Friday, April 30, 2021

Z - Add Zest & Zeal To Your Life


Ah, there we have A Z A Z in Add Zest And Zeal. What a perfect way to end a challenge A to Z!

Once we have fought and won over cancer, let us not end up being alive, but rather live our life fully with high doses of Zest and Zeal. We have already been near death once, so let us now get back to life with a zeal never seen before. 

As children we remember very vividly what we did in the summer vacation with more love than the regular school days, unless you had a terrible home environment and school was your refuge. Add to it all those family picnics, vacations, honeymoon or any other events that gave you the freedom to live your life without a care. It is easy to see the difference between being alive, existing and actually living our life to the fullest. 

You don’t have to be on a vacation, holidays or any fancy place to fill your life with happiness, but you can make small changes in your workplace, home, life-style and thoughts to make it come alive. 

Zest is that part of us that we either hide or forget as we grow up abiding to the rules of what is the right thing for us to do. A simple definition of the word says, it is about living life with a sense of excitement, anticipation and energy, that is essential to nurture our soul,  and gives us a spirit that makes us stand out as a human. Those who have imbibed zest in their lifestyle, will make even ordinary tasks look something important and interesting. Remember the guy who went out with a broom to sweep in footloose? If you don’t, check out his video below. 

After long struggle with diagnosis, opinions, second opinion, surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and recovery, it is easy to lose our zeal for life and even the zest if we had it in the first place. It is easy to feel grateful to push through each day without an incident or manage just what we have to do to survive. This attitude will steal our life from us, even though we have won over cancer. 

It is important for us to get back that zeal and zest in our life so that we make it worth the second chance we get. 

Always be around people who make you feel like a warrior, rather than push you to worry with their cancer related sob tales.If the need arises, it is OK to stop them firmly (or rudely) if you feel what they say is going to put you down. 

Set goals which have nothing to do with your fight with cancer. Even if you are very happy with your life, find something new and exciting to do. Strike out the word boredom from your life. Fill the spaces of boredom with something exciting to do

Laugh and let others laugh with you. Reach out with your helping hand to those who really need your help. There is a great deal of happiness, contentment and peace when you know you were able to make a difference to someone. It is good to smile and laugh out loud, but believe me, it feels much better when you wipe tears and make a sad person smile. 

Let us make our life meaningful and live it to the fullest by adding zest and zeal to everything we do. Good luck!

Some of my friends have been a great inspiration to me. Duffy Mathias is one of them. Fighting lot of health issues besides cancer, she never stopped living. Her jump says it all..

We had a great Sari party in Florida with my sisters in survival of breast cancer. Not just new, may be one of a kind. 

I fulfilled my dream of visting Disney World with my children 

There were this special moments in our life, and then there were everyday events which we the made the best of. That was something which made our lives special and filled it with zeal and zest.... 

And not to forget the video from footloose

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Y- Yes,’YOU’ Matter


We grow up listening to all those things matter, which includes our good behavior, following our religion, abiding to social norms, scoring good marks in academics, finding a good job, being on time, hard work etc etc etc. The list is unending with few additions in it only for women, but unfortunately ‘YOU’ are never there on the list, right? Slowly we start to care about everyone and everything other than us. 
That happened to me as well until cancer knocked my door. It left me wondering when undergoing treatment, what is the use of everything I did, achieved or have if ‘I’ myself am not there. They all turn to dust with me. If I die, I cannot be a mom, a daughter, a sister or a wife, so I have to take care of my needs, my health and my happiness if I want to be there for others. Not only that, I had to learn to value myself without attaching value only to what I accomplish or what I can do for others. I wanted to just be there and feel important, like a cat.

Life is going to have the good days and the bad ones, you will be lazy or busy, things will look up and then they will slide down, but you are always there in your life. You can escape from everyone, but you have to be with you always. Once you start to realize ‘YOU’ matter, you will make time for yourself to do things which do bring a sense of accomplishment but sheer happiness. It can be listening to music, watching a movie, going for a walk, going out with friends or reading a book without a purpose… just for the sheer joy of it. Many people end up with guilt, or feel they are wasting precious time when they indulge in their own happiness. As a counselor I hear this so often, even from people as young as 13 or less. 
The word selfish is very scary. We are made to believe at times, that being happy is being selfish, but we have to learn the difference to be happy yet not selfish. In fact, selfishness chases away happiness. If you observe, you will see that selfish people are never happy people. 
After the cancer treatment, there are times when you feel you are not complete. You have to unlearn all that you were taught earlier, and learn to love and accept yourself for who you are and what you have become after cancer. This is the time you need this self-love more than ever. You have to learn to accept the fact that ‘You’ matters the most in your life. You have to learn to enjoy your life and be happy without going through the guilt. 

