Last Saturday, I had my first chemo.
And it all started on a perfect Saturday morning, around a month-and-a-half back.
March 10 to be precise. I had just cycled 30km, over flyovers that overlooked a silent Mumbai, the beautiful sweep of Haji Ali, where seagulls had done spectacular swoops and twists for us the previous weekend and then the race to beat the sun and get into the shade of Bandra reclamation.
So at 11am, I was lazing in bed, happily tired from the cardio, and wondering what I should do. A pedicure seemed perfect. I rolled out of bed to wear a bra. When a little voice popped up in my head. “That lump is getting bigger.”
I had ignored it for a couple of weeks. I keep getting benign lumps in my breast. And I kept postponing checking this, thinking I know what it’ll turn out to be. But I couldn’t shake off the feeling that something was not right. So I called the gynaecologist and got an appointment for Tuesday.
Next I messaged A and O telling them I had done this, and they needed to push me to go. Not reschedule or cancel. Of course, they both instantly said they were coming. Three of us landed up at the gynaecologist’s office. Me telling the two of them, they should just leave for work. This was a big waste of time.
After 30 minutes of waiting, it was my turn. I was all set to be examined, get a sonography done and be packed off saying this is benign. The gynaecologist felt the lump, and asked me to come to her chamber. A small alarm rang in my head. She had never done that before. I squashed the alarm.
She sat me down and told me she wasn’t sure about the lump, and I would need to get it tested further. As she spoke, I stared at the 100 gods displayed behind her. Nope, no sign from them. This was just routine. I’d be okay.
They helped me get an appointment for Thursday with the radiologist and that was it. Off to work. And cycling in the mornings. Thursday, as I sat at the diagnostic clinic, I realised the radiologist was a specialist in breast cancer mammo-sonography. More alarm bells.
I squashed them some more. Though I have to say the mammograph squashes your boobs so bad, that for the first time, it gets real! So, next was the sonography to be done by this lady. I entered her room, my mammo screens are up everywhere. She starts the sonography. Talking to her assistant who is typing. Everything seems fine. Words I’ve heard before.
And then a sentence you never want to hear, “This is peculiar.”
And that’s it. In the next 1 hour, I’m told it’s something that’s worrying, it’s something that an Onco should look at (it takes my brain 2 minutes to process Onco equals oncologist equals Cancer Doctor), and that meeting an Onco should be the immediate the next step.
I turn to A and I cry for 10 minutes. I see the shock on his face as he holds me. That 10-minute cry, which by the way has become a sort of daily ritual for us, sets the tone for the way this will work. One good cry and then it’s all gone.
In fact, in that instant, I accept I have cancer. And that instant, I also know that I have the universe behind me. And all I need to do is surrender. And I will be fine. I need to be myself. I don’t need to change. I am not some bechari. I am still the same curious, over enthusiastic, happy person. And I‘ll deal with it, one day at a time, and soon I’ll be back on that bloody cycle!
So now began the hunt for the Onco surgeon and the hospital. I decided my instinct and my guide will guide me on this. So, we first went to my family GP, who immediately told me to go to Tata Memorial.
Here’s where the universe steps in. My mind is still processing stuff, my reactions are slow. Left to myself, I’d have spent 24 hours wondering how to go about getting to Tata Memorial. But the universe steps in. A’s colleague helps us, and I have an appointment with the Onco surgeon, for the next day, at 10am.
Again, O insists on coming with us. And so the three of us land up. And Tata Memorial is a reality check for anyone who cribs about their quarter life or mid-life crisis. It makes you feel privileged and guilty and scared and sad and grateful and everything else. I don’t think I can ever describe what it feels to be along a sea of cancer patients, from all over the country. Stoic, patient, huddled everywhere and waiting. Our turn comes, we meet the Doctor. She’s quick and to the point, and I really love her for that.
She lays the cards on the table. It is cancer. They will have to run tests to see what kind of cancer is it. Is it invasive, or is it non-invasive? You can’t stage it right now. But surgery will happen. And she calmly details everything out. Starting with the first test, the MRI.
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Next thing I know, I’m at the MRI machine. The stuff of my nightmares, or at least that’s what I thought. In reality, apart from bumping my head so hard against a door handle, behind which I’m crouching and changing my clothes, it isn’t so bad.
That’s two things I learn in that rollercoaster week. One, with cancer, everything happens fast. One minute you’re all cool and thinking it’s benign, next you are at the Onco surgeon and by evening you are in an MRI machine. Take a deep breath. Accept everything, and get used to living, 1 hour at a time.
Two, nothing is as scary as you think it’ll be. Just chill. An MRI machine is the stuff of your nightmares and you just aced it. Do the happy dance, because you just conquered a demon in your head. And you are capable of conquering every single one of them.
Head – 1, Demons – 0.