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Breast cancer is not a battle that is fought alone, if the goal is to win. Victory comes to those who are supported by family, friends, doctors.....and a positive attitude.
It is not rare for me to see patients presenting with locally advanced breast cancer or metastatic cancer. Many times, I would wonder why they came in late. Till a few years back, I would judge the educated ones more harshly and enquire in my mind what education had done for them. I stopped judging them a few years ago especially after scratching their tough exteriors a bit! Six years ago, this elderly lady, speaking in impeccable English almost stumbled into my office. She was pale and weak and her daughter informed me that she had a bleeding ulcer in her left breast. I examined her and found a 15 cm large bleeding, ulcerated mass in her left breast. Her blood tests showed she was awfully low on Hemoglobin. I quickly arranged for a biopsy and also had a PET CT done, almost certain, that her disease would have spread. Thankfully, I was proved wrong. She was given blood transfusions and chemotherapy was started. She was an epitome of courage and went through her chemotherapy, surgery and radiation with a quiet resilience. During the course of her treatment, I asked her why she had presented so late. What she said shook me!She said she had a paralysed husband to look after and she had been doing that for the past 4 years. She knew about the lump and that it was growing. It is just that her husband’s need was greater. That is when the judging stopped. We may boast of a secure social fabric but many times we see these lone wagers, fighting their own battles. Their health becomes secondary. Life is not easy for many. Bless her!She is well. Her dear husband passed away 3 years ago and she runs an NGO to promote forgotten skills among women in rural Haryana. I am truly proud to have known her!
I am a big fan of Angelina Jolie. So what is the big deal about it? Half of the human race is possibly her fan..her looks and her acting prowess has had the world swooning. I am her fan for a different reason. I haven’t followed her movies, her drop dead gorgeous looks or her personal life but I admire her for her courage. Some years ago, this remarkable lady announced to the world that she is having both her breasts removed. She knew that she was carrying a genetic mutation which made her susceptible to breast and ovarian cancer. Her family history was strong for both breast and ovarian cancer and once she tested positive for the mutation, she knew she carried a 60-80% risk of developing either of these cancers. She was faced with the prospect of prophylactic breast and ovarian surgeries. I can only imagine the sleepless nights, the battle within-to do or not to do, several rounds of long discussions with her doctors, family and friends, the impact on her career which relied heavily on glamour, her children... and so much more. And then she made that decision to have both her breasts removed and subsequently her ovaries. She shocked the world but at the same time catapulted herself to that realm of courage and fortitude that rarely people of her standing dare to tread. I joined her fan club and her story of courage became the benchmark for women caught in a similar situation. Why I recalled this story was when I encountered my own Angelina Jolie. This young lady of 35 had a very strong family history of breast, ovarian and colon cancer on her maternal side.Her husband was gutted when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. I advised her for a genetic consult while planning for her surgery. The genetic consultant had barely advised her gene testing and was discussing the possible implications, when she said that she had made up her mind. She very calmly told the consultant that irrespective of what the test says she was going ahead with bilateral prophylactic mastectomies and bilateral ovarian surgeries in the same sitting. She came to be and conveyed the same to me. It shook me inwardly and took me a while to gain my composure as her husband stood by her, rock solid in his support of her decision. ‘COURAGE’ as a word probably does not do justice to the tenacity with which one arrives at this supremely difficult decision. I have done these surgeries before and this one was certainly not the last. Such decisions are rationalised within the multidisciplinary board, the molecular oncologists, the psychologists, the family and most importantly, the patients!! While I see more of these Angeina Jolie clones, I will always hope and pray that these amazing ladies’ decision translates into long, meaningful and inspiring lives!
THE ART OF SELFLESSNESS OF PURPOSE Three weeks ago, a thin built lady from a remote village in UP walked in with her sister and her nephew, who lived in Delhi. While they poured her story of being diagnosed with breast cancer, I could sense an underlying anger. The sister burst forth with the information that her elder sister’s husband is a farmer and had thrown her out on knowing the diagnosis. He refused to get her treated and had said that she was as good as dead to him. The sister was vehement and was certain that she would get her elder sister treated. That is exactly what she did. I operated upon the lady. On receiving the pathology report, I shared with her that her sister would require both chemotherapy and radiation. The patient’s husband also came for that consult and asked me if he could take his wife home before she started chemotherapy, to which I said he could. Hardly had they left the room, that the younger sister returned to my room, furious. She said, ‘ How did you even suggest that he could take her back home? He will not spare her. How could you undo the effort that I am putting in, to treat her?’ I was stumped!She went on to say that she would look after her and make sure she had her complete treatment. She told me that she was a person of modest means with a one room flat but she would arrange accommodation for her sister and get one of her nieces to look after her while she underwent treatment. There was that intense look of determination in her eyes when she said, ’ Doctor, no way am I going to let her go- I take her full responsibility!’ How many times do you come across such unsung heroes in your life? This young lady is a hero, championing the cause of her older sister who has no voice. Her sister has a husband who has only used her but refuses to stand by her as she readies herself for her biggest battle, yet. She has found an unlikely knight in shining armour in her younger sister, who, I am sure will brave the storms lying in store for her. It is not the money in your pocket that makes the world go round but it is the desire and the will to help that makes the world go round. I love the spunk of this lady and have loads to learn from her. Selflessness of purpose is what makes her so inspiring and restores my faith in humanity!!
WHEN YOUR HELP GOES OUT OF ACTION..... The joy of becoming Director, Breast Surgical Oncology, dissipated into thin air when my help did not turn up for work citing an excruciating back ache. And then all hell broke loose, at least for me, as I realised that a whole new vista of mountains of work had piled up in front of me. My mother in law who is past 75 did her best to restore order but at that age, speed is not on your side. The morning hours between 6 and 7.30 am is nothing short of high speed roller coaster with three people with contrasting needs, rushing off to their respective places of work. One of these people is also me but I was the only one riding the roller coaster. Now I know why the goddesses have multiple arms, symbolic of the multitasking geniuses women are. I had exactly an hour and a half in which to don the cape of Superwoman! I would have to conjure up six dishes. Each of us would eat a different thing and carry yet another thing for lunch. Spoilt brats, each one of us 😯but blame it on the ever complying help. If this variety in dishes was not enough, my obsessive mind with a fetish for cleanliness would go about setting the house right, ironing out the last crease on the bed and cleaning the bathroom, till the tiles gleamed and the arms hurt. 😱My husband and daughter would look on trying to tell me that my obsession was not their problem-meaning, they would not help!🤨 Out of breath and sweating, I would now get ready for that job, I am trained for and love doing.I would arrive in hospital, without a trace of the battle that I was embroiled in not too long ago. Nobody wants to know that you have just completed a day’s work before coming to the hospital. I am not looking for compassion but this is my tribute to all the women who strive endlessly to make the lives of their loved ones better and then go to work and excel there as well. Breathe ladies and take good care of yourselves!While I love being a woman, I really hope my help comes back soon!
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