Sometimes the journey itself is more beautiful than the destination. We get lost by focusing on the time, what we should do when we reach our destination, what if we don’t get there on time and many other worries that we forget to notice or enjoy of the journey itself. We may never reach our destination in some cases. Let this not be the story of the journey of our life. Let us not focus so much on destination, that we forget to enjoy the journey. Let us live this moment and feel it. Let us learn to accept the fact that ‘We’ matter so that we don’t get so busy making a living that we forget to live our life.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Find Your X-Factor, Be Xtraordinary


Not many can understand something as complicated as the X-factor because it cannot be graded or measured in numbers. Like many other good things, it is felt by you. On the other hand, it is easy to know who the x.y.z people are. XYZ is also a code for zipper down, but we are not dealing with pant zips today. 

When we talk about Monalisa painting, we say Leonardo Da Vinci painted it. If we see some art which is not attractive with an unknown author, we call it a painting by some xyz artist. So, how do we become someone special and not just any xyz? The key is to find our X-factor like so many ordinary people did to play  a role, write a book, create a masterpiece, find their talent in a game or a talent for doing something they were passionate about. 

What do you cherish the most in your life besides the people and relationships? It is something rare, unique and has some special thing about it, right?  It can be a book, a jewelry, a cutlery or anything, but if you cherish it, then it is something extraordinary. Finding your X-factor will make you that treasure which you value. Though we all talk about the X-factor not many find it, because we are not looking for it. 

It is believed that every person is born with a X-factor but they live their life without finding it. 

On the stage of the reality shows, we have seen ordinary people perform extraordinary feats. It is those who found their X-factor and a platform to show it off. For every person receiving a standing ovation there, there are millions who haven't found that X-factor, or just ignored it after finding it.

Stand our with your X-factor
If you ever had a brush with your passionate abilities, but you pushed it aside because you had a more important task on hand, think back on it once again. Catch hold of your X-factor that brings out that unique talent in you which gives you a sense of effortless joy, which makes you feel like a Xtraordinary person. It is not always important for others to acknowledge that you are Xtraordinary, you have to feel it and experience it.

Not everybody who finds their X-factor has to make it big, though it always helps to have a bonus. Many may enjoy helping poor and needy, but they may not make it as big as what Mother Theresa did. Every person who found their writing talent may not become as famous as J.K Rowling. But, every person can be special in their own life and make a difference in any small way they can. We lost touch with our X-factor when we were told A- is for apple when our mind was thinking about a lot of things that connected to A.

For me A looked like a swing from sideways but our imagination is shut off when we are forced to learn like everyone else. That was the past. Now we have got another shot at life, and let us live that by being someone special in our own small unique way. 

An ambition, a purpose and a goal to pursue will always give you extra strength to fight for your life. So it is time now to find your X-factor, or if you had already found it, focus more on it to make it big. Let the treasure hunt begin for our X-factor. Good luck!

Below I am sharing few art creations by my special needs daughter which will prove that even simple things can be Xtraordinary.

Farheena and her friends posing for group photo

She called it 'Tree of Life'

Mommy and Baby flowers

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

W - The Watchful Will Win


When it comes to cancer, timely and early treatment makes a world of difference to the final outcome. Also, my doctor says, right treatment the first time is the best treatment. So, what can help us get the right timely treatment or keep a check on recurrence? It is being watchful. Be confident, be positive, but also be wary and watchful. 

Cancer like many killer diseases creeps in silently until it becomes a bit late for us to notice something is off. Screening and regular health checkups will help in early detection of any disease. Many people have lost their battle to immediate recurrence, a period when they thought the battle is over and are relaxing. My mom was one of them. Sigh!

Some of us love to think of selves as those favored people with whom nothing can go wrong. The bad things always happen to others. Then there are the opposites who usually feel everything bad is happening only to them. Both of those mindsets can be dangerous to our health. Thinking nothing will go wrong and ignoring what has to be done, can allow certain illnesses to progress to dangerous levels to show symptoms. Also, constantly worrying about illnesses and diseases that do not exist but we think exists, can be dangerous in itself. “Killed by worry” is a possibility.

For those with family history of cancer, or at higher risk, a regular screening plan should be formulated after consulting healthcare workers. Also watch your healthcare plans and insurance policies. Believe me, I have been in a very bad financial crunch after my cancer experience and I know how tough it is to fight for paying the regular bills along with cancer.  

