Zuvius: What were the circumstances that made you decide to go for a check-up?
Varshaa: My mom is a cancer survivor herself and when she had been detected with breast cancer; her surgeon had warned that some women tend to have the genetic tendency to pass it on to their daughters so as her daughter I too was warned to be alert. Since the doctor was a family friend he was insistent the we learnt to self-examine and thus taught us the skill of self-examination but at that young age of the twenties one doesn’t apprehend that you can fall victim to such a dreaded disease. Mom would constantly remind to self-examine and one such day when I was in the middle of celebrating Christmas and gearing up for New Year’s Eve, I just recalled my mom’s repeated reminder’s to self-examine. I did so and felt a tiny lump like thing on my left breast but dismissed it as an illusion and apprehension as it didn’t feel or hurt or pain or anything of that sort. It just existed there. Strangely and sadly when I had been taught the skill to self-examine, I had been informed that cancer creeps in silently majority of the times, yet I chose to be an educated ignorant and let the next ten fifteen days go by in merry making. At the end of that period I suddenly recalled that tiny lump and checked immediately to find out if it actually existed and I was shocked that it had turned into a very obvious big lump about the size of a peanut embedded deep, immediately we rushed for sonography.
LIFE LESSON 1: Ignorance isn’t bliss…be aware…be alert and be responsible for your personal self too because Jaan hai toh Jahaan Hai
Zuvius: What was your immediate response on learning you had Cancer?
Varshaa: The sonography report didn’t look too good and so a needle biopsy was insisted upon (Mamography hadn’t been invented at that time in life). We waited restlessly for the biopsy report and since mom had been through this process about ten years prior to this, she was restless and probably sure of what report could be expected. The crazy news was broken to me, my mom and my husband with a verdict that I had to be admitted right away that very moment. My world came crashing down because this was the last I could have expected. My son was two years old back then and I pleaded to be allowed to go back home for a couple of days to digest this fact and to be with my son. But the doctor who was closely known to us refused to budge an inch probably because he knew what havoc a needle biopsy could play after being inserted into a deadly malignant lump of a galloping nature. I had no choice but to give in to the pressures of the doctor and my husband and mom.
LIFE LESSON 2: Accept facts for what they are instead of resorting to denial because denial just delays whereas acceptance can accelerate arriving at the solutions faster and more effectively.
Zuvius: How did you decide which hospital/doctor to consult for further treatment? Did you think of taking a second opinion?
Varshaa: The hospital I went to was the last place I would ever allow anyone I know to ever get admitted there. I feel it’s like Yumraj, who takes away everyone you know who had been admitted there directly to the Death Valley, I assert so because I lost my father to that hospital’s carelessness. In the subsequent year I too was there and would have probably gone to the deadmen’s place too but there was a strange incidence on the day of my surgery. It was as if God’s Grace showed me the shining light when I got locked in the hospital’s washroom and when they tried to unlock, the knob came off leaving the lock pretty much jammed at its place. It took the hospital about 45 minutes to cut the door around the locked area and get me out. I threw a fit and refused to be operated that day due to the negative indications that universe was sending out to me. They had no choice but to postpone the surgery to the next date i.e. 19th January 2002 which also happened to be my father’s 1st death anniversary who had been operated in this same hospital on the 18th i.e. the same date that I was originally scheduled for surgery and this day was when he had left us for heavenly abode at the young age of 53 years. But I wasn’t giving up so soon I stuck my neck up and refused to be operated on the 18th, this sounds abstract but maybe that was a strong gut intuition and my zest for life that saved my life. Just two years later I lost even my mother in law in this crazy place so I personally hate that hospital.
