This is a real story of Gayathri, a born fighter and a cancer survivor.
Hi There! I am Gayathri and as the title suggests I am about to share my Cancer story! Around 10 months back, in June 2016 I was busy doing my daily juggling between cooking at home, running to the office and meeting my international clients at the field, then running for my weekly thrice dialysis appointments, and yes I am an end stage renal failure patient as well. But that never stopped me from running around and taking care of my family and my career appointments.
The only change I could feel was a sudden slowdown of my energy levels. I would become tired very easily. I simply attributed that to weakness caused due to dialysis. One fine morning I woke up and noticed a sudden bulge on the left side of my neck. It was not painful and did not cause any discomfort of any sorts. Then suddenly I had a high fever. I went to a local doctor, who looked at me and at very first glance told me that I had jaundice. I tested positive for jaundice as well. Being a renal failure patient I was advised to get admitted for observation. I went to a hospital and went to the emergency to get admitted. The attending doctor was more interested in the bulge than my jaundice. As usual, I was alone in a hospital, which was not new to me. My in-laws were too sick and I was taking care of them, so could not expect them to be with me. My husband had work. In my side of the family, I had lost both my mom and dad to the same renal failure a few years back. Sisters were settled in other cities.
The Doctors took way too much interest in the bulge on my neck. They did an ultrasound of my neck, where I thought they would test my liver for jaundice they were behind my neck! Then followed a series of specialists ranging from Nephrologist, Gastroenterologist, Endocrinologist, General Physician and the funny part, the Director of the Hospital an Orthopaedic whom I knew from before also visited me. I was rather confused! Then series of tests like a needle was poked into my neck and some fluid was collected, this followed with MRI of my entire body, CT scan of my entire body! I told the hospital doctors that I had jaundice and just because I had medical insurance did not mean that they could do all the possible tests on me.
Then the main hero entered who happened to be an Oncologist. It was 9.00 in the night, I was all alone in my hospital bed, and the gentleman revealed to me that it was 90% confirmed that I had blood cancer. Not knowing how to react, I laughed at the beginning. He gently patted on my back and told me not to worry, Cancer is curable!!
Reality sunk in, I sent a message to my sisters. Seconds later my eldest sister called me crying and all worried. She said the usual dialogue that it must be a wrong diagnosis, wait for the biopsy result. Next day my elder sister from Chennai was with me in Bangalore. The biopsy on my neck was done. I had to wait almost 10 days for the results to arrive.
As I did not have a great support system in Bangalore, I came to Chennai and we had decided to opt for Adayar Cancer Institute for the treatment, as it is one of the best cancer hospital in India. Finally, the result arrived and the main hero, the Oncologist was spot on, I had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. A kind of blood cancer, where white blood cells (WBC) are produced in excess and they gathered for a kitty party all over my body at the lymph nodes and decided to get naughty and turned cancerous!
Apart from Adayar Cancer Institute, India also boasts of the excellent treatment provided by Tata Memorial Hospital which is the best cancer hospital in Mumbai. Since I was more familiar with Bangalore, I selected Adayar Cancer Institute for my treatment process.
This time I was not alone, I had my warm 12 year nephew hugging me tight and comforting and telling me that I will be fine soon. We went to Adayar Cancer Institute. I had crossed that gate a lot of time since my school and college days. We used to go to the Children’s park and IIT campus back then. Entering this gate for the first time was so surreal!! Like every other person, I used to think why I will get cancer, but hey this naughty guest visits the most unsuspecting persons and surprises the hell out of them.
I was astonished to see the sheer number of people suffering from this deadly disease believe me it was overwhelming. The best and worst thing about this place is every patient is treated the same. No VIP quota system. The worst part was we had to wait 6 hours to finally see my real hero, My Oncologist, at the Cancer Institute. When my name was called I was relieved and we went in and were greeted by a soft spoken Senior Doctor. He was one of the directors at the Cancer Institute. He had a look at my reports and advised further tests followed by Biopsy of my Bone marrow and a PET scan. My first question to him was how many patients he would have treated who were a Dialysis patient and had Cancer; to my surprise, he said I was his first. He was well experienced Doctor maybe in his 50’s or 60’s. He continued saying that it was not very common to see dialysis patients with Cancer. I thought to myself, it had to be me because I am special you see!
