Breast Cancer is a complicated disease that can affect even the healthiest woman. But we often take things for granted. We see others with health issues and feel, ‘no, it cannot happen to us.’ I was a happy, 30 year old mom with 2 adorable kids. Little did I know that a disease as serious as Cancer would hit me? It was in June 2015 that I tested positive for Breast Cancer gene mutation. I was horrified, speechless and did not know how to react to it. This is my story.
It all started 6 years ago. My mother, a struggler and my biggest strength battled with Ovarian Cancer for 11 years. I lost her in October 2012. She was tough and a fighter but 11 years is a long time to fight with this wicked disease. My mom was tired and it was time for her to go.
At the time, I was 7 months pregnant with my first baby. Losing my mother to cancer put me in doubts. I come from a family which has a history of women with cancer. Women from my mother’s side of the family have battled with Breast and Ovarian Cancer. So naturally I was afraid and my faith in God was shaky. I was almost on the verge of losing my sanity as I felt helpless without my mother.
It was my husband, the practical one in the family, who first suggested that I should get myself tested for Breast Cancer. But somehow, in the deepest corner of my heart, I kept denying the fact that something like this could happen to me. I ignored his pleas and got on with my life as a new life was about to approach.
Then the day came when all woes seemed to be in the distant and I gave birth to my son in January 2013. I had grieved for long and now it was time to move on with my life. We were very happy and I was pregnant for the second time. My little baby girl came into our lives in March 2015. I welcomed her with all the happiness in the world but for no reason at all I sunk into postpartum anxiety. It’s like I had this nervous energy in me which made me feel anxious and nervous which then turned into panic attacks while I fed my newly born. Many people do not understand such terms and it was the case with many members in my family. There is a new baby at home, a mother should be happy isn’t it? But I saw that people around me did not empathise with me because they thought such anxiety issues after delivery are very common. In fact they were not common for me!
As if the road was an easy one for me, I got one of the most shocking news in June 2015 when I tested positive for BRCA1- it is a genetic test that acts to restrain the growth of cells in the breast, but if mutated it can change into a fully fledged cancer. I was at a risk for Ovarian and Breast cancer due to my family history.
I was only 30 at that time. I was young, energetic, having my whole life in front of me. How could this be happening? In October 2015 the lump in my breast came back positive for Stage – 3 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma; the most common form of breast cancer. This is when the cancer is invaded or spread to the surrounding breast tissues.
The toughest part that I was to do at this time was to withdraw myself away from my baby girl who had never been with anyone else longer than 30 minutes. Just the thought of being separated from her was enough to make me nuts.
I got operated on the 9th of December 2015 at the Tata Memorial Hospital. It was a double mastectomy because both my breasts were affected. It was followed by muscle grafting reconstruction.
My surgery lasted for over 12 hours. I was unconscious at that time, of course but even now I keep thinking about what my father and my husband would have gone through for those torturing 12 hours in our lives?
I came out of the surgery looking like an Octobot. There were multiple pipes sticking out of my body. There were two on each side of my breasts and one on each side of my thigh from where the muscle tissues were cut out for grafting purposes. I was in immense pain. I was on the urge of screaming when the nurses were moving my hands around to get me to wear a sports bra which would hold my reconstructed breasts. The excruciating pain cannot be described by mere words.
Eventually, one reconstruction never panned out and it left me with a valley like scar which is 6 inches long, right across my left chest wall above my heart. Personally I feel I hear my heart better now – beating away.
I underwent 16 rounds of chemotherapy and 25 days of radiation.
But eventually a new ‘Me’ was born. I had a new hairdo and a completely new look. This experience changed my heart too-now I was a person overflowing with gratitude, faith, love but most importantly empathy.
I now consider myself lucky because much could have gone wrong with my illness and surgery. It was a risky procedure. But with my surgery and experience- came a stronger ‘Me’. I was stronger than ever before- not only physically but also mentally. I could not have had a better outcome than this change in my outlook towards life and this is the example I set for my babies today.
Life is not always a rosy picture- Life is tough. We must share our love, share our faith and most importantly love ourselves. No one can love you more than YOU and no one can help you if you cannot help yourself.