By Ritu Sharma
It was way back in 1998 when I first met her. She was a bundle of energy at the workplace, a great manager and a mentor. Whenever anyone needed a helping hand, she was always there. People in the office had a lot of respect for her and I too had instantly warmed up to her.
At the age of 58, Lipika, was diagnosed with the cancer of the Fallopian tube. Though there were no alarming symptoms, in retrospect she feels that she did have a sensation of pressure in the uterus. Though she had always done the pap test regularly before, she had missed getting it done in the last couple of years. One night, she suddenly had severe bleeding though there was no pain. Very next morning she consulted the doctor who clearly stated that there was a cause for concern. D & C (to clean out the uterus) was performed but no biopsy was done at the time. Following that a hysterectomy (removal of uterus and ovaries) was done, and a biopsy was then performed. During this time, she was also retiring from her job and had made elaborate travel plans.
The report suggested cancer of Grade 1 Stage 1. She had to cancel her travel plans that she was so looking forward to. When they visited the Oncology surgeon, he was not satisfied with the results as he felt the cancer may have spread. Another biopsy was done which revealed grade 1 stage 3 cancer (the cancer had touched the walls of fallopian tube). Second biopsy was disturbing due to the suddenness of it. There were butterflies in her stomach when doctor said “It could be serious affair”. She already knew this and managed to keep her cool and say “I know, I will not challenge God”. Another operation was suggested to remove lymph nodes in surrounding areas. She was not in favor of going through another surgery so soon. But after taking opinions from other oncologists, who also recommended surgery, another operation was performed within 3 weeks of the first one.
Then she had to go though six sessions of chemotherapy, starting 5th day after the surgery. During this time her spirits were intact. She wanted to attend a training course on counselling, as that too was part of her plan after retirement, but was discouraged by the instructors. After couple of chemo sessions, she realized it was going to be difficult. But whenever she felt better between chemos she would work from home for an NGO. She wished she had not retired, as it would have helped her to recover faster after each chemo.
She started dressing up, wearing big ear-rings, matching clothes, and matching head scarf (she used it as she had lost her hair). The reason, she did not want anyone to look at her sympathetically and dressing up made her feel cheerful. There were many side-effects of chemo such as weakened muscles and bones. She also had to live with severe back pain. She felt devastated when after completing the treatment she could not walk properly for 3 to 4 months due to muscle weakness and pain. She would faint several times due to shooting pain while walking. The doctor said nothing can be done, that she needs to slowly build up muscle strength. She felt she will never be able to walk again. But after few months she took up the challenge to go to Kolkata with her old mother-in-law to settle her in her new apartment. This was her attempt to say to herself – do or die, and it worked. It gave her a lot of confidence. She slowly got back her strength.
Though she still struggles with few ailments such as spondylitis, she keeps herself very active. She has completed her course in personal counselling and is a practicing counselor and a soft-skills trainer. She is part of a child helpline group and has also devoted her time to counselling children at a street children’s home. She had started a cancer support group with the help of other cancer survivors. She is now an active member of the emotional support team of Indian Cancer Society.
What she has to tell people is –
– Do not ignore even a slightest change in your body, get it checked
– Ensure that you get regular checkups like pap tests and mammograms done
– Cancer does not mean end of the road, there is life beyond Cancer
Over the years we developed a great bond of friendship. I have seen her go through the multiple surgeries and after-effects of chemotherapy, but her spirits have remained intact. She continues to lead a very active life and make a difference in other people’s lives through counselling and training. Knowing her, she will never call it a day or retire!