LOVE YOURSELF TO LIVE LIFE: Friends, I am Neelam A. Shinde and 44 years of age. I would like to share my journey with a small hope that my story might be inspiring and can be a force of motivation for all those women who are battling with cancer today.
I am a breast cancer survivor twice in my life. I firmly emphasize that if detected early, breast cancer is curable; all one has to do is – to keep going! Fight any type of cancer with complete determination and a true warrior. Keeping a positive outlook is proven to help with stress management, but when someone says to “think positive” or “be optimistic” during a time such as cancer, it can be much easier said than done. We know that cancer isn’t all rainbow and butterflies and once you enter a dark mindset, it can be hard to get out of it. But most of us have that one stroke of hope and inspiration that somehow manages to help bring some perspective and optimism to overcome the situation.
Let me take you back in time. I was 27 years of age. It was November 2003, and I was appearing for CA (Chartered Accountant of India) final exams. I developed pain in my right hand (arm and armpit) for almost a month before the exams. I just ignored it completely. I appeared for my CA exams by taking 2 to 3 painkillers daily for almost 4 to 5 days continuously to somehow curtail the pain. Finally, the exam got over but, by now, my pain had worsened. My right arm had swollen. The very next day I visited my GP (Family Doctor) and described my pain. She clinically examined me and immediately suggested I go for a Mammogram. I was completely stunned by hearing the word, “mammogram.”
Subsequently, I went through a mammogram, twice. They were excruciatingly painful 17 years ago. I underwent more clinical tests like FNAC (a biopsy). My test reports stated, “Carcinoma Right Breast.” It was a tremendous shock to me and my husband. With due respect to Medical Fraternity and with tremendous faith in GOD, somehow we (me and my very, very supportive husband) gathered strength to battle it out. My treatment started in November 2003 and went until August 2004. Those nine months were extremely challenging, not only physically but emotionally, as well. My line of treatment was Right Breast Surgery (Right BCT), followed by 6 cycles of chemotherapy and 30 sittings of radiation.
During my battle to survive, I was brooding upon the same “WHY ME” questions we all ask ourselves. My anxiety was touching skies. As we all are aware, chemotherapy treatment is extremely painful and stressful. Side effects of chemotherapy (complete baldness and many more adverse side effects) were torturing me like hell. Somehow negative thoughts were haunting me every time during my chemo cycles.
I got another nasty blow in 2013 when my father was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He looked upon me and fought his battle strongly. If that wasn’t enough, my mother was diagnosed in 2014 with breast cancer. Even she, like a brave warrior, fought her cancer strongly. Each day to come was making me stronger and stronger. I had become a valiant fighter by now. But calamity struck again. Almost 14 years since my diagnosis, and in March 2017, to my surprise, I felt a hard lump in my left breast. This time it was too harsh.
I decided to have genetic testing done and found out that I tested positive for the BRCA1 mutation. In addition, I had stage III invasive breast cancer. Since I had experienced the similar kind of a lump 14 years ago, and had a strong family history, this time I didn’t panic. No anxiety, no fear, no instructive thoughts. Nothing. I was very bold, positive and physiologically strong enough to deal with the situation.
By now I was 41 years of age. This time, again, I needed 6 cycles of chemotherapy and multiple surgeries. I underwent a left breast mastectomy as well as a total hysterectomy – the removal of my uterus and ovaries – and later 30 sittings of radiation therapy. It was really tough going through multiple surgeries at once. But it’s important to remember that setbacks, failures, and tragedies – however painful they may be – are a part of life. Whether we manage to find joy and success in the daily struggle of life is largely dependent on one’s ability to persevere through even the toughest adversity without ever giving up. I had made up my mind to tackle it in a different way all together this time around. I had changed my mindset. First and foremost, I never looked at this disease as a cancer. I deleted this word from my memory. For me it was like “Don’t let cancer kill you. You kill the cancer.”
My positive vibes encouraged me to continue doing my daily routine. During my chemo cycles, I decided not to be in bed all the time. I did restrain myself from long distance travelling. I cooked varied signature dishes for my family. I continued with my walking and yoga. I also attended my school’s reunion and I danced to my fullest ability with the music. I always embraced myself, my looks (though bald), my physique (though weak and pale), my complexion, my face without eyebrows and my inner beauty as well. I got one more chance to LOVE MYSELF. By GOD’S GRACE, with strong support from my family and blessings from all my friends and relatives, and with my own POSITIVE approach, I won the battle again.
My husband stood by me through the entire course of treatment, uplifting my will power to be fit and healthy. I modestly accept the fact that MANY A TIMES and depending on the severity and intensity of the disease in your body, it’s not always easy to develop POSITIVE ENERGY OR POSITIVE VIBES in YOU. A diagnosis of breast cancer or any type of cancer can affect attitude. It can be extremely difficult to accept a life-altering disease. This can cause feelings of hopelessness and despair. These feelings can lead to a negative attitude. Thinking about a diagnosis of cancer can be overwhelming. More than likely, a person will begin to think about all the negative things associated with cancer, like chemotherapy, radiation and even the possibility of death. Along with treatments for cancer come nasty side effects. Who could be happy about those? But ……Please don’t allow cancer to dominate you. Life is a mixture of happy moments, mundane normality and difficult situations. While we all seek plenty of happy moments and it’s easy to fall into routine, it is the difficult situations that really test your mettle. Difficulties will occur throughout your life, at different stages and ages. In each case, you’ll need to draw on a reserve from within to help you tackle the difficult situation and come through the other side stronger and wiser. My honest appeal is we have to “Rise like a Phoenix from ashes and fight this deadly disease.” It’s truly said that when you overcome cancer you are fearless in life.”