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That’s The Spirit!

Sakaal Times
15 October 2010

This October, as we celebrate the 25th anniversary of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, survivors tell us about their life–changing experiences and how they have emerged triumphant

That’s The Spirit!
I Don’t Take Things for granted By Madhavi Phadnisy
I was a respiratory technician at a hospital in Indore before I moved to Pune in 2005. When my daughter was born, I took a sabbatical. I rejoined work as a gym instructor in March 2006 and in August 2006, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

It started with a pain in my right breast. I immediately went to my gynac who did a mamography and FNAC (fine needle aspiration technology) because there was a minor lump (size of a chana dal). It takes one day to get the FNAC reports so those 24 hours I was very very anxious. Thoughts like what would happen to me, how my kids and family members would react... overwhelmed me. I couldn’t sleep all night.

Next day, the reports were normal. So, I breathed a sigh of relief. But I was under observation. In 20 days, I could feel the lump; it grew from 2 cm to 20 cm. I had to immediately undergo lumpectomy, but further tests revealed its malignancy. The doctor advised mastectomy and within two days, I underwent surgery, which was followed by chemotherapy. In February 2007, my treatment was completed.

Throughout my diagnosis and treatment, my husband was very supportive; he counselled me. My mother and mother–in–law were also staying with me. But as soon as the treatment got over, everyone got busy with their own chores and suddenly I felt all alone.

I couldn’t attend weddings or take part in festivities because I felt sapped of all energy. If I suffered a headache or any physical discomfort, I thought I was having a cancer recurrence. I wanted to be my old self, doing household chores, helping my kids with homework, but I couldn’t. I even saw a psychiatrist and psychologist asking them for anti–depressants along with cancer preventive medicine.

I joined Astha, breast cancer self–help group in Pune, in Feb 2007, but I withdrew from it six / seven months later. I did not want support from anyone. I just wanted to emerge stronger instantly.

Some people suggested that I put my past behind me. But how could I put my illness behind? I had to live with cancer day in and day out.

What I gradually realised was that time was the greatest healer. Today, I am back on my feet and have rejoined Astha. I have learnt a lot through my sharing experiences and I participate in all the awareness programmes.

Also spiritually, I am more enriched; I am more dedicated in my prayers. I don’t take things for granted, I have learnt to appreciate even the smallest of joys. And I value relationships more.

Few Think It’s Contagious By Madhavi Sagade
When you undergo chemotherapy, you lose your appetite and taste. You suffer constipation / loose motions. You catch cold easily, and after one or two chemos, your veins start shrinking, so you experience greater pain when they pierce needles for frequent blood tests. I have experienced all this, so when I visit and listen to patients today, I can relate to it. I can offer them advice how one should have more frequent and small meals throughout the day when they are undergoing chemo. I can tell them that they will also emerge from their discomfort soon.

I was detected with breast cancer in 2001. It began with a shooting pain and then a small lump. There was nothing alarming in the first few check–ups and reports. But on March 8, 2001, I underwent ductectomy and 10 days later, I was diagnosed with cancer. And like always, that day too, I had gone to the clinic by myself, but when I got my reports I did not know how to break the news to my family.

The doctor explained to me in detail the surgeries and treatment required. And I single–handedly took the decision of undergoing radical mastectomy. Three years later, I had two more lumps in the other breast and I underwent mastectomy again.

In January 2002, I took charge as Astha president along with Dr Shekhar Kulkarni as founder–member. Today, I feel I have a bigger task at hand because earlier, I had a patient’s perspective; now I am a caretaker. Astha’s efforts are directed towards spreading awareness about how early detection can help treat cancer, how one should not neglect one’s health and ignore your body’s symptoms. What is important is ‘taking care of yourself’ and doing monthly self–breast exam. If you are 35+, you should go for mamography at least once in two years.

Besides, we also tell people how cancer is not contagious. Yes, some people isolate their family members! We educate the people about such myths.

It Didn’t Come As A Shock By Rama Sivaram
I worked as a social researcher on issues such as gender and sexuality before being diagnosed with breast cancer. Statistically, though just five per cent of all cancers are hereditary, I had a strong family history of the same, and hence, somewhere it didn’t come as a major shock when it actually happened.

I thank god for the strong family backing and other help that I received all throughout. I must mention Dr Koppikar, Prashanti Care Mission, and psychologist Rebecca D’Souza in this regard, who helped me accept the situation.

When I realised that I would go bald due to chemotherapy, I decided to give myself a makeover. Instead of crying over the loss of my mane, I myself got all my hair cut! I felt I should look good and went for a chic look with a bandana. It’s all about those little things which make you feel good; something to boost your own self.

At the same time, I don’t think I had any fear dealing with cancer. Age definitely plays a major role in this, and the younger you are, higher the anxiety levels. For me, I’d completed all the major milestones in my life by then. I also didn’t want to bother my family – my son, husband, and parents – as it’s important that your illness doesn’t become an excuse to get things done from your near and dear ones.

As a counsellor, I provide women with guidelines on diet / nutrition, and generally living life well. It’s extremely necessary that women don’t neglect their health at any cost.

I enjoy writing and even during the course of my treatment, I began with voluntary outreach and counselling. I presented papers on breast cancer in Hungary, Canada and Australia. Today, I’m working as a global advocate and am associated with several international projects.

Cancer Taught Me To Live By Smita Dixit
I was detected with breast cancer in 2003. Actually my sister and aunt were previously suffering from the same and in that sense, I did have a family history. But back then, the awareness levels were poor and I never realised that I should regularly get a check–up done. The initial reaction was that of shock and my entire family was equally upset. I got operated soon and underwent chemotherapy as well. But I decided to pull myself out of it no matter what as I worried for my children.

Later, I started reading more about it and talking to people who faced similar crisis. That helped me a lot in accepting the reality. Cancer patients require tremendous external support. Of course, a little bit of fear stays on. We always live under this impression that such things would never happen to me. Unfortunately, that’s not always true and I urge women to go for annual check–ups, especially after 40 years of age, and to consciously take care of their health. For me, reading philosophy calmed me considerably. Likewise, women should find that one thing which will help them relax their minds, such as pursuing a hobby. Somewhere cancer taught me how to live life!

What exactly causes cancer is still not known, but here are some tips to be on the safer side:

–Maintain a healthy body weight (BMI less than 25) throughout your life. Weight gain in midlife, independent of BMI, has been shown to significantly increase breast cancer risk.

– Consume as many fruits and vegetables as possible. Take broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, spinach, carrots and tomatoes. Eat them raw or lightly cooked.

–Studies have shown that regular exercise provides powerful protection against breast cancer. Aim for 30 minutes or more of moderate aerobic activity (brisk walking) five or more days a week.

– Be aware of your family breast cancer history. Studies have shown that breast cancer can be genetic. Yet, keep in mind, that just because your mother or sister had breast cancer, it does not mean you will definitely develop breast cancer.

–Maintain a positive mental outlook. Engage in self–nurturing behaviours regularly. Develop rich, warm and mutually beneficial relationships with family and friends. Get adequate sleep (7–8 hours per night). The mind–body associations with breast cancer are significant.

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