassing for someone like me. “
This is Sudesh Shorey for you. 76 and strongest as ever. But there are scores of women out there who are uncomfortable talking about this situation. There are even women who have to take permission to talk about it even though they themselves wanted to. Isn’t that sad? Not everyone was lucky to survive. Many succumbed to the crabs of cancer. Some were even feeding mothers. Some were survivors who thought that they are out of risk because all their tests came negative for half a decade. The result? They stopped the checks and ended up with a worst-case scenario.
What we fail to see that till now there are women who are completely unaware of the importance of regular cancer check. We have read about Angelina Jolie who removed her breasts because she has a faulty gene BRCA-1. However, we fail to see the relevance in our own lives. Do check your breasts regularly. Breast self-examination is the best method for early diagnosis. Who knows your body better?
Breast cancer is common in women and more common in women after a certain age. It is the most common invasive cancer in women and the second leading cause of cancer death in women after lung cancer. The pain is for real. Let’s join hands to spread awareness and do the tests regularly. God forbid if you test positive, stay strong, and don’t be ashamed. Love your life and fight the invaders in your body.
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