After my cancer experience, I overdid the watching part. After my third chemo, I saw another lump on my non-operated breast which scared the &^%& out of me, but later it turned out to be a clot which went away with a few massages. Later there was scar tissue left on the operated spot which looked like a lump which again was scary. It took me sometime to realize the difference between being watchful and having an irrational fear of cancer coming back. I found the balance between the two to be on watch but not fearful. 

Apart from physical illness, some more dangerous emotional challenges like fear of recurrence, anger, guilt, depression or chronic anxiety may silently make entry into our life without us being aware of them. It is very difficult to deal with them when they settle down comfortably. Nipping them in the bud is easier. 

In the past 25 years, I have realized that there are many screenings which are very important at regular intervals, and some are recommended though they are not required. Not being an oncologist, I have no right to name them, but I would suggest everyone to evaluate, get different opinions and finally settle down with a follow up plan after cancer treatment. I have realized that some of the scans I went through were not necessary much later. 

Besides cancer, it is important to watch your emotional/mental health as well. Chemotherapy can wreak havoc on both your body and mind. Chemobrain is not a myth. Side-effects like hair loss, fluctuating blood count, nausea etc happen immediately after treatment, but there are other side effects called late effects that may develop months or even years after cancer treatment ends. Long-term and late effects can include physical and emotional changes which need your attention more than the immediate side-effects because they are here to stay. You need a plan to deal with them. 

It pays to be watchful of your treatment plan, side-effects, follow-up reports and general health as well. When it comes to cancer, the watchful are the winners.

Monday, April 26, 2021

V - Victim or Victor, The Choice Is Yours!


Five years after my fight with cancer, I was asked, “I hear you are also a victim of cancer” by an educated person. I answered, “I went through cancer and here I am, alive. You don’t see cancer here, right? So, to put it out precisely, we both had a fight and cancer was the victim and I am the victor”.
We use the word victim freely, without understanding how damaging it can be someone, especially those who are alive.
I choose victor over victim, anyday. If I lose, I am a fighter, because I would never go down wihtout a fight to anything or anyone.

Fighting cancer and treatment will last for a short period of our lives. When we get back on track of our new normal lives, we have a choice of either being a victim or a victor. I have come across very strong, independent and self-respecting people losing the positive part of themselves during the prolonged treatment procedure. I have also seen crumble after hearing about the diagnosis, even before stepping into the treatment. 

The prolonged treatment makes people feel like a patient. I walk into the hospital, and then I am asked to sit on a wheelchair for my check-ups. Of course I refuse. But, this extra caring can make you feel like a patient. Having surrendered to healthcare workers or loved ones during their treatment which left them weak, some people refer to themselves at patients even after years. 

When going through research here, which was conducted on 168 young to middle-aged adults who had previously experienced cancer.The result showed that - At least somewhat, 83% endorsed survivor identity, 81% identity of "person who has had cancer", 58% "patient", and 18% "victim".’

It was concluded that even though the ‘Survivor identity appears most common and most associated with active involvement and better psychological well-being, other identities also exist or coexist and those identities affect their behavior.  

Cancer leaves the survivors with the trauma of going through surgery and prolonged treatment, which is not easy to deal with. There are a lot of changes in the body. As a breast cancer survivor, initially I struggled to feel normal among women with two breasts, after my mastectomy. Then adding salt to the wound, I had to lose my hair as well. All of sudden I looked different, and felt different. It was easy for me to feel like a victim, because what I was going suited the dictionary - a person who has come to feel helpless and passive in the face of misfortune or ill-treatment. 

It took sometime, but then I started feeling like a victor over cancer. Wars leave scars, so I had them, but then wasn’t I here alive kicking the cancer butt out of my life? I had made right choices and stomped over that crab.

When I started thinking differently, the world started changing for me. Our mentality of being a victim or victor can make a huge difference to our life after cancer. If we think we are not worthy of love it will spoil our relationship with our partner, same will happen if our partner will think so. If we feel we aren’t capable of great performance after cancer, we will jeopardize our professional life. Nothing good can come out of the feeling of victim for anyone, anywhere, anytime. Reminds you of the words, victim of poverty, victim of circumstances, victim of domestic violence? Once you stick that label  on your chest, you are doomed. Let us not allow that to happen. 

Choose to be Victor… we are!

People start to identify us differently when we stop being thinking like victims

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Unlock Your Upgrade

Just as iron rusts from disuse, and stagnant water putrefies, or when cold turns to ice, so our intellect wastes unless it is kept in use.

