BY RUMNO MUKHERJEE
When I was asked to write something about my experience as cancer survivor, I took a deep breath. Should I call myself a survivor or very lucky? I am glad it was cancer and not diabetes, hyper-tension or some other myriad ailment. I could leave those days completely behind and have very little sacrifices to show for my travails. While I finished my treatment only a year back, it seems old memory. I seem to have forgotten those hard days and have no restrictions to live life to the fullest. So I thought to re-create those memories of not so distant past.
I was working in an IT company with an 8 to 8 schedule. When I was being repeatedly reminded of my long overdue medical check-up, I ignored for a while. Today I will not delay it. Lesson learnt – an early diagnosis of cancer makes a huge difference in its recovery. When I finally went for a routine check- up, the Gynecologist asked me for a mammogram. I had less time that day and scheduled it after two weeks. Wish I had not postponed it! The Mammogram led to FNAC (a small biopsy) and diagnosis was invasive cancer of my breast. Like many, I thought my days on earth got slashed and went through the motion of counting days and fulfill part of the wish-list. The treatment started.
First stage was surgery and advises poured as to how a complete removal of breast is the best option. I somehow decided to trust Air force Command Hospital over all the choices available in Bangalore. The Onco-surgeon took the fear out of it and mentioned that risk factor has nothing to do with total or partial removal. He also painted the surgery as routine and I actually believed it was nothing. A no fuss surgery under GA by one of the best Onco-surgeon saw me discharged the next day and at home with a contraption attached to my side.
Recovery at home took a month within which I took 2-3 opinions on my treatment plans based on the biopsy reports. Meanwhile, I read so much on cancer that I became an Onco-specialist. I knew all the ways and veered to alternate therapies instead of going through Chemo-therapies. Of course, with not much left of life, spending it on a mundane IT job was untenable.I was advised 16 cycles of chemo followed by 40 radiation and then HRT. Yes I was spooked after reading the perils of chemo. I even contemplated Ayurveda or some other alternative treatment just to avoid the chemo. My fear was at a peak.
My husband rallied as if nothing was wrong with me and made a joke of cancer. Meanwhile, my mother in law took complete charge of house-hold, my 12 year old son and me. She had been the pillar of strength which saw me through the difficult phase without worries. I am grateful that my family did not put a list of life-changers or “dos and don’ts” in my way. After speaking to doctors and doctor friends, I decided to start the chemo. The first four chemo were of a high concentration of two drugs, which requires lots of resilience. The blood cells kept dropping at alarming rate and dragging my body out of bed became difficult. Since I knew, I will lose my hair, my husband shaved off my head. I did not have to go through the daily hair-fall. I focused on eating and for the first time ate all I could. I would not eat before the diagnosis in fear of weight gains. The food could not be enjoyed as I had constant metallic taste with nausea. I kept on eating as I realized that to go through so many chemo, I need strengths and protein. Being a non-vegetarian helped as I was allergic to milk or juices. The red meat and liver gave me the much needed iron to generate hemoglobin. I also kept on some of my regular life-styles – enjoying a drink or a wine before dinner. As the sleeping droughts did not suit me, the alcohol helped to get my quota of sleep.
Chemo cycles were 21 days and after first two chemo, I started going out. I joined a special school as a volunteer and it was probably the best decision at that time. The work kept me busy and apart from 2-3 days of the chemo, I was constantly at work. After the first 4 chemo, the drugs changed and after almost a year of starting the treatment, I finally ended my last chemo. I could go through all the chemo as I was strong and could force myself to eat a lots of protein. I missed only one due to a viral fever. I made many friends in the hospital with fellow patients, nurses and doctors. I lost all hair, eyebrows and eyelashes and would tie a scarf while going out. I bought a wig, but I never used. I don’t remember much hardships except how my close friends and family came to meet me from many parts of the globe. It was a re-union galore.
I had some cautions during the chemos. Some of the precautions were music for my ears – not eating any salad or fruits or juices. I started reading a lot and ran out of place to keep those read books. Yes, Flipkart earned a lot of their revenues from me.
One month after I finished the chemos, radiation started. I thought it would be a cake-walk, but I was proved wrong. The pin-point accuracy of radiation needed a body harness to keep me immobile during the procedure. I selected a hospital close-by as this has to be done daily. I would stop at the hospital on my return from work and take these radiations. The machine was a sci-fi marvel and it was fairly scary to be alone in the room with this huge machine. For about 15 cycles I had no discomfort, when the sensation started. The burn started spreading and skins were peeling. It was very painful and hard, but there was no way out. I had to grit my teeth and endured lots of pain to complete them. The last 10 cycles took every iota of my mental strengths.
Finally it was all over. The doctor announced that I am free of cancer and can go through the life as usual. By then I was so used to my routine that I felt a vacuum. To celebrate the end of treatment, we decided to take a month long road trip. We did about 7000 Km in a month and I gained my confidence. Another trip followed, to Ladakh and I could take those treacherous routes. My cancer became a past and I simply put it behind.
It is now more than a year. I have joined an IT company 9 months back and am enjoying the hectic work schedule. I keep a 12 hrs work day with a travel of over 120 Kms daily. I also play golf during the weekends. I need to have regular medicines, but there are no other restrictions in my life-styles. The only baggage had been the weight I gained due to over-eating and steroid and other drugs. I am trying to shed them. Now that the metallic taste is gone, I am enjoying the food, but have to become a responsible eater once again.
During the entire journey of cancer, I kept a blog. I never read it after posting. It was real with details of those days. It is still available at rumnom.wordpress.com.