It took all my strength not to fall apart… Yes I will survive. This Gloria Gaynor’s hit song could not have found better fans than among breast cancer survivors who have beaten the disease and are celebrating International Women’s Day (March 8) in a variety of ways, beginning with a lunch together this coming Saturday.
Sheer will power and a positive attitude with family support has helped these women face the challenge of breast cancer. Calling themselves “breast friends”, they have now set up a support group that conducts fun activities, apart from organising lectures by doctors on how to look after themselves.
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One such survivor, 36-year-old Rashmi Tupe, a lecturer at the biotechnology department of Bharati Vidyapeeth college, says, “I have a PhD in biochemistry and my husband is a scientist. So I really know what causes cancer and other medical details. But when it happened to me, it was really devastating.” Tupe was detected with breast cancer in March 2015 after which she completed her cycles of chemotherapy along with surgery. “I lost my hair. My 10-year-old son was baffled why I would no longer hug him. But by November, I was back at work,” she says.
Even as women are told to undergo screening to rule out breast cancer after the age of 35, for this 25-year-old Sapna Khandelwal, a homemaker, being detected with the dreaded C at such a young age came as a huge shock. “I was completely stunned. I was married at 23 years, had a little child and then cancer,” she recalls. She stopped looking at herself in the mirror and did not communicate. However, with the support of her husband and family, Sapna has now completed the treatment and looks forward to being with her “breast friends”.
So does Lynn Godfrey, who was detected with cancer at the age of 55. Lynn, who worked for 32 years as a chemist with the quality control section of a factory here, says her world turned upside down when she heard it first. “I had such a busy life. And then out of the blue, I was told the lump in my breast was malignant. Of course my doctor said it was not a death warrant, but I had to quit my job. I completed the treatment but have to be so careful if I get any pain,” she says.
Similar stories were recounted by 38-year-old Heena Khan and other survivors at the “breast friends” group.
Rebecca D’Cruz, a clinical psychologist who helped the women set up the group in 2010 along with Dr Shona Nag, oncology surgeon at Jehangir hospital, said they meet once a month. “We help them deal with their fear about side-effects of chemotherapy and other problems. Sessions on bone health, cognitive abilities and such are conducted. But we have our share of fun and organise picnics, art and craft sessions and such. On Saturday, a restaurant at KP has organised a lunch for 25 such breast cancer survivors,”D’Cruz said.
With the increasing occurrence of breast cancer, there is a need for survivorship programmes in developing countries, Dr Shona Nag says. At any given time, there are a minimum of 2,000-2,500 new cases of breast cancer in Pune, she says.
At 61, two-time cancer patient continues to counsel
At 50, Aartee Halbe has survived breast cancer. She also deals with diabetes and had to be treated for typhoid and jaundice before she was detected with lung cancer in 2013. She brushes aside the dejection she felt and took on the challenge with a positive attitude. “There is always hope and I knew I could tackle the disease,” says Halbe, who was discharged from the intensive care unit just six months ago. At 61 now, the indefatigable Halbe continues to counsel other cancer patients at Sahyadri hospital and Galaxy centre.
“The side-effects of chemotherapy had hardened my lungs and I need oxygen from a cylinder to breathe. However, I refuse to give in and teach the same to other patients,” she says.