Leonardo da Vinci

How often we become stagnant without even realising it. Commitments, jobs, family and many other things make us work like a clock. Every new day is a chance for us to be a better person than we were the day before, but do we choose to be better or settle for what we are? We at times disguise this stagnancy with a beautiful word ‘Acceptance’.

We should never stop from adding a few upgrades to ourselves, no matter at what age we are. Learn something new, set goals to achieve something you have never done before, so that you will always have something to forward to. Unlock your hidden talents, skills which you have ignored.
Cancer, like many other misfortunes, drains away the energy. It is easy to fall into the trap of reasons - that because of cancer I cannot do this. Other than a few things like blood donation, cancer cannot stop you from doing things you want to do, unless YOU want to make it a reason for not doing things.


When things were not running smoothly for me, what kept me going and fighting during chemotherapy was the thought that I had messed up with lifeand given a chance, I wanted to correct the mistake. For 7 years, before cancer happened, my life was spent in making adjustments, giving up things I loved doing, managing relationships which were on a terrible roller-coaster ride. These were the years when I had my first child which again needed few more changes made to already changed life. I had no time for books now, and I wasn’t reading much which was my favorite hobby. My second child was with special needs, so more duties added to life. I don’t regret bringing up my children with love, in fact those memories are best in my life. I value the time I spent with them. But, unfortunately, in all the life drama I was lost for 7 years without improving anything about myself. I didn't even recognise me anymore.

Since very early childhood, I had been interested in learning things from just anywhere or anyone. Every summer vacation, I added new skills to an already existing list. I would come up with projects that at times paid me quite well. But then marriage happened and my husband was hell bent on stopping me from pursuing my studies or career. Falling under pressure, I became stagnant. I loved my children and I convinced myself that I was being a good mom by giving up everything I love for them. It was the cancer which worked as a wake up call for me.

At one point when chemotherapy created havoc on my body by bringing my WBC count very low and I was feeling very weird and shivering badly; I felt I may die any moment. It was then that I realized I had wasted my life and regretted it strongly.. At that moment I felt a lot of regrets for things I wanted to do, but did not for one reason or another. I promised that if I come out of this alive, I will never repeat that mistake ever again. Quick blood transfusion and I was saved. I kept my promise I made to myself.

I never compromised on the care of my children or family, but that did not mean I had to sacrifice myself for them. It was not even required because there was time for everyone and for ME. I started my journey with very tiny steps, sometimes sliding back from where I reached but I did not give up. Projects were back in my life once again and I was happy, no matter what the struggles were. I was not stagnant.

In the past 25 years, I have released a new upgraded version of myself every year without fail. I got back to my studies and finally got my Masters in ‘Counseling and Psychotherapy as well, which was very satisfying. Being on the move, unlocking my skills and upgrading myself has kept me happy, secure and safe. Even during the pandemic when my most loved project of running my preschool -My Giggle Garden- closed down, I could immediately find a job which I enjoy and I work from home now. Happy, secure and safe. I upgrade myself so often now that at times I feel like I am an iPhone. 

After the 7 year self imposed imprisonment, once I started living again rather than being alive, I regained my self-love, self-respect and started looking at myself with pride. I am grateful to cancer for giving me the much required push. The changed lifestyle gave me enhanced strength to fight for my life, because my life was worth fighting for.

I don’t think everyone has to wait for something like cancer to upgrade themselves. We should identify our strengths and enhance them, while identifying our weaknesses to overcome them. It is important to break the taboos and indoctrination that is holding us back at times. Step out of the comfort zone which will slowly become your prison if you allow it to take control. Risk is fun sometimes.

Think of one thing you always wanted to do but had to give up due to pressure from life. Promise yourself that you will give that as a gift to yourself, no matter what obstacles you face. There are things you do for success and there are things you do for the sheer joy of it. Find the balance for both. Unlock that skill/talent you always had in yourself. You deserve an upgrade, no matter when.

Don't downgrade your dream just to fit your reality. Upgrade your conviction to match your destiny.” Stuart Scott. 

Friday, April 23, 2021

Thoughts - Tune Them To Triumph


Positive thoughts may not cure cancer, but it will definitely help you triumph over it. 

We are regular people who admire superheroes. How we wish to have some superpower! What we forget is that we all have our superpowers, only we don’t know about it. One such superpower we humans possess is of our thought. Every progress, invention, achievement or development we know today, was once perceived just as a thought. Don’t you think that is a superpower?

