Advocating For Myself, Even When It Was Difficult

As a mom of two kids, being diagnosed with breast cancer at 40 disrupted everything that encompassed my normal way of living. Even though I had a 100% survival rate according to my oncologist, I would still have to undergo surgery to remove my 1cm lump, go through chemo, and have 36 radiation treatments.  

My husband had a word with my children (who were in 9th and 10th grade at the time) regarding my cancer and treatment. We never knew how they would react but at that time we realized that they had grown up and matured. They just wanted me to be free from cancer. My whole family became more responsible by helping and supporting me in each and every way. 

During chemo, losing my hair and eyebrows was a very difficult phase for me. After all my treatments I recovered and was out of breast cancer. 

After a year I got my hair back and started living a normal life with regular check-ups. I was told by my oncologist that if your tests are normal for three years you are out of "CANCER’’. And by the Grace of God, all reports were normal until year 5. 

After 5 years in Jan 2019, I got a fever which all doctors including a hematologist said was viral. My white blood cell count started going down and I got so weak that I couldn't even walk. 

Many tests were done, including blood cultures when the doctor said that Bone Marrow was the only test left. After the test, to our shock, I had Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL). According to the doctors, I may have gotten ALL as a side effect from my chemo treatments. Acceptance of having blood cancer was difficult for me and my husband. The mere thought of cancer was terrifying. I couldn’t even bring myself to hope this time, I only felt defeated. 

The doctor where I was diagnosed with ALL said that I had to be in the hospital for 11 months for treatment. This chemo would be more aggressive and difficult than my breast cancer chemos. I asked him when I would start my chemotherapy and he replied “Today.” I was not ready, I needed time to prepare myself physically and emotionally and I wanted to get a second opinion.  The doctor didn’t want me to go home, saying anything could happen, but eventually released me after I signed forms saying I was going home at my own risk. I was firm in advocating for myself and told my husband that I wanted to go home.

After getting discharged from the hospital, I reached my home with mixed feelings and lots of doubts. My husband and brother took my reports and went to a haemotologist for a second opinion. Unfortunately, some doctors don’t care about the emotions of the patients at all.  One renowned haemotologist suggested the same line of treatment. I asked him “What are my chances of survival?” He rudely replied that I only had a 40% chance of survival, that my cancer was treatable but not curable, and that anything could happen just from the first chemo treatment. Hearing this I burst into tears and said if not curable why should I go through the pain of chemo? I asked him whether we can do chemo through a port because IV is very painful. But he strictly refused and said that I may get an infection through a port and so he has to put an IV in hand.  Though he was a very renowned and famous doctor, I never got a positive vibe over there. 

Then I went to another doctor who was recommended by a friend. My husband and I showed him all my reports. He also suggested the same line of treatments and my same question was to him, “What are my chances of survival?” At which he said 70% chances and then seeing my worried face he said “Why don’t you consider yourself in that 70%? You are going to be fine, the treatment is a little aggressive but you have to be positive and you will get through it.” Then I asked him whether chemo can be done through a port, he replied “yes sure”, through port will be less painful. When I explained what the previous doctor told me, he explained nicely that "Having a port over an IV does not increase your chances of an infection". He told me that the chemo was aggressive and if the first month went well, everything will improve after that. With this doctor, I got very positive vibes and decided to get treated under him.

My family and friends were praying for me. They also reminded me that I have gotten through it before with a positive attitude and will get through it again.

After my 2 chemos, I had a lot of side effects. I had a liver problem, got jaundice which lasted for 2 months, got thrombosis due to my hand being swollen, and had to take blood thinner injections. 

During that period I also experienced small problems like constipation and acidity. It was hard to find a day where my body part was not in pain. Last but not least, I also got a cataract in my right eye as a side effect of chemo. I was totally broken down but my husband supported me morally and made me strong. He was like a strong pillar that gave me hope and relief. Even my husband’s friend stayed with us throughout my cancer treatment and kept my spirits up. While I was in pain, he made me laugh and gave me courage and confidence. My two sons were also my big strength. They were with me during my full treatment and would stay at the hospital overnight. Whenever I felt low they used to build my morale and cheer me up by saying it's just a phase mom, all is well. 

After undergoing these chemos, I felt that going through breast cancer chemos was easy. After 4 chemos and 2 intravenous chemos, I was very weak and then the doctor decided to do another bone marrow test. According to those reports, my cancer was gone!! It was the most relieving moment. I had to continue with treatment and regular checkups and eventually was told I was out of cancer.

Thankfulness is something I would flood my thoughts with. It's okay to feel sad and defeated, it's okay to cry… but I never gave up. I was determined and I encourage you to do the same. Thanks to my family, friends, and doctors who motivated me and supported me in every way.

Photo courtesy of Unsplash.