In the summer of 2015, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. I still remember that day very clearly.
It was a Monday morning, and right there in front of my eyes on the computer screen was a biopsy report that confirmed malignancy.
The previous Saturday, my mother had got a needle biopsy done for a breast lump she had for nearly two years. She did not complain of any symptoms but recently had been worried that her lump had started to grow in size. She continued to have routine mammograms done and her recent one was borderline suspicious. The mammogram screening coincided with a random (or rather god sent) visit from a doctor cousin who upon examining the report and the lump pressed her to go for a biopsy the very next day.
That's the thing with cancer treatment, it teaches you to learn to live with doubt and be grateful for what you have.
I spent the next two days searching online for causes of breast lumps and kept telling myself and my parents that my mother's lump wouldn't be cancer. My mother, a very religious lady, had complete faith that her lump would be just a piece of fat.
I was in complete denial -- my mother couldn't be suffering from cancer. I quickly emailed the report to my doctor cousins in India who suggested that my mother was in need of urgent treatment. I was still not ready to believe it, perhaps there was a sampling error....
But there was no getting away from it.
The hardest part was to break the news to my parents. I called them up and calmly told them that some cells in the biopsy didn't quite look right and further investigations were needed. I didn't want to highlight the word "cancer" a lot.
The next two days seemed the hardest days of my life, I couldn't sleep at night as the thought that it was our neglect that caused this haunted me. Being far away from my parents at this time didn't help. Thankfully, I was able to find a lot of information, contact numbers and emails of oncologists in Delhi and most of them were quick to respond to emails. Treatment depended upon the stage of the cancer and more tests were required. I was on the plane to Delhi a day later.
My mother's illness restored my faith in our doctors. Cancer treatment across hospitals in Delhi follows international protocols and it is reassuring when different doctors do not vary a lot in their opinions. We met a couple of oncologists and finally decided to proceed with the one who made my parents most comfortable. Many more diagnostic tests followed in the next week to plan for the extent of surgery but even then the onco-surgeon maintained that it all depended on what they discovered during the operation.
Being a cancer patient or even a carer also teaches you to deal with your demons yourself.
The uncertainty made us anxious but this was just the beginning. There were question marks all along, and one could only tackle each one step by step during the course of the treatment. There was no way to know it all. Had the disease spread? How curable was it? How likely were the chances of having a disease-free survival?
It made my insecurities about career and future etc seem trivial in comparison. I remember once asking the oncologist if my mother would be totally cancer-free after the recommended treatment and he smiled and said, "With cancer, you can never be 100% sure."
That's the thing with cancer treatment, it teaches you to learn to live with doubt and be grateful for what you have. I am thankful that my doctor cousin visited when he did, I am glad that my mother's disease could be treated and I am grateful to everyone who supported us with their uplifting words along the way.
Being a cancer patient or even a carer also teaches you to deal with your demons yourself. I had the full support of my husband, extended family and friends every step of the way but the stress I went through while awaiting scan or biopsy results, or the sheer helplessness of watching my previously active mother now weeping in bed due to radiotherapy-induced burns was only mine to deal with.
Don't take yourself too seriously in life but when it comes to health don't take yourself too casually either.
World Cancer Day was on 4 February and the Geneva based Union for International Cancer Control that works towards preventing cancer is running a three-year-long campaign under the theme "We Can. I Can" to promote cancer awareness. I am no doctor but as someone who has experienced cancer closely I can say that don't take yourself too seriously in life but when it comes to health don't take yourself too casually either.
Finally, I do hope and pray that my mother remains cancer-free and healthy for the years to come.
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