We constantly think but never pay much attention to the flow of our thoughts. Our thoughts create a mindset which has a power to either create success or failure, happiness or distress, opportunities or misfortunes and in some extreme cases, life and death as well. If you add the spice of negative imagination to the negative mindset, it becomes a deadly combination with power of destruction.

Many studies conducted over decades have proven that our thoughts are powerful enough to affect our reality. Now there is also a field of scientific study, called psychoneuroimmunology which focuses on the effect that mental and emotional activity have on the physical well-being of the patient.

Most of our thoughts are randomly triggered by trivial things happening immediately around us, which do not stay with us for long. They are like our co-passengers during travel. Some of them are more constant, like our colleagues/relatives. Then we have those thoughts that are constantly with us, which is like our immediate family. We know any negative/positive co-passenger, colleague, relative or a loved one can have a great impact on us, so is the impact of those thought processes on us. Finally, there comes the thoughts which are strong enough to define us. These are our predominant innate thoughts which we repeat often and we may strongly believe them. They have the power to influence our behavior, attitude, actions and can shape our reality. It is the thoughts that affect us the most that we should try to tune to positivity.

Israel conducted a study, titled Modulation of anti-tumour immunity by the brain’s reward system. It was published in the science journal Nature. It claims that there is a deep connection between the patient’s mental state and cancer survival. Some other studies claim that negative thoughts promote growth of cancerous tumours. There is enough evidence to show the effect of thoughts on events.

Since thoughts are abstract, we can never be sure of the tests, studies or researches, yet we ourselves have experienced the power of thoughts in our lives. It is not only when we fight adversities, but even when going about the simple tasks of writing an exam, making friends, building relationships, attending a job interview, and many others mundane tasks, we see the influence of our thoughts on the outcome.

As for me, I had a tough time convincing my family about my choices of total radical mastectomy and chemotherapy. My parents were already reeling under the grief of seeing my sister in the last stages of cancer. I had to talk to them very often and convince them that I was going to be alright, and that I had made the right choice. This tuned my thoughts into strongly believing what I was telling them and my thoughts got permanently tuned to triumphing over cancer with my treatment. I think believing my own lie ( I call it so because back then I did know for sure that I was going to survive) and transforming my thoughts to positive outcomes in effort to convince my family, has played a big role in my survival of 25 years.

This forward message which I have no verification about, makes a lot of sense about how thoughts affects our reality -

A man finds himself locked in a walk in freezer. He is convinced he will die and begins writing letters. His letters end with a final passage where he is saying he can not write anymore because his fingers are beginning to freeze. When they find him dead, not only do they find the letters but they discover that the freezer’s temperature never dropped below 50 degrees because it was not plugged in. Thus, the man pretty much psyched himself to freeze to death.

We often say lightly without meaning it, “I am worried to death about ______”. That expression may carry more truth in it than we actually realize. If I have to die of cancer, I would like to die of the illness itself, rather than worrying about cancer.

There will always be events and circumstances in our life that we cannot control, what we can control is our thoughts, which will help us indirectly to control our lives. Let us take up the challenge today to tune our thoughts to triumph over any adversities we are facing. Good Luck!

Thursday, April 22, 2021

S - Self Love - Smart Love


You are getting ready to prepare dinner. Suddenly you have this craving for aloo parata and start cooking potatoes, when someone walks in and says, “I wish you would cook dum aloo, and kadi chawal today, I love it”. What do you do?

These are the simple things in our lives that test our self-love. It doesn’t mean that if you give up the aloo parata for a day, you don’t love yourself, but if you are always putting the happiness, needs or wants of others before your own, then you should seriously doubt your self-love.

Many people tend to confuse self-love for narcissism or selfishness. Self-love can mean something different for each person but it is definitely not narcissism or selfishness which are harmful behavior for self and others. On the other hand, self-love will help you avoid toxic relationships, make healthy choices both personally and professionally and nurture yourself with care because you are holding yourself in high esteem and respect for who you are. You will keep others and yourself happy and safe.
Physical self-love is how you see yourself and your body.
Self-acceptance can be your mental self-love which is about the way you think of yourself.
Self-respect is the way you treat yourself which is your emotional or psychological self-love.

According to professors Neff and Germer, “Self-kindness entails being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than flagellating ourselves with self-criticism”. Figuring out what self-love is for us can be important for both our mental and physical health, especially if we are going through an illness which threatens our life and is going to leave us minus a few body parts in some cases. Self love is neither a luxury or a fad for those with too much time on hand, and huge bank balance. In fact it is important for those who lack those.

