I am Gyan Gupta. I am a cancer survivor.Today I will tell you about my life and my fight with cancer.
I was born in September 1932. I studied till class 6 in a small place called Auriya, in Uttar Pradesh. My father was very keen on educating all his children. Since there were no schools for girls then, I used to attend a boys’ school. I was the only girl in the entire school. After a while, my father left the family’s flourishing business, and shifted to Kanpur to study. Later, he took up teaching in an Inter College. He educated all of his three children, including me, against the pressure of the society to marry us off.
I completed my B.A from S.N. Sen Balika Degree College in Kanpur.
One day I went to the market to buy a pen. The owner of the famous Goel Pens shop in Kanpur, was very impressed with me and struck a conversation with my father. He asked my father for my hand in marriage for his maternal nephew. After due discussions, on 9 May, 1951, I got married to the nephew, a gentle and loving person, Ramesh Chandra Gupta. We shifted to a totally new city and world in Bombay. I would like to highlight here that our marriage took place without any demands for dowry, which in itself was remarkable and unthinkable for that time.
We had three children—two daughters and one son. One of my daughters was later adopted by my widowed sister-in-law, who had taken care of my husband after his parents died, when they were both very young.I did my M.A. in Political Science in 1968–69, with the encouragement of my husband and brother when we shifted back to Kanpur. I later did my B.Ed in 1974–75. I taught in a school for underprivileged children for 12 years and in a nursery school for 4 years. After my husband’s retirement, we made Varanasi our permanent place of residence in view of his attachment to the place. I was offered the post of principal in a school, which I readily accepted. I continued to teach alongside.
In 1991, I began to experience heavy bleeding. The bleeding continued for two days. I must mention here that I had already undergone menopause at the age of 43–44. But, unfortunately, I ignored this abnormal bleeding since it stopped after two days. After six months, I noticed droplets of blood again. Not ignoring it further, I immediately visited a doctor. Suspecting cancer, the doctor sent me for a biopsy. The biospsy confirmed the worst fears of the family. It was indeed, CANCER. By this stage, it had spread to the walls of the liver. Thus, surgical removal of uterus was ineffective and thus, ruled out. Everyone in the family was shocked by the news of me having cancer. But the family quickly recollected itself and got down to ensuring quick treatment.
Luckily, my son knew the then Assistant Professor in the Department of Radiotherapy and Radiomedicine in BHU Hospital, Dr.A.K. Asthana. He did a quick check up and prescribed further treatment. But before the treatment could be started, the BHU hospital staff went on strike. Now the question was how to start the treatment fast so that the cancer does not spread. I was given only six months to live by the doctor who had detected the disease. This fact had been well-hidden from me by my family. They kept encouraging me and kept my morale high through this difficult, anxious time.
Dr. Asthana then, referred me to the Railway Cancer Hospital. Not only this, but he was kind enough to recommended me to a student of his, the oncologist, Dr. Patra, in this hospital. But there was a long queue of patients waiting to get radiotherapy. But, thanks to the cooperation of the staff at the hospital, I was admitted by them, when another patient had failed to come for treatment. For radiotherapy, points were drawn on my stomach. As a result, I could not take a bath in the hot summer months of May and June. Mosambi juice was my saviour. But, the beginning of radiotherapy reduced some stress from my family’s shoulders. I underwent 25 sittings of radiation in 1992. I also underwent 22 hours of a lesser-known therapy of internal radiation called Selectron. All this totally killed my appetite. I became very weak, my hair turned grey and my teeth fell out. Suddenly, I started looking old.
However, thanks to the unconditional love and support of my family members, and the cooperation of the doctors at BHU and the Railway Cancer Hospital at Varanasi, I was not only cured of cancer, but the detection and treatment of the same did not cause trauma to me. I coped very well with my disease and continue to do so despite the numerous side-effects of radiotherapy. After the radiation, sometimes blood oozed out of my rectum. As my husband had some basic know-how of homeopathy and bio-chemic medicine, he gave me Calcaria Flourica 6X. This medicine stopped the bleeding from the rectum.
