You can read the previous parts of Seema’s story here.
“This too shall pass.” These were the wise words of Seema’s mother when she heard about all the side-effects of chemotherapy that Seema was facing.
Seema held on to those words and kept repeating them to herself every day. But even then, there were days when she could barely make it out of bed. More than the physical need for rest, she felt a need to rest her mind from the constant thinking and worries that were crowing it.
Will I be okay? Will I be able to work like I used to? Will I be able to take care of my child properly? Will I be able to joke and laugh with my husband like I used to? And the most worrying of all: Will cancer come back again after treatment?
The trouble with such questions is that no one can give you the right answer. And even though Seema knew this, it was very hard to stop thinking about these things. She spoke to her treating oncologist who told her that given that her cancer was diagnosed in early stage and it was not biologically very aggressive as per her IHC reports the probability of it coming back was quite low as she was on right treatment path. Still he could not tell her for sure as it is difficult to predict individual patient’s specific course of disease.
One way of getting over such thoughts was to talk to others. She spent time talking to her mother, her best friend, and her husband about these things. Most of the time she felt better after talking to them.
Yet, she sometimes felt they could not understand how she was feeling because they had never gone through the same thing. She wished she could speak with someone who knew what it was like to have cancer.
As if in answer to this wish, the care manager at Onco.com introduced Seema to a cancer support circle called Talk Your Heart Out. The members of the group came from different parts of India, and had very little in common, and that was: cancer.
Everyone in the group had been touched by cancer in some way, either physically, or mentally and emotionally, as caregivers of cancer patients. Some had lost a loved one to cancer, while someone else was still undergoing treatment, just like Seema.
For the first time since her diagnosis, Seema realised that she was not alone, there were many others like her.
At the circle, she heard the stories of other cancer survivors and realised that their stories were so much like her own. Across countries, social and economic strata, and genders, they all were having a common experience because of cancer.
When she heard them complain about the same problems that she complained about, she felt relieved. She was not alone in feeling these things. So many others were going through the same confusion, the same irritation and anger that she had been feeling all these months. She also got inspired by how people like her came out victorious eventually.
These realisations mellowed Seema. She found herself more calm in everyday situations. The questions ‘why me?’ did not make sense anymore when there were so many like her.
Before she knew it, the two week break between chemotherapy and radiation therapy was over. It was now time for her to visit a radiation oncologist for the next stage of her treatment.
After a planning CT scan, the radiation oncologist began planning her treatment on the computer. The benefits, possible side effects and financials of the treatment were explained to Seema and her husband before starting the treatment.
Two days later, her treatment began at the same cancer hospital that she had been visiting before.
By now, she had heard in the circle about how radiation takes place and what side-effects could be expected. So mentally, she knew what was coming her way and also that, like the others in the group, she would be able to face it.
Radiation therapy required Seema to visit the hospital every day, Monday to Friday, for four weeks. The treatment in the radiation machine took only 10 minutes, and she was able to come back home and continue her daily routine and office work as usual.
For the first three weeks, the complete left breast was given radiation, and in the last week, only the operated area was given radiation. She just noticed a darkening of the skin and she didn’t face any other problems during the treatment. The doctor gave her a cream to apply and advised to apply it after radiation.
The oncologist explained that Image guided radiotherapy (IGRT), a type of radiation technique was being given to her as it would protect her lungs and hearts from the side effects of radiation. She could continue staying with her family during this time as the radiation would not harm them in any way.
Seema was also advised that she could continue with her diet and physical exercise as before. She must remember to keep herself hydrated at all times by drinking plenty of water and other fluids like juices and soups.
Just like Seema’s mother had predicted, this also passed, and Seema completed her radiation therapy as per schedule. In a moment that Seema would cherish for the rest of her life, the oncologist told her that she did not need to visit the hospital daily anymore.
The oncologist had advised Seema and Rohan that even though hospital visits were no longer required on a daily basis, there would still be some oral medication to be taken daily for the next five years. This is called hormone therapy.
The oral medication prescribed for Seema was Tamoxifen and she had to take one tablet per day. She had to come back for a visit to the oncologist after the first two weeks, only to check that there were no side-effects of radiation remaining. After that she would need to return after a month for a regular follow-up. In the meanwhile she was still advised to wear loose , cotton based clothing and avoid direct sunlight exposure for next 1 month.
She was now free to go home and live her life. She was cancer free.
Cancer free. Those words were like a scissor that cut loose some invisible burden from her shoulders. She tilted her head slightly backwards so that her tears would not flow out of her eyes in the presence of others. Although she wasn’t looking at his face, she knew that her husband who was sitting next to her was smiling. She could almost ‘hear’ his smile, it was so obvious.
That night they went home and celebrated for the first time in almost a year. They ate, danced and shopped online like there was no tomorrow. After all this occasion called for celebrations. It is not everyday that you find out that you will continue to live.
More than happiness it was relief; relief at having survived, and relief at being able to carry her son in her arms again.
She began running behind her son again when it was time to do his homework. Work meetings began to get longer and they began to enjoy the latest season of their favourite reality show again.
Except for that one tablet she took daily, it was possible to go through an entire day without thinking of ‘cancer’ even a single time. She began to speak to all those relatives again whom she had avoided during the treatment.
Yet, once a month, Seema made it a point to attend the cancer support circle Talk Your Heart Out. She didn’t need the help and support of that group any longer but she could not forget how much that group had helped her in her darkest times. So she attended it, to tell her story and to encourage the other cancer patients. It was as if life had come full circle. She felt the need to give back what she had got. It made her feel complete. Life had given her a new perspective and she was ready to embrace it.