We usually tend to build an image of perfection in our mind though we have very often heard that people are meant to be real and not perfect. When we think we are not meeting that standard of perfectionism, we start looking down upon ourselves. Soon others will follow to do the same.In time the emotion can turn to self-hatred. You can complain about a bully who is outside, but what about this bully you bring-up in yourself? Self criticism is the worst form of bullying, because there is no escape from it.

We often hear people say, “I hate myself” and many times they mean it. What would be the outcome of a treatment if you go into it, with that attitude?

Now let us consider a person who appreciates oneself, has high regards for his/her own well-being and values happiness. Considers taking care of one's own needs as well as loved ones, but will not sacrifice self happiness for others constantly. Takes what he/she deserves and doesn’t settle for less. Imagine now this person fighting cancer or any other life-threatening illness?

Do you feel the person who has self-love has a better chance of survival? I do.

Cancer leaves us different from what we were, emotionally and physically. If we have hated ourselves for being stupid, fat, ugly or whatever labels we were made to believe were attached to us, then it would be natural for us developed hatred for us after going through cancer. Somewhere deep inside, the will to fight, overcome and survive may not be strong enough.

What I think or what you think may be just thoughts, let us see what studies have found out so far about self-love and good health.

Self Love is correlated to good mental health, which helps to deal with anxiety, depression and PTSD more effectively. It also improves physical health by improving immunity and stabilizing glucose levels. When you are satisfied with your life, it has a great mental impact, contributing to an overall lower-stress life. Fighting cancer brings in stress, and we don’t have to add to it by not loving ourselves enough.

My mom had narrated a real life incident from her childhood and here it goes, “ A toddler had wandered to the edge of the well when everyone was busy with household chores. The ledge of this well had broken and it was about to be repaired in a day or two. The mom saw the child and started slowly moving towards him so that he would not panic, but the child saw her giggled and jumped into the well. She did not know how to swim, but she did not think about it. Immediately she jumped into the well, caught hold of her baby and held the rings inside the well, waiting to be rescued. The men came and pulled them both out safely”

Love has great power and it gives you the push to do things you thought were of mission impossible type. That emotion should not be limited to others, but should be extended for ourselves as well, which to some extent we all do. We need that self-love which will help us to be kind, patient, gentle and compassionate to ourselves, the way we do with someone that we care about.We have to be aware of self-love and practice it with dedication to get the whole benefit of it..

Start smart love- that is self love- from now.  Keep it going steadily forever, no matter what happens. The one person I have always been in love with is 'ME'. That has helped me come out victorious from many situations without much damage. 

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Recuperate - Respect Your Rebirth


Sometimes you might feel like no one’s there for you, but you know who’s always there for you? :Laundry. Laundry is always there for you.

We all read and laugh at this joke, but that is also the harsh reality for many people, especially women. Days get lost in cleaning, cooking and caretaking without a break. Many feel that this is how it should be and don’t even think of changing this situation. But if you have just fought to save your life from cancer, it is like having a rebirth. You have to respect this rebirth and let yourself recuperate before getting back to your work - be it professional or everyday mundane chores which are always awaiting you. Of course, getting back to work gives your morale a boost and that is the best thing to shift your focus to something positive, but do not ignore the body which has borne the onslaught of surgery, with chemotherapy and radiation to follow.

Life was never the same after undergoing my surgery for breast cancer. Usually when you come back home after a treatment, it is over but with cancer, that is just the beginning of your treatment course. There is still chemotherapy and radiation therapy waiting in line. For some, the chemotherapy comes before surgery. Lenny Kravitz sang about love saying “It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over”, but if it was about cancer he would sing “ It Ain't Over 'even when It's Over” … the saga continues for years to come with fears about lumps, follow ups and some scary findings which may later turn out be benial.

I will be talking only about recuperating from breast cancer treatment here, based on my own experience, though it applies for any grave illness you have fought, be it a heart surgery, recovery from an accident or any thing that would have given you near brush with death.

I consider my life after cancer to be my rebirth, because it was a close encounter with death. Having lost both my sister and mom to breast cancer similar to mine, I know I am not exaggerating. The whole course of treatment does not go easy on your body either. More than cancer, it is the treatment and coping with changes that drains your energy. You have to give yourself care and time to recuperate properly before taxing yourself for everything that is waiting for you to get done. How is that when there are chores, it is like we are the only people in the house?

For me at stage III breast cancer, it was surgery first followed by chemotherapy. Total radical mastectomy left a wound covering half of my chest with removable stitches. There was drain attached to the bandage to stop fluid collection in the area of surgery. I woke up to intravenous fluids going inside my body and a groggy mind. It made me feel like I was waking up to a different body than the one I went to sleep with when anesthesia kicked in. I found myself a stranger.

