My tryst with cancer began a couple of months ago

Jaya Ramakrishnan, Mumbai, August 2007

My tryst with cancer began a couple of years ago…

I am thirty-three years of age and a pharmacist by profession; I work for a British Pharmaceutical Company in the capacity of a Manager in the “Regulatory Affairs Department”. I am also a proud mother of a bubbly six and half – year-old daughter. It's almost two and a half years since my diagnosis back in March, 2005, but it seems like just yesterday……….

It had been a good three months that I had been low on energy and had a very poor appetite, but I didn't really take it too seriously. There was a lot of pressure at work and I thought it was the work that was making me feel drained and tired. It used to be an effort to get out of bed in the morning. But I kept on promising myself a small vacation when the school closed for holidays in April. But of course, the Lord Almighty had willed otherwise!!

It was mid March and I had a lot of leave lapsing so I managed a five-day break over the weekend in order to prepare the little one for her exams and spend some time with her. I spent the first day clearing some pending bank matters. I also happened to have a blood test done, to find out if I was anemic, so that I could go on some tonic. The chance blood test as it turned out saved my life.

The doctor got in touch with me in the evening, asking me to come in the next day with a family member because he wanted to repeat the tests and do some extra tests. He would tell me no more and I spent an uneasy night wondering what was wrong. Little was I aware when I finally fell asleep that the next two days would turn my life upside down! The next day saw a blood test followed by a biopsy, a mammography, a CT scan, an X-ray and a lot of waiting. The marrow sample was delivered to the oncology department in Jaslok Hospital and that was when I had the first inkling of what I was headed for. And I was terrified! I tried to put on a brave face but it was very tough. All I wanted to do was crawl into a corner and cry… cry hard, cry for my child and for the unknown that we were up against…Eventually I realized that:

1. There was nothing to be gained by crying. It would only make it harder for my family/friends and me.
2. Whatever it was that I was suffering from…I could not change it. The words of my teacher from school came to my mind “if you can't change it, accept it”.
3. The best way forward and the only way forward was to have a will to live and make the most of what I have in life.

Once I was clear in the head about these little facts, things got a lot easier.

I still didn't know what the diagnosis was but I was much more prepared to face it now. I knew I could handle it. Even before the following afternoon, I was sure about the diagnosis. It was “CML- Chronic Myeloid Leukemia.” I had tested 100% Ph chromosome positive. Once again God had been very kind to me. I have always had full faith in Him and He has never let me down. Though I was suffering from Cancer, I had a disease, which not only could be well controlled by a targeted drug (“Imatinib-Glivec”), but the treatment was such that I could easily continue leading a very normal life, be independent and have a reasonably long life expectancy. The icing on the cake was that there were almost no side effects. My only set back at this stage was the cost of therapy. I was advised that the cost of therapy would be about 1.2 lakhs per month, which was way beyond anything that we could afford on a long-term basis!

Once again the Lord Almighty came to my rescue.

He brought me to Novartis and the “Max Foundation”. We had our initial apprehensions of whether we  would qualify, but the moment we set foot into their office, we knew that this was the best place we could ever be in. Though I was not in the best of spirits, the warmth extended to us and how welcome we were made to feel overwhelmed me! And from then on there was no looking back. There was only one way and that was forward…… on the long, sure and steady journey to remission and to an almost normal life.

I was introduced to my fellowmen via e-mail. I am just a reader and not an active contributor to the group discussions. I identify with most of them in terms of hopes and anxieties. I had concerns about the depigmentation of my skin and losing hair. But over time after attending several of the sessions organized by the Max Foundation, I have learnt that the chance/opportunity to live offered by Glivec is indeed very precious and the side effects are but a small price to pay. The Max foundation was the best thing that could have happened to me. Though it is my resolve to live a full life, my friends on the e-mail always give me a boost whenever I feel low through their lively exchanges. Just reading about their experiences and how they are fighting the disease is by itself a great source of inspiration. This extended family has kept me rocking for over two years now. They have been my constant companion with their undiluted love, affection and support through my journey from Ph positive 100% to a Zero BCR-ABL reading that I achieved three months ago. I owe my chance to live again to my loving doctor, Novartis and to the Max Foundation. I would have been a dead duck by now if it were not for them….  At the end of the day, it's always worth our while to remember that we are all here because we want to live, because we want to fight the battle and win.

We are not fighting to lose.
So, there is no point thinking negative, because these thoughts are only going to be our undoing. They are only going to slow us down. We are racing against time and we can't afford to mope around or drown in selfpity. Let us all live life like there is no tomorrow, be a source of inspiration not only to people like us but also to people who are normal, but don't realize the value of what they have. I am sure that each and every one of us has a winner in us – Have the will to live. Discover the winner in you – My daughter is the light of my life – She is my life – The sole reason for which I am determined not to miss a single sunrise in life as long as she needs me around her…….