‘How I Beat Cancer’

How To Beat Cancer

Words: K R CHANDRIKA

It all happened 21 years ago — a time of great emotional and physical upheaval when the ‘Big C’ hit me like machine gunfire. It’s pragmatic medical intervention, wonderful support and love of my family, parents, relatives and friends that helped me surmount all odds and beat cancer from the inside out. I’m now free of the dreaded disease — which is curable when detected early enough, albeit what ‘early enough’ is remains indefinable and subject to conjecture.

There was the Internet, all right — but, it wasn’t as seamlessly accessible as it is today. I had to depend on print information, for the most part.

I don’t exactly remember the date, but it was January 2000. I was going through Women’s Era during lunch break at my office. I happened to read an article on breast cancer, and that’s it. When I returned home, I just don’t know why there was this coerced urge to self-examine my breast. Lo and behold, I could feel a lump just above my right breast. I told my colleagues, the next day, about it. They made fun of me saying it was only psychology; they asked me not to bother about it.

That Eerie Thing Lurking

I closed the lid on the lump story. Soon after, I was on a shopping spree, for my brother’s engagement in February. It was all hunky-dory, but there was this eerie thing lurking somewhere at the back of my mind — ah, the lump, again. I promptly visited a gynaecologist and casually told her about how I could feel a lump, more so after reading a subject piece in a magazine. It was a quirk that the good doc did not take it seriously. She told me that it was just a psychological notation on the skin of my thought — a common experience for most women. It was sheer ill-luck, perhaps, that she did not examine me. I decided to bury the thought for good and got busy with my brother’s wedding, come April.

The celebrations did not assuage my latent, resident apprehension — the ‘spectre’ of the lump persisted in my mind. So, I decided to meet the same gynaecologist and ‘get rid of that thinking,‘ once and for all. This time she examined and confirmed there was a lump. I was terribly upset. She referred me to a specialist surgeon. I met him, the next day. He told me that it should be removed.

I got admitted to Basappa Memorial Hospital, on March 3, 2000. The surgeon suggested pre-emptive removal of the lump. I thought that he’d know best with his long years of clinical experience. I was asked to stay until the biopsy result was out. Six days passed. My friends told me that it does not take so long for a histopathology report. I was a bit worried.

The specialist surgeon came for his usual morning rounds. He told me that he wanted to talk to me. My heart started beating fast, because I was thinking the lump would be removed; god would be on my side; the tumour would be benign and I will be discharged, following which I‘d be preparing for my brother’s marriage.

Bad News. Good News

The specialist surgeon had bad news for me. He told me that my right breast needs to be removed because the tumour was cancerous. I cried helplessly. Even today I remember the surgeon who consoled me and told me that I would be fine and will lead a normal life. He also told me that he had a matron in his team who had survived cancer for sixteen years and was his right hand in the OT. He prepared me mentally for the surgery and the treatment thereafter.

I was thirty-two years old.  More than my life,  I was bothered about losing hair after chemotherapy.  All my dreams of celebrating my brother‘s marriage and the extensive planning I had made for each event were ‘crushed.‘ I cried and cried; nobody stopped me. The specialist surgeon discussed about my condition with my father and husband soon after removing the lump.

Now, seven weeks remained for my brother’s marriage. My parents and my brother were shell-shocked. We were in two minds — to perform the wedding, or postpone it.

All the preparations were made for the surgery — March 8, 2000. The surgery went off well and I was in hospital for about a month. After a week, or so, the biopsy results came and we were told I was in Stage IIA.  I was discharged from hospital on March 31, 2000. The treatment I received was top-class; the post-operative care was just as good, and I am really grateful for that.

The next course of treatment began at Bharat Hospital & Institute of Oncology.

Chemotherapy was really tough — there‘s too much of nausea and fatigue, lasting 3-4 days.

I was advised six cycles of chemotherapy and 28 fractions of Radiotherapy. The toughest part of cancer treatment is undergoing chemotherapy, but the good doctors make you as comfortable as comfortable can be.