It’s normal to have pain and discomfort for the first week or so around the wound. I had pain in my armpit (axilla) since I had surgery to my lymph nodes, and good choice. 10 were positive. I also had a tingling feeling and itch around the surgery wound. The skin around it felt very taut under the bandage. I had to move around carrying the drain bottle in my hand which had fluid collection. When I was dealing with all these changes and trauma to my body, I had many things waiting for me, and yes - there was that legendary laundry basket with my daughters nappies. I am proud I managed well, but I am not happy about it.

I never had time to recuperate considering my daughter was just 11 months and with special needs. My son was not even 5. My family was going through a difficult crisis and we lost my elder sister to breast cancer when I was undergoing chemotherapy first cycle. My husband was not very helpful either. I couldn’t afford the luxury of rest to recuperate from my cancer treatment but started off with my struggles immediately.

I know I have survived for 25 years since. Yet, why do I talk about recuperating now is because I still remember how difficult it was for me to even lift my hand to comb my hair, or get up and fetch myself a glass of water. I did a lot during my treatment, but it brought in a lot of physical pain and also emotional pain to know I couldn’t rest. I had once asked my little son for a glass of water and he was so excited to be of help, and believe me it was like I was saved from fighting a boxing match with Mike Tyson. Yes, even fetching myself a glass of water was difficult on a few days when side-effects kicked in.

I want people around the person going through treatment to know that is not an easy journey for them. Be supportive and step in to help. Allow them to rest for a few days, especially on those days when the treatment is tougher than other days. I also want the person fighting cancer to know that they deserve the basic necessity of rest to recuperate and regain their health completely. It is OK to ask for help.

Relax with Maxine now..


Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Quality or Quantity - Dilemma of Treatment


I remember being nervous about leaving my children behind without a mom when I was diagnosed with cancer. I clearly recollect telling the doctor very clearly, “I don’t mind what quality of life I will have, I want quantity. I want to be there at least until they are teenagers. I am willing to undergo total radical mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation or whatever it takes to get me a few more years to ensure my children are taken care of”. He was giving me the option of breast conservation considering my age, but I had no qualms losing a breast to get rid of cancer. Back then I was very sure and did not face a dilemma in making my call for the treatment I felt was my best option.

It was much later when I went for my follow-up that I had a conversation with another highly experienced oncologist who told me that he focused more on quality of the life the patient gets after cancer treatment more than on quantity in years. He told me that he would have advised me not to go ahead with total radical mastectomy if I had consulted him at the age of 29, because I did not have to compromise on my body structure at that age. I assured him that my doctor had informed me about the choices I had and what difference it made, but I had chosen total radical mastectomy of my own will. I was not misled.

He later showed me some examples of breast conservation surgeries after which with little help from reconstruction, the body looked almost like before the surgery. The scar was almost invisible. So , it was almost after 16 years of my surgery that I was set to think, should I have considered the quality as well and not blindly cried for quantity? It was not easy for a woman with size 36 C to live with one breast.

Back then in my panic to be with my children, I hadn’t thought much about anything else but to get rid of cancer and live for a few more years. But then I had got 25 years to live now and that I have done with a huge scar and leftover flesh hanging loosely on my chest. It is not a beautiful sight. I am not ashamed of it, because it is something that saved my life, but then I am also embarrassed of it to some extent. Keeping the aesthetic part of it aside, I had to face a lot of pain due to it. Even a mosquito bite to the spot causes a lot of trouble because I cannot scratch the itch without hurting or feeling weird. I have developed terrible wounds or rashes when I have overworked a bit with my left hand. 

My spine has been hurt as well due to my lopsided posture which I carried on for 10 years before discovering the prosthetics with weight which helped. It looked like all the problems were a quagmire of my own making and I went through pangs of guilt. Now that I was considering the pros and cons, my decision looked a bit quixotic to me. I began to question my wisdom in making hasty choices. But then I am not sure, how much my choosing quality over quantity would have helped? Maybe it would have brought in different challenges to deal with, but now I will never know.

In a few months, I brushed aside my doubts because I had lived to achieve a lot of my goals which I had set for myself while I fought cancer. My children are both grown up and my son is happily married now. I am grateful to life, the scar and whatever quality of life I got for myself.

