|Year : 2022 | Volume
| Issue : 1 | Page : 85-87
You can (cer) do it!
Out patient room number 304, Homi Bhabha Block, Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai - 400 012, Maharashtra, India
|Date of Submission||23-Dec-2021|
|Date of Decision||17-Jan-2022|
|Date of Acceptance||19-Jan-2022|
|Date of Web Publication||24-Feb-2022|
Out patient room number 304, Homi Bhabha Block, Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai - 400 012, Maharashtra
Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None
|How to cite this article:|
Pendekanti A. You can (cer) do it!. Cancer Res Stat Treat 2022;5:85-7
It was just another Monday morning; I woke up thinking of all the tasks I had to complete that day, as I was in the process of applying for my Masters abroad. I was brushing my teeth when I happened to run my left hand over my chest and felt a big lump underneath. For a second, everything that I have ever read about breast cancer flashed through my mind. There was a moment of hysteria as I considered the possibility, but I was not afraid. I waited a day before consulting an onco-surgeon. The ultrasound technician told me that it was a fibroadenoma and there was nothing to worry about. The doctor walked in during the scan and advised me to undergo a biopsy immediately. I am grateful for his expertise. On December 29, 2020, at the age of 29, I was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer, invasive ductal carcinoma. I was informed that it is rare and aggressive, more so in younger women. I had to start the treatment without any delay. I received the news calmly. As an athlete, I had suffered numerous injuries, underwent two major surgeries, and had been hospitalized multiple times for other recurring health issues. These experiences helped me believe that I could overcome any challenge that lay ahead of me. I skipped the first hurdle of acceptance, which was asking the question “Why me?” and went directly to “What can be done?” This was solely because I had immense faith in the divine to guide me through everything.
What followed in the forthcoming week were scans, tests, doctor visits, multiple opinions, and advice – both solicited and otherwise. I wish they allowed one family member or friend to accompany me while waiting for the positron emission tomography scan. However, given the pandemic restrictions, I was not allowed that luxury. I would have truly appreciated the company as I sat alone with my thoughts in a small room with four walls, no windows, and no other patient in sight for nearly 3 hours. I was the only young woman in a room full of 50 to 70-year old women and it was unsettling to be stared at while I waited for my scans. Even during my subsequent visits to the hospital in the following few months, I never came across another woman of my age diagnosed with the type of cancer I had.
After a stressful week of consultations and discussions with several doctors, we decided to go for neoadjuvant chemotherapy, followed by surgery and radiation.
Considering my young age, I was advised oocyte cryopreservation by my oncologist, though my surgeon felt it was not necessary. However, I have always been certain that I want children, so I decided to delay the treatment and go in for the procedure. I was informed rather solemnly by my disappointed gynecologist, who hoped I would walk through her doors with two sets of twins in future, that they collected nearly 25 eggs (I had polycystic ovary syndrome) “of average to poor quality.” I laughed and felt a deep sense of relief that I had at least tried! She did assure me that I could manage to have two children with my bounty of eggs (ha-ha). I had no regrets and was already preparing for the next stage in my treatment plan. This included having my upper two wisdom teeth extracted as they could potentially cause a problem during the chemotherapy. I was instructed to try, and have it done without making any incisions in the gum, and my dentist won this round for me! It felt like a wonderful achievement, especially during the trying times I was going through. You learn that every victory, big or small, calls for a celebration in this journey.
For the chemotherapy port procedure, I was sedated and given local anesthesia, as per standard practice. However, I found myself partially awake halfway through the procedure and conscious of what was happening to and around me. My face was turned sideways and covered with a sheet. My eyes were wide open and I could see lights and people moving around. I could even hear the doctors asking for instruments and felt them press against my chest repeatedly as they spoke about adjusting something. I was initially disoriented, but as understanding dawned, I felt utterly helpless and wished desperately to be unconscious. When I was shifted back to the chemotherapy daycare, the nurse realized that the port was not in the right position and called for the surgeon. It took another agonizing hour for the doctor to manually move it into the right place. It was not the smooth start that I had hoped for, but I recovered and continued to be optimistic.
