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I introduce myself as a cancer survivor

Times Of India
08 June 2012

With timely treatment Priyanka Jadhav, 22, clinched life from the jaws of a deadly cancer

After completing higher kindergarten, while her twin sister progressed to the first standard, Priyanka Jadhav had to drop out of school for a year despite securing an A+ grade. She was just six years old and sick with severe pain in the arms and neck. She couldn’t fathom why her friends and classmates labelled her a ‘failure’. "I was fed up telling people that I had not failed," says Priyanka.

Very few people knew that she had been suffering from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a fast growing type of cancer, which could have ended her life.

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system. The system, along with the organs associated with it, are responsible for producing lymphocytes, a type of white blood cells. Cancer occurs when lymphocytes start growing abnormally. A weakened immune system due to birth abnormalities, acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) and drugs which suppress the immune system after an organ transplant are thought to increase the risk factor.

Priyanka was born seven minutes apart from her twin sister. While her sister was healthy, she weighed abnormally less than normal and had to be put in an incubator for a month.

At six years of age, she was diagnosed with anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL), a subset of Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Her parents first detected the symptoms of the disease when Priyanka’s grandmother was bathing her. She would tremble at the slightest touch. "Granny thought that I must have hurt myself while playing. Something that would go away with application of an ointment,"says Priyanka.

Symptoms vary depending on type of lymph node affected. In Priyanka’s case, it was in her arms and neck. In a couple of months the pain spread throughout the body.

Dr Purna Kurkure, who is in charge pediatric oncology division at Tata Memorial Hospital, explains that Priyanka was at risk due to the disease’s aggressive nature. "ALCL is a high grade lymphoma,” says Kurkure. "It requires immediate treatment lest it turns fatal."By now the lymph node on Priyanka’s neck had started swelling. In two months, it grew into the size of a tennis ball, tilting her neck leftwards. Other parents stopped their children from playing with the girl "with a highly contagious disease". "I knew something was wrong with me," says Priyanka. “I felt bad that no one wanted to be with me. But I didn’t want to explain my condition to anyone because I was not wrong. I didn’t stop playing; I had my twin sister for company."

Priyanka was first wrongly diagnosed with a tuberculosis tumour. Unchecked for a total of four months, the cancer was about to reach its advanced stage. Luckily, it was still curable as ALCL, though aggressive, is not rigid and unyielding in the case of children. However, Priyanka had to drop out from school to

undergo chemotherapy. Her treatment started with antineoplastic drugs that halt the development of the tumour. She responded well to it.

Dr Reena Nair, professor at the department of medical oncology, Tata Memorial Hospital informs that non-Hodgkin’s

lymphoma has an 80 per cent cure rate in children but only 50 per cent in adults. "While it controls the growth of cancerous cells, chemotherapy suppresses the production of lymphocytes in the bone marrow, which is a central lymphoid organ,"says Nair. "The bone marrow needs time to recover and produce the immune cells. In children this recovery happens very rapidly."

In a span of six months, Priyanka was given eight doses in a cycle of 21 days. The tumour on her neck burned, became black and fell off. The persistent pain in the lymph nodes in her arms vanished. She was lucky that she did not require radiation therapy or bone marrow transplant along with chemotherapy.

She learned that she had cancer only after she turned 15. "Every year I have to go the hospital for a routine follow up to check for any abnormal growth again. It was during one of these visits that I became curious to learn about my illness. I was not

shocked when my parents told me that I had cancer. I just listened to them and all the events which I could not explain started falling in place like pieces of a puzzle. I now introduce myself to people as a cancer survivour,"she says.

Today Priyanka works with Ugam, a voluntary support group formed by childhood cancer survivors, and counsels children suffering from the disease. "People get scared that cancer is contagious. I want to tell them through my example that don’t make a child feel inferior and understand that cancer isn’t infectious," she says firmly.

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