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Breast cancer survivor: ‘I knew this was going to be malignant because of its shape’


Updated on: 13 March,2024 09:36 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Ainie Rizvi |

Breast cancer affects 1,62,468 women, as per the ‘Statistics of Breast Cancer in India’ report released in 2018. To unearth their journeys, spoke to two breast cancer survivors who open up about their ordeal

Breast cancer survivor: ‘I knew this was going to be malignant because of its shape’

Image for representational purpose only. Photo Courtesy: istock

Key Highlights

  1. Breast cancer affects 1,62,468 women, as per the ‘Statistics of Breast Cancer in India`
  2. There is no substitute for self-examination
  3. Finding the right doctor with whom you have a good comfort level is crucial

In early May 2023, Archana Mukesh Tiwari noticed a small lump on her left breast which initially did not concern her. “In the past, I have had breast cysts which dissolve on their own and so its presence did not bother me much,” informs the 42-year-old from Chembur. 

However, the persistence of the lump prompted her to seek medical advice from doctors, who recommended further investigation. “I wasn’t even aware of what a biopsy is when the doctor mentioned it,” remarks Archana who found her confidence gradually slipping away. 

“When Archana came to me for her check-up, I could see the fear and devastation in her eyes. She seemed misguided and was hesitant to undergo therapy. Upon convincing, I managed to reassure her and gain her trust in the treatment process.” remarks Archana’s doctor – Anupama Mane, a consultant breast surgeon at Ruby Hall Clinic, Pune. 

Thus began Archana’s journey of tackling a cancer that affects 1,62,468 Indian women, as per the ‘Statistics of Breast Cancer in India’ report released in 2018. To unearth their journeys, spoke to two breast cancer survivors who opened up about their ordeal of dealing with the fatal disease.
‘It’s extremely challenging to undergo chemotherapy’
Archana was not keen to undergo a biopsy due to lack of understanding about the process. “Initially, I was given the wrong diagnosis and was charged a huge sum at Kedarnath Hospital in Shastri Nagar for my tests. They asked me to get admitted the same day which left me in doubt about the procedure they had suggested,” she recounts.

Upon taking a second opinion, she gained more clarity about biopsy and got over confusion around the medical terminology. She was convinced by her doctor to take the test for a better diagnosis of the lump. Post her mammography followed by a biopsy, she was left aghast when the reports revealed stage-IV breast cancer. 

“Being an orphan, my husband and I are solely responsible for our children. Getting diagnosed with breast cancer had left me stunned. Who would take care of my children, if I don’t make it?” Archana tells Midday. 

Archana felt as if the ground had been ripped out from beneath her feet. Breast cancer - The word reverberated through her mind, shattering her hopes and dreams. As she grappled with the devastating reality of her diagnosis, Archana's thoughts turned to the cost of surgery which ranged between Rs 2.50 lakh– Rs 3.50 lakh. 

“Despite attempts to avail government assistance, I could not get a medical waiver,” Archana tells Midday. To her rescue, Dr Mane provided her with medical and financial support which motivated Archana to embark on a gruelling regime of chemotherapy and surgery.

Today, she has completed eight sessions of chemotherapy and finds them to be a daunting task. “It is extremely challenging to undergo chemotherapy. I had stopped eating; my mobility was affected and my mental health was in shambles.”

She continues, “It was only after the operation that my situation improved and I could eat better. Now I have to undergo the last 2 chemotherapies and I will be done with this cancer for life.”

Reflecting on her journey, Archana imparts a poignant message to women battling breast cancer: "Please do regular check-ups. If you find anything unusual, please visit your nearby doctors and get checked. It can save you from big health issues."
‘I knew that this was going to be malignant because of its shape’
Based in Goa, Ira Almeida is undergoing a chemotherapy session as we speak to her. Tracing the roots of her cancer, she takes us back to November 2023 when she did a self-inspection. “I performed a self-examination, as I used to do regularly. However, during that month, I was out of town. Upon returning home, I conducted the test and noticed that I had a lump.”

Before the biopsy report came out, Ira knew that this was going to be malignant because of its shape. “Three months prior, I underwent testing and there were no abnormalities. I had even undergone a scan during that time. However, upon discovering the lump, I made the decision to seek investigation and consultation in Mumbai,” Ira tells Midday.

It's worth noting that Ira works as a paediatrician. In preparation for her consultations, she conducted her own research on topics such as Oestrogen Receptors, Progesterone Receptors, immunochemistry and other aspects related to breast cancer to develop a better understanding. 

Additionally, she sought the opinion of an experienced professional in the field, which led her to Dr Vani Parmar from the Head and Neck Cancer Institute of India. Thus began her journey to combat breast cancer with an all-women’s team including Dr Basila and Dr Zeva. 

Currently, Ira is on her 9th chemotherapy session and owns the will of a steel. While the lump was discovered in November, she underwent surgery during the same month. Approximately a month later, she began chemotherapy, which is still undergoing. 

Her treatment plan involves 12 weekly sessions of chemotherapy followed by radiotherapy, as advised by her healthcare team. “I have a particular type of tumour that is hormone-sensitive, meaning it depends on hormones for growth. As a result, I will need to take oral medication for hormone therapy.” Ira adds.

Ira works as a project director of a palliative program. Fortunately, her company has been supportive and allowed her to work remotely, during her battle with breast cancer. “Despite the change to online work, I continue to coordinate all meetings and project activities. However, due to being immunocompromised, I've had to limit my social interactions. This means I can't attend any social events or gatherings for the time being.”
Finding the right support system
Shifting the compass to familial support, Ira remarks, “I'm fortunate to have a lot of support during this challenging time. My family, including my four sisters and children, have been there for me from the very beginning.” With a positive outlook, Ira shares that “It's been a great opportunity to catch up with old friends and spend quality time together during treatment.”

Finding the right doctor with whom you have a good comfort level is crucial. In Ira’s case, both the surgeon and her assistants were highly competent and accessible. If ever she had concerns or questions, such as experiencing a strange shooting pain or needing advice on medication like Rosine or the dosage of paracetamol, she felt comfortable reaching out to them at any time. 

While finding the right doctor is crucial, Ira notes that self-inspection is of utmost importance. “From my experience, I've learned that there is no substitute for self-examination. While I did undergo a scan three months prior, it was my own self-examination that led to the discovery of the lump. A woman knows her body best and is often the first to notice any changes. Therefore, regular self-examinations are incredibly important for early detection and prompt medical attention,” outlines Ira. 
Titlees: A support group for breast cancer survivors
Ira has founded a support group for breast cancer survivors by the quirky name ‘Titlees’. The idea behind the group is to meet online once every week and encourage women to share their stories. “Their strength and resilience is truly admirable and they definitely need to be heard,” Ira concludes. 

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