As far as the second opinion is concerned, my doctor was my mom’s surgeon and a family friend so he was completely trustable. He was a doctor from the new school of thought with a double degree from the U.S. and a prominent doctor with 2 well-established and leading hospitals in Mumbai as well as association to a mission hospital for charitable treatment. So going with him was the natural course since mom had been treated well. But the shock came when he announced that just removal of the lump wasn’t the solution to my case and I would have to go through Mastectomy for the breast and Lumpectomy for the infected lymph nodes. I refused to believe that such a major surgery was needed and assumed that the family friend doctor had become greedy and was trying to make me the scape goat for his monetary and experiential benefits, I refused to sign the papers for consent to surgery and insisted on a second opinion but mom, hubby, family all requested to keep my faith in the doctor who had cured my mom. But I refused to give in and so even though I was refused to travel to another doctor from another hospital, my reports were shown to other doctors by family and well-wishers and the surgery was advised by one and all. Even after knowing that a major surgery was the only way out I still refused to sign the papers because……come on….28 years was no age to lose a breast for a young girl who loved herself and loved life. Mom, relatives, college friends, doctors and hospital team all tried to convince me all through those days, urging me on the seriousness of my condition and the life threat that I was facing. I eventually relented on the tenth day when my husband came up and whispered “That’s my property and I will make do with one…so you have no right to resist losing it and I would rather lose one than lose you!” I was speechless and over powered by my respect for him that had just multiplied a million times.
LIFE LESSON 3: This episode in my life taught me two major lessons…Firstly doubt is a direct by-product of fear and apprehension for the unknown, thus don’t let it cloud your mind and decisions else you will be responsible for your own destruction. Secondly Love is something that cannot be contained in a preconceived pre-defined notion because the way of expression varies from person to person. In all those six years of being married my husband may not have been expressing his love as per my pre conceived notion thus making me assume that he didn’t love me enough but what he said that day reflected the depth of his love for me. For a cancer patient to survive and heal faster the mandatory essential of treatment is love and affection from friends, family and loved ones.
Zuvius: Can you tell us what kind of Cancer you had, the stage and what was the procedure of treatment prescribed?
Varshaa: I had second stage third grade cancer of galloping nature and thus the speed at which it could grow was multi fold faster than the other kinds of cancers. The cancerous cells had thrived even in the lymph nodes wherein 11 lumps were removed of which 2 to 3 were badly infected. In short, if a few more days would have passed without removing them then it would have spread into the inner organs and in all probability I wouldn’t have been around writing this. The post-surgery treatment comprised of 20 days to recoup, heal the surgery stitches, arm rotation exercises to ensure that the arm pit didn’t get jammed after removal of the lymph nodes, new dressing and checking the stiches at the end of those twenty days. After this all the blood tests had to be done to ensure that I was up to the count for taking a chemotherapy. Thankfully my WBCs were pretty low at the end of 20 days so chemo was postponed for another 15 days. I lived my life in those 15 days since I knew I would be living hell for the next 8 to 9 months due to my 6 cycles of chemotherapy that was prescribed with a gap of 40 days between two cycles. Since mine was a very advanced case the doctors didn’t want to take a chance so the dosage of chemo medicine prescribed was very high meaning higher magnanimity of the after effects of the treatment. During those 15 days I went back to my son for a few days and played with him as it was the greatest stress buster, I watched 3 movies in the theatre with my mom and my grandmom because I knew that public places, outside food etc. would be banned for me for the entire year or maybe more. I have always hated being pitied upon so people who called or visited to express pity and sympathize would be shocked with my positive stance and anti-pity attitude. I had seen my mom suffer from the horrible treatment but there’s a whale of a difference between seeing and experiencing yourself, but I guess I was ready to take it on with a strong mind.
LIFE LESSON 4: Never fear the unknown as your apprehensions magnify the ill effects and trauma you go through.
Zuvius: What were the physical changes seen in yourself, in your daily life and how did you cope with those?
