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Never too old to make choices Last week, I met this lovely lady, pushing 80 years. I’m reluctant to call her old for her lively demeanour would put the chronologically young to shame. How I met her was because she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Fortunately for her, she had early breast cancer. This is a delight for a breast surgeon like me, who is used to seeing advanced breast cancer. After going through the investigations, it was decided that she should have surgery. I started discussing the surgical options and just as I would do with all my patients amenable to all the options, I discussed breast conservation surgery, mastectomy ( surgical removal of the breast)and mastectomy with reconstruction. She was quick in making her decision and said she wanted to have a breast conservation surgery. I liked her firmness but her daughter was not so sure. When the time came for her to be admitted, the daughter came up to me and said that she and her brother thought it would be better if she went ahead with mastectomy. It was surely concern for their mother. They wanted her to be disease free and also thought that at her age, it did not matter if she lost her breast. At the same time, they were not sure that breast conservation and mastectomy yielded the same results. I spoke to her again and said that her mother had made a choice, which was scientifically tenable .Ten years ago, my warped mind might have encouraged her to go for mastectomy. Now I know, choice has nothing to do with age.The instances when husbands, brothers, parents, relatives and anyone else( read neighbors!) influencing surgical decisions have been too many and every time, my heart has gone out, especially, to the young ladies who have had no say in the choices imposed on them.Losing a breast is a self esteem, body image issue- the loss and its impact is borne only by the one who loses it.The lovely dame stood by her choice and it was executed. Choices are not about being right or wrong. Choices are about the freedom to make a decision and stick by it. The comfort of having made one’s choice is a confidence booster and can bring about unexpected results. I do know that, for a fact!
ANOTHER STEP IN AN EXCITING JOURNEY!! It has been an exciting journey as a surgeon spanning over 21 years.... from an unsure, rebellious senior resident to a muted mature version... Director, Surgical Oncology- Breast Cancer.The journey has been anything but easy but I look back with lot of pride. I chose to take up surgery for my post graduation, a decision certainly emerging from the heart. To step into a male dominated world could only be a prompt from the heart. The brain would have screamed, “Harakiri”! I soon found that out as my immediate senior with my being in residency for a week declared with impunity, ”You will never make a surgeon”!I was discouraged but was not one to give up. I was labelled ‘The Rebel’! I carry that tag still. I am never one to back away from voicing my opinion, which may be uncomfortable but many a times the truth. I will agree that one art that I am yet to master from my male counterparts is their innate ability to be at their diplomatic best in the worst of situations. I have been promoted to Director, Surgical Oncology! I must have done something right to get here but I have been fortunate in several ways as well. The good fortune of having an amazing mentor in Dr Harit Chaturvedi and his confidence in my abilities, a supportive family and the ‘bug’ in my head which keeps pushing me to do more, have got me here.For me, this is an opportunity to lead, to mentor and to leave a legacy.It is also time now to shift gears from not just treatment of breast cancer but to prevention and early detection. I have taken baby steps in that direction but there are miles and miles to go before I sleep.... and the rebel in me is still alive and kicking. All that I can say is that the landing punches are just that much softer!
REFLECTING WITH GRATITUDE Today is Gurupoornima and I am blessed to have had amazing teachers in my life...heartfelt gratitude to all those who held my hand and taught me to walk, to those who saw me trip and fall but let me pick up myself, to those who pushed me so that I would not get used to the comfort of an easy ride, to those who laughed at me so that I could learn to laugh at myself, to those who ridiculed me so that I could start believing in myself! I am grateful to my patients-my awesome teachers-who have taught me how transient life is and how to make life bigger and better every single day. They remind me how minuscule I am in the larger scheme of things and how acceptance is the easiest way to avoid disappointment.May you all live happy, healthy and meaningful lives. Loads of respect to all my Teachers!!!🙏🏻🙏🏻
SMALL BUT SIGNIFICANT!! I recently operated upon my colleague’s aunt for breast cancer. She was discharged uneventfully and went home in a baby pink tunic with her drain in a floral pink sling bag, that goes with each patient after breast surgery. That is when my colleague pointed out that the film ‘Sui Dhaaga’ was based on a concept I had created 8 years ago.I was taken aback! I had not seen the film. So, he explained to me how that film was based on creating comfort and practical clothing for patients after surgery.That idea catches on and goes on to become a successful business venture, in the movie. I had seen my patients after surgery for breast cancer, especially those with mastectomy (breast removal) struggle with their clothes to expose the wound while at the same time struggling harder to cover their loss.It was not easy to carry their drain( tube) boxes around and they were always scared of the drains being pulled at and dislodged. I wanted to come up with a solution. My dear friend, Mamta Goenka, had already worked on a pink bag with a smiley ball, peppermint, Vaseline and a soft pillow. I wanted to add something to this and that is when I set about designing a baby pink or floral post mastectomy knee length tunic with Velcro tapes holding the front and Velcro tapes on the sides to allow the drain to slip imperceptibly into the sling bag. To this was added bras with pockets to hold the external prostheses and restore body image, even as the lady walked out of the hospital. I got a vendor to design it and it was welcomed by all patients. Like in the movie, there was a potential business opportunity in this thought.However, I am no businesswoman but the idea caught on with the vendors.Now, there are many vendors in the fray and this kit is being supplied by them to most of the large corporate hospitals in Delhi. For me, patients’ positive feedback is my reward. I am happy that I have been able to make a difference in the lives of those who have had a brush with breast cancer, in a small but significant way!
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