I handled the first few rounds of chemotherapy well. As I am an artist by profession, I was worried about neuropathy, and so I diligently used ice gloves and socks after each dose. Thankfully, there was no permanent damage except for shaky hands every now and then. It was after the sixth chemotherapy cycle that I experienced severe nausea and was given a medicine for it, but I started feeling strange. When I attempted explaining it to the nurses, I could not speak coherently and was informed that it was a side effect due to the chemotherapy. I was asked to rest, and my claims were dismissed as trivial. My mouth went slack, my body was restless, and I felt as if I had no control over my own body. I was given four more doses of the medicine before my sister noticed a pattern in my reactions and informed the doctor. He then confirmed that I was allergic to the medicine and that it affects the central nervous system (CNS) in some patients. Unfortunately, this was not the only medicine that I would react adversely to; worse was yet to come.
The next chemotherapy cycle which included adriamycin and cyclophosphamide (AC), was a nightmare for me. I was given two doses of AC and had an extremely severe reaction both times, leading to hospitalization and a stint in the intensive care unit (ICU). I was given a drug to help with the side effects, but it turned out I was highly allergic to that as well, leading to one of the worst experiences of my life. My CNS had gone horribly haywire, I could not see clearly, my speech was slurred, and I began to thrash around. I was forcibly held down on the bed and was hallucinating and delusional for hours. I was continuously vomiting and cramping. I was rushed to the ICU and had lost complete control over my body. I was literally crippled and the pain was indescribable. It took hours for me to settle and weeks for the symptoms to subside. It turned out I was one among thousands who react so negatively to AC; even my doctors were genuinely shocked by it.
When I finally started to feel better, the relief was so overwhelming that my mind was blank; I was just happy to exist because not being in pain was the biggest gift. Throughout this ordeal, my faith and chanting of mantras helped me the most. Beyond a point, no one and nothing can comfort you. So, you pray to the divine and rely on him to get you through the challenging times. It was yet another reminder of how helpless this disease can make one feel. I realized very early that most of the times, I would have no choice but to proceed with my treatment irrespective of the circumstances.
We were advised to stop the chemotherapy after receiving the second dose of AC and proceed with surgery. The fear of not having completed all the four cycles of chemotherapy gripped us, but I could not put my body through such a beating again. My surgery and radiation were scheduled during the peak of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic in India. We took all necessary precautions and visited the hospital every day with a positive mindset. The isolation brought on by the pandemic made it impossible for patients to experience the warmth and comfort of having their families and friends by their side. I never had the opportunity to interact with a fellow patient or to avail any benefit from the support groups that only a cancer community can provide. I truly believe that in this regard, we are woefully lacking in India. As I try to explain what I have been through, people sympathize, but they cannot and will not fully understand. Only someone who has lived with such an experience will. A few months after the treatment, I finally spoke to a wonderful patient advocate and counselor and became a part of a community that helped me realize that I am not alone. It helped me cope with post-treatment recovery.
The fear of recurrence is real, and no matter how optimistic I am, it haunts me in my weak moments. We cannot be strong and positive all the time, as people often expect us to be. Online cancer support groups that I am a part of, rightly refer to it as “toxic positivity.” There were some who asked how I got cancer considering I am young and fit. This initially made me wonder if I had somehow caused it through my actions in the past. It is not something a patient would ever want to hear or ponder over, especially right after their diagnosis. The lack of sensitivity among people is something that I encountered repeatedly. Sometimes one is overwhelmed by questions that are unanswerable; such is the unpredictable nature of an illness such as cancer. My life took a drastic turn and there is a significant amount of emotional baggage that I am still processing. Professionally and personally, I feel lost at times and in need of a fresh start. I am extremely grateful to be alive and to know that it will take a lot of effort and patience to regain my physical and mental strength; I am looking forward to giving it my absolute best!
About the author
Ananya Pendekanti is an artist and lives in Hyderabad. She has been an athlete and basketball player throughout her school and college years. She also plays golf and loves to spend time outdoors. She is inspired by nature, and it is the prevailing theme in her work. She hopes to use her art and voice to raise awareness about breast cancer and help create a community for the same. Her Instagram handle is @wild.blu.skies
The story was shared by the patient with Vandana Mahajan.
Vandana Mahajan is a palliative care counselor with a postgraduate diploma in integrative counseling. She is trained in palliative and bereavement counseling. She is associated with a Mumbai-based cancer non-governmental organization named Cope with cancer-Madat Trust. She works as a volunteer counselor in the thoracic disease management group at the Tata Memorial Hospital and also provides cancer counseling to patients across India through online platforms. She too is a cancer survivor!
Ananya is in rehabilitation and is recovering. At the moment, she is not comfortable sharing her contact details.
Financial support and sponsorship
Conflicts of interest
There are no conflicts of interest.