By Guest Blogger Ritu Bedi
I am a recent ovarian cancer (stage 3C) survivor. I am a young professional, working with IBM and led an active and exciting life until May 2013, when my world was shattered by a diagnosis of cancer. What I thought were stomach cramps turned out to be the symptoms of advanced ovarian cancer. This shocked me especially because I have always been a health conscious person, regular with my checkups and unaware that anything was wrong with my body.
A year before I received this diagnosis, I had reported my sensation of bloating, a feeling of fullness and weight gain to my doctor. He didn’t make much of the symptoms, suggesting they were caused by irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and my lifestyle that involved lots of travel.
He attributed my weight gain to menopause, as I was entering the pre-menopausal phase of my life. The fact that my mother had been struck by cancer and succumbed to it early in her life didn’t strike him as a factor worth considering. Experts didn’t suggest that I have any investigations for this, beyond an ultrasound and colonoscopy
So when I heard the word cancer, I refused to accept it. How could this happen to me? I had not been sick or bedridden, so how could anyone tell me I had advanced cancer and that my life was at risk? It was unbelievable. My first visit to the surgeon was demoralizing, as he could make no promises.
I spent the next 6 months getting cancer treatments and was reminded regularly that the prognosis was not good. I cried every time I was told I was too young to die. It took a while for my fighting spirit to return, till I decided to grab the devil by its horns.
In October 2013, I was told that there was no evidence of disease in my body. The next six months were spent recovering with daily walks, Yoga, swimming, prayers, restricted diet and a ‘never die’ feeling to get me back on my feet. I discovered that my ability to process numbers had been adversely affected by the chemotherapy, and went back to the classroom with books to help me re-learn some basic concepts.
But as I recovered, I realized a couple of things which I want everyone to know.
1. Ovarian cancer is highly aggressive. 7 out of ten women die within 5 years of diagnosis. And do you know why – it symptoms are similar to IBS. There is so little data in India plus no awareness. If I wanted to know how Indian women do fare with Ovarian cancer there is no reliable data. Early diagnosis is key to this disease. There are no support groups. Cancer still has stigma and people hide the fact that someone was diagnosed with cancer. Sharing experiences gives inspirations to newly diagnosed patients and builds hope and positivity
2. Despite being on top of your health Checkups this cancer creeps up. It’s called the silent killer. My docs thought I had IBS and was pre-menopausal- I wish I had researched more and been more aggressive. I trusted them to their knowledge.
We need to be aware of our treatments, symptoms and be ready to discuss with our doctors. Doctors are very busy and spend 15 minutes sometimes missing out on vital information. Do your research and be ready with the right questions.
3. Fighting cancer is not a battle for the patient only. Its is a fight done jointly by family and friends. You cannot win alone. You need the support of family and friends.
4. Treat Cancer like a chronic disease. Just as someone would have Asthma or diabetes, cancer too is a chronic disease.
5. Don’t let the Prognosis scare you. Statistics are just numbers while we are individuals. Cancer & treatment impacts every patient differently. It takes Faith ,Courage, Optimism, Resilience to fight cancer. And importantly you need a recovery plan.
Be nice to yourself but set a schedule to exercise, eat healthy, rest and sleep. Every few weeks works towards more. When Chemo brain hits you- don’t get scared – work out with mental games: it will get better.
Cancer changed me for the better. I value every day, every relationship much more. I do not compromise on sleep and exercise. I am grateful for the love and support and prayers by many and most importantly God’s blessings. I had a near death experience in treatment and realized dying is so simple and peaceful : living Life is the bigger challenge.
Ritu Bedi is a young professional working with IBM and an Ovarian Cancer Survivor. She is also the initiator of Teal for September; the first of its kind ovarian cancer awareness raising campaign in the country. Teal is a shade of blue associated with ovarian cancer and Sept 5 is Teal Day. The campaign will build up to this day by encouraging women (and men) to wear teal coloured accessories and makeup and post pictures of themselves on Facebook with an important message. Please check out https://www.facebook.com/IndiaTealWarriors