I have Cancer. So, What ’s the Big Deal?
Read the motivational story of Vinita Menon, a cancer survivor, who drew huge inspiration and strength from world champion Lance Armstrong’s battle against cancer, and supportive family and friends. In a vivid narration, she recounts how she caught the bull by the horns and kept her world intact.
It was a warm afternoon in March 2011, my Sports Science and Nutrition students had just finished their exams .We were saying our goodbyes. I looked at the vast expanse of the sea, the waves gently lapping at the seashore moving back and forth rhythmically. The sea enveloped my being with a sense of calmness and felt the happiness pervading me. I smiled with very sense of being alive and blessed. My reverie was suddenly broken. I heard their voices.
“Bye Ma’am, we’ve had a wonderful time studying, it’s been different, thank you so much,” they said in one voice. “I know” I answered,“ you couldn’t have had a better ambience to study, in the open air with palm trees and the sea in front. I have thoroughly enjoyed teaching.” We all had a hearty laugh and they left.
I walked into the house. The pain in my left leg suddenly reminded me of some unfinished business that I had been delaying for the last two months. It had been an ordeal to sit for a long time, as the pain in the low back up to the knee could be unbearable. It was nearly 2-3 months ago that my body had been showing signs that everything was not normal.
Besides teaching, I had my own wholesale pharmaceutical agency where I covered doctors from Bandra to Dahanu. It entailed a lot of travel, especially by train.
Slowly, I found my energy levels dropping. It was getting difficult walking up and down the railway bridges and catching trains. I had to make frequent stops and trips to the bathroom. My left leg had started trailing, which meant I couldn’t walk as fast as I used too. These tell-tale symptoms started bothering me.
I visited the physiotherapist, she felt the pain was not normal and suggested that I see an Orthopaedic doctor. I called my uncle, Dr. Karkhanis, (Orthopaedic Surgeon HOD Nanavati Hospital) without further delay and met him in the evening.
He checked and found the ankle jerk missing in the left foot and the strength in the toes had become a little less. He asked me a few more questions. He suggested an MRI at Nanavati Hospital immediately.
My world was still intact.
My diagnosis came in earlier than I expected. The writing was on the wall. It was CANCER –Myeloma. It was a malignant lesion covering nearly 75% of the sacrum, solitary plasmacytoma a malignant lesion, the condition was MGUS – Monoclonal Gammopathy of Unknown Significance. It was a shock to all; breaking the news was not easy.
It was a blur. I came home. My first instinct was to rationalise, “Now what! So What!” Everybody was shaken .It had not occurred to anyone that the Big “C” would be a part of the family. The mood was sombre.
I soon had to undergo a battery of tests and the bone marrow biopsy to ascertain the type and the extent of the lesion to decide the line of treatment.
Each day was an ordeal. I cried for 4 days. Surfing the net made it worse, it made me a statistic. Average age of mortality 6 years, but I AM STILL HERE. The pain in my left leg was becoming worse. It helped to know that there was an answer to my symptoms.
While surfing, I came across the article on www.livestrong.com the website started by the famous Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong. It was like a bolt from the blue and suddenly something snapped in me. A random thought took hold of my mind, “Enough is enough, life needs to be lived with joy and happiness, so its CANCER, So What! Big Deal!” There are other ailments that become your companions for life, like auto immune diseases hypertension, diabetes; so, am I going to let myself go, just because I have Cancer, NO, NO, NO.
It was, as if I had suddenly turned off the taps. There were no more tears, it was a catharsis. I suddenly felt a rubber band snap inside me; I released myself from fear and was able to look at the situation objectively. I saw my path clearly. It was filled with hope, courage and inner strength to take on the present and the future. I took the bull by the horns.
The condition I had was identified as MGUS (Monoclonal Gammopathy of Unknown significance) with a solitary plasmacytoma. Luckily, the kidneys or the long bones were not involved and showed no lytic lesions. My renal profile was also normal. I was really grateful that I had been diagnosed quickly and helped start my treatment early.
I started my treatment at Hinduja Hospital which began with a month of radiation. Each day was a step towards recovery. Soon my walking improved and I felt healthier. I took precautions to hydrate myself well, to reduce the side effects of radiation. I kept praying that I am becoming healthy again and the radiation is helping me kill all the bad cells. It helped. Post radiation, Medical Oncologist put me onto six months of Oral Chemo in the form of capsules - Thalidomide and Dexamethasone tablet and a monthly IV of IV Zoledronic acid, a bisphosphonate which helps reduce bone lesions. At all times, I believed the treatment was making me a whole and healthy person. I had already accepted my condition and never thought of “Why Me”. My tests were clear and by November 11 I was off treatment.
Post treatment I involved myself with voluntary work in the field of sports and education. I joined an NGO – Citizens Assoc. of Child Rights) an organisation which worked with BMC schools and continued with my teaching. My path was clear, but I still felt that not enough is being done in the form of support groups.
It was nearly 5 years since I was diagnosed. My health was good excepting a few niggling aches and pains, nothing that I could not deal with. I was asked to go through the whole battery of tests which included the skeletal survey, besides the other diagnostic tests. I was to get the reports within a day or two. I scheduled my appointment for the week after. The skeletal survey findings were mailed the next day. It did not take me long to realise that I was in for a long haul.
I was now a Multiple Myeloma patient. I had graduated from being a patient to a survivor and back to being a patient. The skeletal survey showed tiny lytic lesions in the humerus, left and right, femur left and right and fibula and also in the skull. The bone marrow biopsy showed an increase of plasma cells. By this time, I was well aware of the situation I had to deal with. I was very glad that I was diagnosed through a routine check-up without having any symptoms. It was caught early on.
Did I cry - NO
Did I say "Why Me" - NO
Did I feel terrible to be a patient of Multiple Myeloma - NO
I just, we just dealt with it
It was as if I was running a race, picking myself up once I crossed that finish line, looking forward to another challenge. My thoughts went back to another time, when I just entered college and was challenged to run the entire length of Juhu Beach. I took up the challenge and I did it. I am ever grateful to that challenge as it has become a lodestone of my ongoing journey.
My association with MFCT, Myeloma Friends Charitable Trust, a non-profit organisation that was inspired by Mr. Dilipkumar Mevada made my journey easier. Mental health, the mind body-connection is an area which must be addressed through counselling and the specialised field of psycho-oncology in the form of workshops or one to one. The other area is exercise and physical fitness especially before an ASCT. I believe that support groups and workshops will play a stellar role in holistic Myeloma treatment and healthcare.
I am blessed to have such a wonderfully supportive family, friends and doctors who are an integral part of my life, who have stood by me and filled my life with hope and courage. For me, Myeloma is just a ripple and Life is still beautiful.
Myeloma has given me an opportunity to accept adversity and turn it into a wonderful way, to reach out, share, have a purpose in life and evolve into a better person with a never say die spirit. There is so much to do. I am grateful that my dreams and intent have become a reality with first support group meeting to be held in March, for blood cancers especially Myeloma and the wonderful souls I have met, since my journey, which started 6 years ago.
I am truly blessed to say,
CANCER, SO WHAT?
OVERCOME IT, MAKE A DIFFERENCE”
LET THE UNIVERSE BE MY GUIDING STAR,
”TATHASTU” SO BE IT!