All the blood tests were done then came the time for bone marrow biopsy the next day. Me being the confident myself walked into the procedure room casually. I was asked to lie on my side and crouch like a baby. Then my eyes fell on the syringe kept on the table at the side. It had an almost 15cm long needle. I am not exaggerating. The needle must have been around 20 mm thick. The Doctor walked in and gave me the so called local anaesthesia and asked me to take a long breath and then poked the damn needle just below my spine, I could feel every bit of it, him trying to enter my lower spine. Never had I experienced such an excruciating pain, I almost was about to scream at the poor doctor who was just trying to do his job!! Finally, the ordeal was over and I came out sobbing uncontrollably. For the next two days, I had difficulty in sitting and lying down, with a punctured back. The PET scan went on smoothly, me being claustrophobic, till date I do not know how the machine looks. I consciously look away, lie down and close my eyes tightly and recite my prayers. The reports arrived, I had stage 3 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and thankfully it did not dare to enter my bone marrow. I was happy for that. The doctor told 12 sessions of chemotherapy will suffice. I asked him about radiation etc., He said not required, I was relieved.
The Chemo procedures started, for the first one I was admitted there. It was basically a combination of colorful drugs along with a saline bottle given as intravenous. The only challenge was to find a good vein. Not to blame the warm nurse, my veins were so pathetic; she had to prick me almost 12 times and got lucky the 13th time. They observed me for two days, to see how I reacted to the drugs; to my surprise, I was perfectly fine.
I came home and on day 4 the effects started to kick in. I lost my tasting ability first. Then a couple of days later my entire body started to ache as if someone had pelted stones at me. Even if someone touched me gently, it used to ache. Add to the misery the dialysis had to continue as usual.
After my second chemo, I started losing my hair, before my first chemo I had cut my long hair to short pixie style boy cut. Just my stupid way of thinking that it will be less painful to see small hair fall, rather than long hair. So yes I started shedding hair like a dog sheds its coat during monsoon. My sister had to sweep the house frequently because my hair would be running in circles in every possible corner. Finally, I went to the parlour and completely took them off. I will not sugar coat this, I did not look great with no hair and eyebrows but later got comfortable with it.
As further chemo started more complication or so called side effects of chemo occurred. From high fevers to chest infections, to breathlessness, chemo burns, everything followed. Dialysis had become a challenge as I used to get the mother of all shivering, very tough to explain in words. My WBC, haemoglobin, and platelets everything would fall drastically, making me weak, so weak that I needed help to get up from the sofa. Walking 5 steps was a Himalayan task. I had to take multiple transfusions to survive. To sail through, I had to take multiple painkillers, sleeping pills, steroids and what not. Finally, my 12 chemos got over in Feb 2017.
After my final PET scan in March 1st week, I was waiting for my Doctor to tell me the outcome. My main Doctor was on leave and his junior met us, she told me that I was fine, no more chemo sessions required. My elder sister asked her bluntly,” is my sister cancer free now?” To which she said a big and assuring YES. I could not contain myself. Immediately I messaged my eldest sister who was in a conference in UK. I don’t know how she managed; she immediately video called me and all the three of us cried our hearts out. Sometimes there is a lot of joy in crying, which I experienced that day. A big thanks to my Aunt for sending her healing energy at all times, it really helped me a lot. My elder sister cared for me like a watchful mother and nursed me back to where I am today and she continues to do so and my eldest sister always showers me with her unconditional love and support.
Why do I still call Cancer my teacher?
Number one reason, it made me realise what a positive person I am, not once during this ordeal, did I ever think that I might not make it or why my kind of self-pity. I knew from the beginning that I will win this. Thanks to my parents for imbibing such strength in me. Big thanks to my elder sister, who cared for me like a watchful mother and nursed me back to where I am and my eldest sister for her unconditional love and support.
Valuing every day, I see it as a gift.
It has brought me closer to people and taught me how to value and reciprocate people’s care and concern.
Has made me Spiritual and brought faith in me for the supreme power.
To sum it all up, it has made me more humane, and a calmer person.
This is yet half the battle won. I have one more to beat, waiting for a Kidney transplant after a couple of years. Till then dialysis continues to be my friend. This is going to be a new beginning, new career, back on my own! My only mantra in life is not to stress much, be it a job or a relationship. I don’t want my WBC to start multiplying again you see!!
Love my pillars of strength my sisters, brother in laws, nephews and friends & relatives.