How to tell the family you have cancer and battle it yourself

By Enid Parker

It started out like a normal day, except for that nagging lower abdominal pain I had been trying to ignore. However, as I got ready to leave for work, instinct warned me I should have it checked. Little did I imagine at the time that this pain would completely transform my life.

Off I went to see a doctor at a nearby clinic. It turned out I had uterine fibroids. This news didn’t worry me as much as the doctor who advised a breast check as well, telling me she could feel a hardness in the right breast. Best have an ultrasound done, she said. Still, I was hopeful, as I had never felt any symptoms in the breast. Surely everything would be alright.

It wasn’t. Upon receiving the ultrasound and consequent mammogram reports the following day, I was shocked to find out that I had a ‘suspicious lesion’ in the right breast suggestive of malignancy. Tears spilled out as I left the clinic; trying to get my bearings, I sat down at my favourite coffee shop, where I had often ordered a cappucino on solo outings, happy to people watch from my favourite seat. This time I was too wrapped up in myself, struggling to digest the fact that I could have cancer. Emotions ranging from anger (“why me”) to self pity (“but I haven’t even done anything with my life yet”) to sadness overwhelmed me.

Truthfully, in the days that followed I was at my lowest, despite trying to put up a brave face and revealing as little as I could for now to my family back in India. I hated worrying them. With tremendous support from people here who loved me, including my boss, colleagues and friends, I plucked up the courage to get a biopsy done in Dubai. By this time, hope that it would turn out to be nothing had of course faded, so I was in a way prepared for the result: Yes, it was cancer. Invasive ductal carcinoma, Grade II, to be precise. Words, just words, printed on paper that effectively destroyed any peace of mind I had left.

But every human possesses the instinct to survive and even through this cloud of despair, a practical note entered my head which was this: What next? So I have this problem, what now, how do I fix it? And how on earth do I finally tell my family about this?

I knew I had to tell them in person, and break the news gently, with an air of confidence and positivity that would uplift them as well. But did I feel confident and positive? I tried my best, but you’re only human; some days you’re a warrior and some days you just want to crumble into pieces.

In the end, as I made a decision to go down to India for further treatment, I decided I wouldn’t crumble, no matter what. I don’t know where I got the strength from, to put up a happy face upon seeing my dad at the airport, to convince my family members that I was doing okay. Really, I was, I assured them. To see them even slightly unburdened, to see my dad smile, lifted a huge weight off my shoulders.

After reaching Mumbai things unravelled at a dizzying speed. Scans, surgery, tests, discussion of further courses of action. Luckily, the cancer hadn’t spread anywhere, and my surgeon displayed a level of confidence in his demeanour that was hard not to be influenced by. And I will forever be grateful to everyone involved in my diagnosis and treatment — doctors Jaimala Shukla, Houriya Kazim and Shaheena Dawood from Dubai, and Mehul Bhansali, Reetu Jain and Sharmila Agarwal from Mumbai.

Post surgery (from which I recovered without any major issues, thankfully) I re-joined work for a few weeks and tried to resume my normal life till the next course of treatment. This phase was relatively easy, except for the scars that would always be a reminder of what I went through. Nevertheless, as before when I was first diagnosed, friends and family brought light into my life and there was a light that shone from within that seemed to be growing brighter. If I had come so far, I could surely go on. How do you find hope when you most desperately need it? I don’t know but it happened to me, more than once during this ordeal.

Like a warrior in peace time, I had to learn to put on my armour, take up my weapons again and utter a war cry to tackle the next treatment: a month-long course of radiotherapy for which I again flew down to Mumbai. By this time I had come up with a strategy to de-stress, and it involved doing anything that didn’t allow me to brood, whether it was sketching, chatting with cousins, going for walks, writing or even watching movies on my laptop. I surrounded myself with positive vibes. Even when I underwent radiation on a daily basis, I tried not to let doubt or negativity creep in. I would act like there was nothing wrong with me; the hospital was just somewhere I had to go every day. I refused to let a diagnosis dictate who I was or who I would become.

At times seeing patients in different stages of the disease at the radiation centre was traumatising and many unhappy thoughts would come flooding back. But on most days, I tried to imagine happier moments for those people, better lives that they surely would live once they were done here. In the end, after all, acceptance and hope are the only things that keep us going. And counting blessings, the many, many things that we take for granted on a daily basis. One thing that has helped me immensely through this tough time is a sense of humour. I was always the kind of person who made light of situations, even laughed at them, and this quality came in handy when I desperately needed something to brighten up my existence.

A long road lies ahead as far as my further treatment goes — and some decisions will not be easy to take. The struggle is ongoing. Peace of mind eludes me sometimes, as does a positive attitude. But I fight on, and take comfort from the good things in my life. There are days that pull me down very low, both mentally and physically. There are days when nothing seems like it could come to any good. But whatever happens, I try not to let the darkness take over. Sometimes, I realise, especially during difficult times, we shut our eyes to the most obvious light in our lives.

Enid is a fan of nostalgia, Harry Potter, and street food, among other things

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