I fought breast cancer and won
I fought breast cancer and won
Shachi Marathe, 30, eight years after their unnerving encounter. Her experience.
Age 22, File Number BX9059- Breast Cancer Carcinoma Grade 3… this was my identity for a while.
It was during that time, lying on my hospital bed, I often used to say to myself, “This is it… I’ve become accustomed (used) to fear.” Four sessions of chemo, one surgery, two more chemo sessions around the corner… But at the same time, I have to admit, I also enjoyed those eight months (May to December 2006), the attention, the importance and the love that everyone showed… everything… it was all so thrilling and just surreal… those eight months…
Keeping my breast
I wasn’t a complete stranger to cancer. My mother died of ovarian cancer when I was fifteen and I also lost a cousin to breast cancer. Yes, we were well acquainted, cancer and I. The only thing I was scared of was that I might lose my breast to cancer. But my cancer was still in its early stages and looking at my age, my oncologist, Dr. Badve and his team opted for breast conservation.
So it began, the sessions of chemo… the hair loss started eight to ten days after the first session, and my fondness for scarves was satiated. I started going to university with a scarf tied around my brand new wig. I was always worried while attending lectures, what if someone finds out? But once inside the Tata Memorial Hospital, it felt oddly safe, because I wasn’t the odd one out here, everyone was just like me.
After the first session, the next fourteen hours I did nothing but vomit. The nausea subsided after the second chemo but I was still unable to eat properly, I couldn’t bear the heady scents of perfumes and incense sticks (agarbattis) and this caused many fights with my boyfriend. One side effect of the chemo was that my mouth didn’t form enough saliva, so every bite that I took would be like swallowing dry sand, and then I got mouth ulcers… I shifted to a liquid and semi-liquid diet, which helped a lot.
Four chemo sessions later, the doctors decided to operate … the cycle of tests grew, with the addition of an army of tests. Blood tests were done, X-Rays, Sonography, 2D echo to look at my heart and finally the day of my surgery dawned. The road to the OT was short… just eight to ten minutes… but it was long enough for my entire life to flash before me… the constant nagging that I might not survive this hammered away at my mind. My worries turned out to be baseless; I woke up after a successful surgery.
The surgeon removed ten lymph nodes that spread from my left breast through the body and that was going to stop the cancer from spreading. I was a bit confused by the ten-twelve metal pins stapled under my left armpit; the nurse who came to change my dressing told me those were the stitches. Below the stitches was a hole through which the doctors had passed a tube to collect all the contaminated blood into a drainage evacuator. Hearing that the staples and the drainage tube would be removed after a few days sent a shiver down my spine just imagining the pain.
Initially, the postoperative pain was too much… I couldn’t even lift my hand over my shoulder and reaching out for things made the pain worse.
The hard slog
The day after my surgery, my doctor showed me an exercise. I had to join my hands over my head while touching my ears and bring my arms back down again. This exercise would keep my arms from cramping up, but the exercises were hell for me. Stretching my arms made the staples under my arm stretch, and the pain would emanate from my incision, go searing through my body, up my spine and hit my brain like a train… Doing that ten times was one set… and I had to do tens such sets in a day!
Sweat would soak my gown and tears my eyes… I would close my eyes and hope the world would melt away. But every hour, my father would remind me to take this journey through hell again and again… the incision under my left armpit hurt, and the IV drip on my right hand had been abused supplying saline to my body, making the exercise twice as painful. I would much rather float away into oblivion than bear the pain. Pain, anger and depression were dancing hand in hand, clouding my mind each time I raised my arms.
The next few days the pain stuck to me like a leech, and the evacuator was an add-on annoyance. But even this phase ended and then began the radiation… those days even drinking water and swallowing food was a war with my body. Even today I feel the phantom pain sometimes while swallowing.
Scars or medals?
It’s been eight years now, but I still have to visit Tata Hospital every six months, a breast MRI in June and a Routine Checkup in December, but thankfully I am off all medication. The doctors found another tumour in the breast four years after my first surgery, which they promptly removed with another surgery.
Even today whenever I visit Tata Hospital, I have this fear in my heart… what if there is something wrong again? Can I soldier through another surgery? Chemo? The postoperative pain? I fear I can’t go through this again… I have a well set life with my husband and my job. But then I look in the mirror at the scars from the operation, the marks from radiation and I feel proud… these aren’t scars, but medals which I bear proudly declaring my victory over cancer. These medals… they are my strength… to keep on fighting… to keep on winning.