BY A BREAST CANCER SURVIVOR
March 6th, 2015 my first dose of chemotherapy started. I was having butterflies in my stomach when I went to the hospital in the morning. Though I tried to look bold and stay calm, I was feeling nervous as I didn’t know what was going to hit me during the next 3 or 4 hours. I went into a counselling session with my doctor, in which she asked for my permission to start with the highest dosage of the medicine and see how my body responds to it. I stared at her…was she joking? Was she seeking my permission to push in the highest amount of poison into my body? But I knew she was doing her duty as a doctor and was keeping me informed about the treatment details. I forced a smile, tried to look calm and said “Go ahead doctor; I will put up my best fight.” That’s the moment my war with cancer started.
I walked into the day care room where the nurses greeted me with smiles and eased my discomfort. However, one nurse stood out among them. When she came near my bed I noticed she wore a cap like the others but I couldn’t see a strand of hair below it. I was wondering what kind of hair style she had? She looked cheerful, was very active, and attended to all the patients very efficiently. She could understand I was feeling anxious on my first day of chemo. She came and assured me “I am Manju. Don’t worry, all will go well.” She added that she was 25 years old and was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. Her tumour was HER2 positive and she would have to complete 16 cycles of chemo.
I immediately sat up! She herself was a cancer patient? She was undergoing chemotherapy and still managing to work so actively as a nurse in a busy hospital? I could hardly believe my ears! Were all the things I knew about the side effects of chemo wrong? I could see that all her hair was gone, the chemo effects had started, but why wasn’t she feeling weak, nauseous, and sick? What about the fall in her immunity? How is she taking care of patients in a hospital? Was there some other secret behind her energy and strength?
She knew I was perplexed and confused. I was still sitting upright in absolute disbelief. She smiled and said, “Don’t let the treatment overpower you. Eat and drink well and keep going with all your daily activities as much as you can. When you keep yourself engaged and give less heed to your pains and problems, they tend to diminish.”
During her treatment, her haemoglobin dropped to 7, yet she was still by the side of her patients. Manju became my greatest inspiration. Whenever my energy level went down I thought about her. If she had the willpower to take more than twice the chemo cycles that I did, and still go through so much strain and hard work, then there is no reason why I couldn’t do the same. She made me realise that we can manage a large part of the side effects by being mentally strong, confident, active, and paying less attention to the effects of the treatment.