Well, I lost my scalp hair completely just before my brother’s marriage. Everyone rallied around me — my brother too. The marriage went off well — what’s more, people that attended the wedding blessed me. I felt the ‘hand of god‘ everywhere.

I love cooking. I used to feel better after 3-4 days after chemotherapy. I would engage myself in cooking special snacks, sweets etc., apart from normal cooking. I’d prepare something yummy, everyday, by the time my son would return from school. There’s this beautiful lake [Kukkarahalli Lake] near my house in Mysore [now Mysuru]. My mom would come in the evening. My son, mom, and I,  would go for an evening stroll on that tank bund. It was refreshing, rejuvenating, and uplifting — water has a healing touch.

I’d once told my father that life is full of sorrows and miseries. He had a lot of patience, empathy, and the like. He would tell me how the world is and how many people may be in a situation much worse than us. He would always tell me that I was lucky because my illness was at a curable stage. I now understand the whole essence of what he was trying to tell me — the philosophical truth.

Come September 2000, my treatment was over. I was on leave for six months from work at Life Insurance Corporation of India. I started attending office from October 2000. It irked me at first — how some people would look at me. The best part — I was made to feel comfortable. Slowly, I got back into my routine. A host of good things happened in my life. Come 2003, we moved into our new home. I also completed my institutional exams with which I was halfway through. Since age was on my side, I reckon I bounced back to normalcy almost uneventfully.

A New Twist

In 2010, during my yearly check-up, I casually told my doctor that I could feel something where they had ‘cut open.’ I was asked to undergo needle biopsy. To my bad luck the result came as ‘Features suspicious of malignancy.’ I almost collapsed when the doctor told me this; my husband was traumatised. After ten years of struggle and when everything had returned to normalcy, the new setback was nothing short of a colossal shock for us.

I had undergone hysterectomy in 2006. I had taken it casually. After a month, or so, I was back to normal. But, this new finding was hard to digest. I felt that all the roads were closed; I was devastated. I was advised Positron Emission Tomography [PET]. There were three small lumps. Undergoing surgery was inevitable. I underwent surgery in March 2010 — the area where I was operated previously was once again ‘cut open‘ and the lumps removed and sent for biopsy. I was in hospital for 5-6 days. The day we were expecting the biopsy results all my family members including my father’s cousins were with me. The doctor came and told me that it was foreign body granuloma; it was not malignant. Everybody was hugely relieved. We all thanked god — a ‘major’ problem was solved in a manner we had not expected. My brother got us ice-cream and everybody rejoiced.

The big downside was — the surgery affected the natural movement of my right hand. I struggled to comb my hair, wear dress and lift my hand. I was advised physiotherapy. I just cannot lift my hand, or stretch it, even today. Discomfort and difficulty still persist.

Now, other problems have overtaken it; my knee joint pain, for one. I wanted to undergo knee replacement surgery, but the pandemic played the curmudgeon, or spoilsport. I will wait, for a while, to ‘fix’ my knee; no problem.

I feel life is beautiful. I also feel blessed with the simple pleasures of life, or its simple abundance. My son and daughter-in-law are happily settled in Germany. They are enormously caring and loving. I feel a sense of pride too — a mother’s dream-come-true.

K R CHANDRIKA, a graduate in business management, works for Life Insurance Corporation of India. Her interests include cooking, shopping and baking, also trying new sweets, cakes and biscuits. She believes that they help her to relax and also ‘jazz-up’ her urge to innovate through YouTube videos, or cookery shows on TV. She has gotten into reading books lately — her favourite authors being Sudha Murthy and Chetan Bhagat. She loves to travel, and explore new places, too. She lives in Mysuru, India.

1 thoughts on “‘How I Beat Cancer’

  1. Mallika Girish Mugwe says:

    This is a morale-boosting, inspiring reading experience, especially for people who feel that this, the ‘Big C,’ is the end. K R Chandrika has recalled her poignant story beautifully, while filling us with positivity to living a vibrant and active life. I had tears in my eyes. Tears of hope, especially in these [COVID-19] difficult times. God bless…

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