Keeping my queer case aside, I would suggest anyone making the treatment choices to consider all the pros and cons and not jump into action pushed by fear. No matter how old you are, you deserve a good quality of life despite fighting cancer. If you can have the best of both quality and quantity, why should you choose just one. Go for both. In the long run, quality matters. Another important point to remember is, never question your choices which cannot be undone. It will only bring in bitterness. Instead, look what you can do now to correct the mistake, if you made a wrong choice earlier
I wish everyone fighting a battle a happy good quality long long life…..

Monday, April 19, 2021

Persistent Patience Empowers Perseverance


The person undergoing medical treatment is called a patient for a reason - you need to be calm and patient to overcome any illness. Once we have fought cancer, the ability to accept or tolerate delays, bear pain stoically, put up with insensitive staff, face problems or suffering without becoming annoyed or anxious becomes a part and parcel of surviving through the treatment. The winning card is continuing with patience to get back to the new normal of our lives. We have to understand that patience is not just waiting calmly, but continuing with our efforts calmly. It is proactive and not passive and that point shouldn’t be misunderstood.

People do sympathize when they hear a person has gone through cancer, but only those who have fought a hard battle on different levels with cancer will be able to empathize with a survivor. The emotional, physical, relationship and financial challenges are quite tough to deal with at times. It is easy to become an impatient patient with everything happening around us. Impatience is the biggest deterrent to perseverance and this is the time we have to persevere and come out victorious.

With my surgery (total radical Mastectomy) which was complete removal of my left breast, I had to wait for the wound due to the surgery to heal. The huge scar with a lot of stitches made the spot on my chest unfamiliar and scary. I had to be patient for it to look a bit better and heal.I am not sure about its beauty, but familiarity made it easy to look at. I lost some strength in my left hand. Since my daughter was not even a year old, I had to carry her and I feared dropping her down. I patiently handled the pain I felt in my arm and continued with the effort keeping her safety in mind. In a few months my whole arm and hand had regained most of its functions and strength which it had before my surgery. I lost my hair and patiently waited for it to grow back in a year's time. Perseverance is being relentless about doing what needs to be done for as long as it takes. It holds good in every aspect of our life but more so, when we are fighting life threatening illness like cancer.

We have to move on with the surgery required, chemotherapy, radiation and after effects of the treatment. The loss of a body part may pose new challenges. Honestly speaking it is tough and scary experience.

The trick is do our part to heal and get back on the track. Cook, eat healthy, exercise, get enough water, smile, get outdoors, laugh out loud and set goals to be achieved. Do not give up. Never quit.

Fear, followed by insecurities,are foremost in testing our patience. Sometimes we may give in just when the change is around the corner. We have to persevere through the time, process, and challenges to shake hands with success. When fighting cancer, the result is LIFE- more precious than anything else we can own. No matter how tough your life is, it is definitely worth fighting for and winning over with perseverance.

Being a cancer patient for a few months made me more patient with the happenings in my life. It was a quality that was missing in me earlier. Further it was fortified by being mom of a special needs child. These are few of the blessings which came in disguise.

Nothing good happens in minutes or days. We admire all the discoveries and inventions, but we fail to see how much effort or time went into it happening. We applaud the gold medallist in olympics but fail to peek into the perseverance they had to get there. Though we may not be applauded as scientists or sportspeople, we need the same qualities in us to overcome cancer. Our gold medals are the days filled with joy we spend with our loved ones.

Getting back on track after fighting cancer is going to take time, and the life that will greet us is not going to be the same as before. We will be changed, or precisely we will be an upgraded version of our older self. We have to unlock our new found potential slowly with patience, never giving up but persevering through tough times. Like Winston Churchill said - “Continuous effort — not strength or intelligence — is the key to unlocking our potential.”
The fight was worth for those precious time I got to spend with my children
When you persist enough with patience through tough times, perseverance becomes a part of your character and then nothing will stop you from reaching your goal. One of my friends presented me a print of the poem Don’t Quit by John Greenleaf Whittier and it helped me fight it out patiently on those bad days to persevere for 25 years. I am sharing it with you here in hope it will help you as well.

Don't Quit

When things go wrong as they sometimes will,

When the road you're trudging seems all uphill,

When the funds are low and the debts are high

And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,

When care is pressing you down a bit,

Rest if you must, but don't you quit.

Life is strange with its twists and turns

As every one of us sometimes learns

And many a failure comes about

When he might have won had he stuck it out;

Don't give up though the pace seems slow—

You may succeed with another blow.

Success is failure turned inside out—

The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,

And you never can tell just how close you are,

It may be near when it seems so far;

So stick to the fight when you're hardest hit—

It's when things seem worst that you must not quit.


Rayyan Lost in Laptop

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