Our Pink Crusader
Her true name is Mrs. Meera Raj, an English professor (ma’am – please forgive me for any grammatical errors 😉 ), breast cancer survivor and more importantly, a Breast Cancer Counsellor.
Her battle with cancer started 3 years back, when she was detected with breast cancer. She noticed a lump in her breast and got it evaluated from a surgeon, who confirmed her worst fears after conducting a biopsy. All of a sudden, her perfect life was jolted by this diagnosis and she was clueless about what the future had in store for her. After the initial shock, she came to terms with her diagnosis and outlined a plan for the future.
During her treatment, she felt the need for a person whom she could share her fears and apprehensions with but at that time she had no one to counsel her except her oncologist. Following her treatment, she took it as a challenge to help others suffering from Breast Cancer. She quit her job and did a course in Cancer Counselling in an effort to make a difference in the lives of others. Ever since that, she has not looked back. She joined the Department of Breast Oncology at Mazumdar Shaw Cancer Center as a Breast Counsellor and has been helping out patients suffering from this dreaded disease.
Her routine starts with interacting with the OPD and in-patients and telling them more about the disease and what to expect in the future. She shares her experience with them and that gives the patients strength to prepare for the battle ahead. She routinely visits the chemotherapy ward to give pep talk to the patients undergoing chemotherapy and also runs a Breast Cancer support group, which is growing day by day.
We had carried out a study at Safdarjang Hospital on “The correlation of anxiety and depression levels with response to neoadjuvant chemotherapy in patients with breast cancer”, which was published in a reputed scientific journal and we had concluded that counselling and family support plays an important role in alleviating the anxiety & depression associated with cancer diagnosis in these patients. After joining the Breast Cancer Unit at Mazumdar Shaw Cancer Center and observing Meera ma’am dealing with the patients, I have come to the conclusion that it makes a huge difference in the patients attitude towards the disease if proper counselling is carried out. Breast counsellors (or Navigators) are a routine part of a Breast Unit in USA and UK but this is relatively new trend in India and only a couple of Breast Units in India currently have dedicated Breast Cancer Counsellors.
Mrs. Meera is an inspiration not only for the patients but also for all the doctors in the Breast Unit. Her enthusiasm towards the patients and her job pushes us further each day to help patients suffering from breast cancer. She is truly a “Pink Crusader.”
Being a cancer surgeon it really hurts me when I see patients suffering from cancer but it hurts me even more, when the people around them desert them during their time of need. Instead of only fighting the cancer growing within them, they also end up fighting the “social cancer”.
Consider these scenarios:
- Being a breast surgeon, I have seen many breast cancer patients having marital problems after being diagnosed with cancer. Their husbands leave them because of financial reasons and due to their physical appearance after cancer treatment.
- One patient was made a social outcast in her own home and was not allowed to sleep and eat with her children and other family members because they thought that cancer was a communicable disease.
- I know of a distant relative, who was diagnosed with leukemia when he was very young. He was completely cured with chemotherapy but then had a tough time finding a suitable match. Every time he revealed his story to the girl’s family, they rejected him immediately. One family even got all his reports verified from multiple experts, who were of the opinion that the cancer was treated, but still the family rejected him. Although he was able to win the battle against cancer but could not fight the social cancer and landed up with depression.
These problems arise because of the lack of awareness about cancer in our country. With the incidence of communicable diseases reducing in our country, cancer is going to become the next epidemic. If the same social stigma continues to haunt these patients, their lives would become miserable.
Some months back I saw a matrimonial column specifically for patients with AIDS (for which no cure is present). If the society can accept AIDS, then why not have a separate matrimonial column for cancer survivors, a disease which is curable, if diagnosed early.
A cancer patient does not need sympathy but needs support, not only from the immediate family members but also the society. Let us help create awareness about cancer and also educate relatives of cancer survivors about their disease and their needs.
Cancer awareness is the only chemotherapy against this social stigma.
Multifocal breast cancer is defined as the presence of two or more tumor foci within a single quadrant of the breast or tumor foci within 5 cms of each other.
Multicentric breast cancer is defined as the presence of two or more tumor foci within different quadrants of the same breast or tumor foci separated by more than 5 cms.
With the advent of better imaging modalities, these tumors are being detected more frequently and it is important to understand their impact on the surgical management.
Patients with multifocal breast cancer are eligible for breast conservation surgery (BCS; provided no other contraindications for this procedure are present) whereas BCS is avoided in patients with multicentric tumors.
Another point of interest to both the patients and the doctors is that the diagnosis of a multicentric or a multifocal tumor does not affect the overall survival of the patient.
Today, this blog is a month old and I could not think of a better post to celebrate this moment. This post is about my favourite cancer survivor, my grandmother. It is difficult to describe her in words but I will try my level best to do justice to her amazing personality and her fighting spirit.
Her symptoms appeared on a normal day, approximately two years back, after she had finished her daily quota of cooking (her first love and something which keeps her spirits high despite all odds). She noticed blood in her urine, which refused to stop despite medications and it made her and all of us anxious. Without any delay, we got an ultrasound done and it confirmed our worst fears. She had multiple tumors in her bladder. When we broke the diagnosis to her, she was, like all cancer patients, initially in denial but very quickly she reconciled to the fact that she had cancer and started preparing for the battle ahead.
Out of all the doctors in the family, she trusts my decisions the most (advantage of being a grandson 🙂 ) and so she called me to understand her disease and further course of action. Because she had been under the knife many times in her life, she was very calm about the diagnosis & the upcoming surgery, and for once she was happy that something was going to be removed from a her body rather than being added. In all her previous conditions, something had been added to her body (lenses after cataract, stents, pacemaker and artificial knees). 🙂 🙂
She was a bit nervous before surgery, not so much due to the cancer but because of her cardiac condition. Fortunately, her surgery went off really smoothly and although she had multiple lesions, all of them turned out to be superficial lesions which were completely removed. She had a speedy recovery, which was evident from the fact that she was back in the kitchen, cooking delicacies for us & knitting sweaters (her other passion), within a week of her surgery. My grandfather tried to discourage her from knitting after her surgery but we always encouraged her because it was one activity which kept her busy and left her with very little time to think about her disease.
More difficult than the surgery was her ordeal with the six cycles of intra-vesical chemotherapy (chemotherapy instilled into the bladder). She had to tackle repeated infections during this period but her strong will-power helped her pull through during this difficult phase. The first couple of days after each cycle were tough but on the third day she would be back doing what she enjoyed the most (cooking & knitting).
She finally finished her treatment and has been cancer-free for more than a year and a half now.
As a doctor observing her fight against the disease, I realised that being passionate about something (in her case, cooking & knitting) can really help one in channelizing his/her energy and it helps to tide over difficult times. I often give her example to my patients and it gives them hope and courage to fight their cancer with a smile.
Support Breast Cancer Awareness
I am sharing the picture of this beautiful pink flower in an endeavour to spread awareness about Breast Cancer in India. In color psychology, pink is a sign of hope and hope gives courage to Breast Cancer patients to fight the disease.