Varshaa: OMG….the first cycle of chemotherapy, it was like my veins, blood, my entire inner body was set on fire. I vomited all night, was constipated the next morning and nauseated and vomited all day again, it felt like my entire inner system was pushing to turn inside out. My mom contacted our homeopathy doctor and got some pills to take care of these side effects. Those homeopathy medicines were a blessing in disguise as I could eat without nauseating or vomiting. Over and above that constipation was taken care of so I could sleep without feeling like I was on fire, Two to three days after my chemotherapy, I woke up one morning and found some strands of hair on my pillow so I went to the wash room to check on the status of my hair. Much to my dismay, my hair came off with roots as easily as one would be able to take a piece of the cotton candy (widely known as budiya ke baal or pink candyfloss).
I was staying with my mother during the course of my treatment as my mother in law wasn’t in a state to nurse my extreme condition and more over she had to take care of my 2 year old son and home too. My mom was much more agonized than me to see me losing the hair. For the next 3 days every morning I would wake up to a pillow full of hair and a highly emotional mom. After losing my father exactly a year before my surgery, I couldn’t add to her trauma each living day for something as trivial as my hair that would grow back some day after my treatment was over. So on the 4th or 5th day of this repeated ordeal and emotional days, I woke up, went to the wash room and stood in front of the mirror and caressed my hair by running my fingers from the root down for them to come off in as much bulk as were ready to come off once and for all. Surprisingly all of them just came off completely. I carried that entire bunch and handed it over to mom and joked that I will get a wig made out of those waist length hair and would wear a bandana till then. She gave me an old scarf that used to be my school time favourite and she had stored that away as fond memories, wow seeing that scarf was nostalgic as all those memories of those lovely picnics and holidays came flooding back wherein I had worn that favourite scarf of mine. Bandana on my head became a style statement from that day on at least that’s what most who weren’t aware of my illness assumed.
But even if I would have projected that I am strong and cool and facing all that treatment with ease and acceptance, the fact was that I was living hell and chaos and trauma and helplessness deep within. As a chatterbox my greatest challenge was to refrain from expressing my pain and trauma to my loved ones and since I was portraying a tough side it was adding to my emotional trauma along with the physical trauma of losing a breast, losing all my hair, losing my eyebrows, nails turning blue and ready to fall off with the slightest of impact. But did I have a choice? No, I couldn’t escape it as I was in no condition to walk or step out of home for those days in between two chemo cycles. I couldn’t express all the hell and helplessness to anyone since I had to stay tough for my Mom, my son and my hubby so I resorted to penning down my emotions, confusions, trauma, hope etc. and Voila!! Guess what? I discovered the poet in me who had always existed but the potential had gone unnoticed and unfathomed. This was the initiation of a new life, a new beginning with a new skill to explore with a new purpose and optimism to life.
LIFE LESSON 5: Who am I to decide what I want out of my life? It’s all God’s Grace. He always has bigger designs, all that’s needed by mortals like me is to understand those designs and fill in the appropriate colours. Once the right fabric of life is self-woven, the drape will feel perfect and complementing
Zuvius: Who and what kept your spirit up, gave you the strength and confidence to go through this difficult phase of treatment without losing hope?
Varshaa: I guess it was a combination of multiple things, firstly it was my love for life, my self-confidence, my mother’s love, nursing, nurturing and past experiences, my husband’s love and attention, my son’s innocent questions, affectionate and healing hugs which I got in rationed doses, not because he would catch some infection but because I could catch and infection due to my extremely low WBC. It felt like I was the newborn baby in the incubator that even kids weren’t allowed to touch due to fear of infection. Over and above this I was blessed to have parents who were loved by neighbours, relatives and community members so when they got to know of my illness they would call me, visit me, pamper me by getting some interesting homemade food like soups and interesting desserts which helped me stay distracted and occupied. In my alone moments my poetry writing was my pillar of strength and the 1st poem I created in my life at that age of 28 is titled “Zindagi Ke saath Khushi se Chal Chalaa Chal….haan Khushi se chal chaala chal….”
LIFE LESSON 6: One has to seek happiness within and not around and once being happy becomes a way of life, and then any tragedy or trauma however huge can just shake you up a bit but will never succeed at uprooting you.