Cancer accounted for nearly 10 million deaths worldwide in 2020, according to the World Health Organisation. Of these, the lion’s share of 2.26 million cases were related to breast cancer. On National Cancer Awareness Day 2022, let us remind you that awareness is the first step to prevention of diseases. It was awareness alone that helped Rupali Verma self-detect a breast lump and reach out to an expert for proper diagnosis in October 2021. It was Stage 2 breast cancer. A year later, she has won her freedom from the aggressive cancer cells.
The 52-year-old, who works as EducationUSA adviser with the United States India Education Foundation in New Delhi, believes that sharing one’s breast cancer survival story can benefit many others. During her own journey, she sought a safe space in such inspirational stories.
“Never be scared of the word ‘C’. The more you talk to people and listen to their success stories, it helps you in your treatment,” says Verma.
Breast cancer diagnosis: Cancer awareness is important
Knowing how to do a self breast-examination is an important first step towards a breast cancer detection and diagnosis. Recounting her tryst with breast cancer, she says it started by doing a regular body massage while taking bath.
“That’s when I felt a lump in my left breast. I just kept feeling it thinking that it is a small benign blood clot, but somewhere in a dark scary place in my brain, there was a siren going off. My face wore an expression noticeable to everyone at home. Without wasting any time, I took my family members’ advise, one medical doctor and a principal scientist. I visited the diagnostic center the next morning,” Verma, a mom of one, shares with Health Shots.
A 3D mammogram test and an Ultrasound later, her eyes were set on the facial expression of the radiologist, who called her next day for a needle test. Verma knew she was “in trouble”.
“As soon as I come out of the room, I could only see breast cancer posters in pink colour. That night was terrible. I could not sleep at all thinking of the consequences if I fell sick,” shares Verma, adding how the experience was more agonizing considering the report was to come a day after Diwali.
The report screamed words such as calcification, lesion size and metastatic. She had to undergo a PET (positron emission tomography) scan, an imaging test which can be used to diagnose conditions such as cancer.
“It was Stage 2 breast cancer. I urgently got a biopsy done and the reports mentioned that it was HER2-positive breast cancer. I remember my oncologist draw boobs on paper and circle the spots where my lumps were, including the lymph nodes. I was told the cancer cells were aggressive and therefore, the treatment needed to start at the earliest,” she recounts.
Cancer is life-changing
In that dreaded moment, Rupali Verma’s life changed forever. In some negative ways, maybe. But definitely in more positive ways.
“Going through the cancer treatment is life-changing. Your whole world crumbles in pieces. But I took it one step at a time. It taught me to prioritize myself, to listen to my gut more, to be patient, to have perspective, and what spirituality is all about. This one year filled me with so much more appreciation and gratitude,” she says.
Verma also believes the diagnosis helped her put things into better perspective.
“I have managed to be in the healthiest mental state. My breast cancer diagnosis was a defining moment. It made me realize that what I thought was impossible, is in fact.”
How did you deal with the physical changes due to breast cancer treatment?
“The first question that comes to your mind is ‘Why me?’ The side effects such as nausea, acidity, mouth ulcers, constant fatigue and complete hair fall (including eyelashes) affected me severely. But except for a few weeks after chemotherapy, I used to treat days with a positive, bold and cheerful outlook towards life beyond cancer,” says Verma.
Here’s one way to see things positively her way!
“I cried when I got diagnosed with breast cancer but few days later I was happy that it is only breast cancer,” she adds.
While she confidently accepted all the physical changes, including her bald look, she admits, “I was never in a fight with my body. It was always my mind that I had to control.”
That’s where the love and support of her near and dear ones played a vital role.
Family support during cancer treatment
“My heartfelt thanks to my family and co-workers for the support, warmth, courage, and unconditional love through my tough and challenging time. It is a blessing to have people who are kind, caring, and understanding. I have received tremendous personal, psychological and emotional support from my husband and son,” says Verma.
She makes a special mention of her husband, who saw her at her most vulnerable state and became her biggest support system. What also helped her was having faith in her oncologist, who encouraged her to see the positive side of things.
Her final biopsy report came along with victory.
“With perseverance and patience, I have, at last, crossed the last milestone and freedom from the aggressive cancer cells,” she shares proudly.
After going through the treatment, Verma says the medical treatment for breast cancer is so advanced that one need not worry if you are diagnosed at an early stage. A word of advice from the survivor?
“The best advice is not to listen to anyone or Google symptoms. Just get the courage and meet your gynecologist who will further refer for the diagnostic tests.