October is marked as Breast Cancer Awareness Month which has struck a personal chord with me because my mother fought Breast Cancer from 2010-2011. My sister and I have decided to do a 2-part series to share our journey and hopefully lend some advice to all those who are going through this or seeing their loved ones go through this. Here is Pragati Siddhanti’s column on the what we went through as a family.
When Your Mother Is Diagnosed With Breast Cancer
Maybe it’s because she’s my mother, maybe not: but my mother has always had to do things for herself. Despite coming from an affluent family bounty in love and traditions, her determination and hard work cannot be ignored. This is probably why my mother has been a strong influence in my life. Right from being a friend, an emotional anchor (and fulfilling parental responsibilities), she has also been a teacher to me. I tell you this because the pain that comes with a person you love and look up to, who’s not your distant relative or a friend but the person who gave birth to you, is of a different magnitude.
She dedicated her life to her daughters, her husband (my father) and her job. If we think about it rationally, I have all the answers of what she did right: she eats the worst vegetables without making a face, she exercises as much as she can, yes she gained weight after having 2 kids but is an average Indian mother. She has never smoked a day in her life, or finished a drink (despised her family’s insistence). She breastfed her kids, she took her supplements, she has gone for endless walks, is diligent with annual preventive tests and medical check-ups as advised by her physician. So what’s the reason? What we figured out through this journey that there couldn’t be just one. And if there was, we’ll never know.
Four years ago, I conceived my daughter. Most women enjoyed their pregnancy, but no such luck for me. I had every wrong symptom in the book and was virtually put on bed rest by my gynaecologist. Far from enjoying the golden days where you can eat all you want, I was losing my will. Soon, I decided to spend a little more than my last trimester at my parents’ place. The pampering had officially begun and I started feeling a little bit positive. Just sitting and chatting with Mom and was a relief.
And then this hit us, out of nowhere: my mom discovered a little lump on her breast while praying to her Gods. She didn’t say a word to any of us and I am fairly sure she spent the night praying that this is just her imagination going wild. But she didn’t just dismiss it.
The next morning, she headed for the doctor’s office where she advised a mammogram and an ultrasound. Her instincts spoke to her before the medical results: her worst fears had come true.
And quite frankly, none of us knew how to react. Life didn’t stop, on the contrary, it was all about getting into action and going for medical consultations, tests and figuring out an able oncologist. But from time to time, each of us went in and out of our shells. While I felt thankful about being in the same city as her, the baby in my tummy translated into a restless wait till my Mom and Dad went for a series of tests and consultations over what felt like forever.
The good part: it was in stage 1, completely curable. Nobody spoke about a mastectomy. Correction, nobody sensible spoke about a mastectomy. A week later: my Mom and Dad sped off to Mumbai for a lumpectomy leaving an 8 month pregnant ‘me’ and my sister for a couple of days. The operation wasn’t long, and she was a fighter. In 5 days, she was back on her feet and back to her home. She took her pills, she ate healthy, with a big scar on her breast and a big hope that this would be it. That she wouldn’t need any further treatment. But we weren’t just done with BC.
Due to the nature of the tumour, and how aggressive it was, my moother was then advised a few rounds of chemotherapy and many rounds of radiation.
My mom was very scared now, I could see her strength disappear and her will to fight drain out. We tried to pep her up, but the more we did that the more it pissed her off. It’s not easy: in fact, it was almost bittersweet to be on the verge of bringing a new life into the world and watching your mother suffer. Her first session of chemo hit her hard. She was sick for 5 days. Her skin went dark, she lost weight, she was low on platelet counts and almost nil on willpower. That’s the thing about chemotherapy: it makes you want to give up before it makes you better.
Meanwhile, my daughter decided to make an entrance. Despite being through a round of chemo, my mother managed to stand with me for 28 hours of painstaking labour. As I recovered in the hospital and got to know my daughter, things had changed with Mom in just 3 days.
By the time I came back home from the hospital, she was wearing a scarf on her head.
Time is Relative
My mother’s life came to a standstill too, she took a leave of absence from a job she missed everyday and she only stepped out to go the hospital. Chemo sessions, scans and tests were a part of dinner conversation. Some of the family was very supportive; some just stared and some were glad it didn’t happen to them. But those who were around made a significant difference. And most of them, my daughter proved to be a ray of hope in these tough times. She became the reason of Mumma’s smiles and my sleepless nights. And then it was about time. We just had to be patient.
After 9 months of injections, radiations and what seemed like an eternity of fear, my mom got better. She started looking and feeling better. While I was happy I was there, with her, next to her, I wish I could do something more for her. That’s the thing about the ones you love: their emotions, desires, fears, successes all mirror in you.
The Story Today
Mom goes for a complete check-up every 6 months. Somewhere she fears it’d come back. But whoever says time is the biggest healer was right. She went back to being normal: working 8 hours a day, eating healthier, exercising, screaming at her family, reading up and stocking up on anti-oxidants. She tries to stress less: something that is genetic, one of the biggest factors responsible for all types of cancer.
We were lucky to have caught it in time, God gave us that for sure. And we are so thankful to get the right medical advice in time. But most of all, my mother was a strong patient. And you should be too.
If you or your family is going through breast cancer and you need any help, you can reach out to us.