After 5 years of radiation, both my legs started to swell up. I was once again treated by Dr. Asthana of BHU. I would like to make an important point here. Dr. Asthana instructed me not to sit in the sun too much, as it causes problems in people who have undergone radiotherapy. This was not the end of my problems. In 2000, my urinal cord became very narrow. I had to start using a catheter as urine had begun to drip from the tract. I had to undergo treatment for it every two months. After six months, the treatment was reduced to once in six months. Now, I use the catheter every alternate day to empty my bladder. Regular use of a catheter prevents narrowing of the urinal cord. If I don’t use the catheter for a few days in a row, then the cord gets blocked. As a result, I then have to go to the doctor to open a channel for smooth passage with the help of a machine. The veins near my bladder have become dilated. This has led to a situation where urine drips all the time. I go to the toilet to relieve myself very often in a day, which leaves me exhausted by nighttime. At night, the urine output is so high that it leaks even from the diaper. This disturbs me a lot, but I am trying to cope with it by finding new ways of preventing leakage of urine.
I think I have done well after the initial shock of the detection of cancer. I have survived for 25 years whereas, on the detection, I was given only six months to live.
My message to everyone is: Please do not ignore any abnormal development in the body and immediately consult a doctor. You may not only save yourself, but also the family from a lot of trauma and stress. To the cancer patients, I would like to say, that the detection of cancer does not mean the end of everything. You can fight it with your will power. Try to remain happy and you will see wonders happening.
Last but not the least, the family of a cancer patient should support them unconditionally. Patients should not worry. At the end of the day, emotional support from family and friends proves to be a boon during a difficult phase of life.
I was brought up in the 1950s and 60s, a time of strict home and school rules, limited contact with members of the opposite sex (oh those deadly school dances) and a general lack of worldliness that was common to girls of that era. Everything I did and thought about was focused on looking forward to the time when life would truly begin’.
At one stage my older cousin was staying with us while she worked. She was consistent with the 60s fashions, she wore lots of make-up and those pointy padded bras! I used to wear them around and imagine what it would be like to have real breasts. Naturally, it never entered my head that, by the time I reached 53, I would end up with no breasts whatsoever. I had a taste of what life had to offer. Later, when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a mastectomy at age 45, in typical fashion, she just carried on, sewed marvellous outfits with capes to hide the fact that she had no breast. No such thing as silicon implants or sophisticated prostheses in those days. Her own mother had died of breast cancer when mum was only 10; I can’t even imagine what that would be like.
Looking for fun, adventure and excitement, in 1982 I joined the Air Force to train as an air traffic controller. On my first posting I met my future husband Tim who was a pilot. We married a few years later and then had many postings around Australia. The Air Force was a fantastic life, but in 1991, when Tim was flying Boeing 707s, he was killed in a training accident with four other air crew. It was the most devastating event of my entire life. We had been so happy! Rebuilding my life after that was pretty difficult to say the least. I left the Air Force and went to Art College for three years as a student. Eventually I thought it was time to move back up to Queensland to be closer to my family, and was lucky enough to buy a lovely old beach house.
Next thing that happened came out of left field: in 2002 I was diagnosed with breast cancer, had a mastectomy and six months of chemotherapy. Once it was over I thought that’s it, I’m finished with breast cancer now. It was then I decided to try to make a go of it as a photographic artist. I had plenty of time to work on this during the long months of chemo. Perhaps it was beginner’s luck but I was relatively successful in those early years.
In May 2007 I was diagnosed with a tumour above my left elbow. A simple X-ray showed moth-eaten bone (that is actually a technical medical term). I had heard of knee replacements but never elbow replacements, but the surgeon performed this operation and I thought I’d be good as new. When my medical oncologist said I didn’t have to have chemotherapy, I was overjoyed. But the radiation that was then given to me led to another disastrous event later. However, breast cancer still wasn’t finished with me; six months later I was diagnosed with Inflammatory Breast Cancer which appears like a rash on the breast, and I had a second mastectomy followed by chemotherapy. More hell to go through, coupled with the knowledge that it is a rare and aggressive form of the disease.
No one tells you about the long-term effects of radiation, so when I started to get ulcers on my elbow that wouldn’t heal, no one knew what they were. It was eventually recognized as late radiation soft tissue injury. So my elbow just got worse and worse because no one knew what to do. Early 2008, I had a pericardial effusion and they pumped a litre of fluid out from around my heart. So more chemo, more hell, and life with IBC looked very uncertain, again. Then out of the blue the chance to go to Buenos Aires in Argentina to participate in an international course about the language and science of breast cancer, representing Breast Cancer Network Australia, with whom I am a community liaison. BCNA informs, empowers, represents and links together people affected by breast cancer and is one of the driving forces in this country led by a very inspirational woman.
Meanwhile the ulcers on my elbow continued to deteriorate to the point where I had two very large holes and you could see daylight through my arm and read the maker’s name on my prosthesis. The pain was constant and debilitating and led me to the hard drugs! I couldn’t do much with my arm anyway but at least I could use my fingers to tie shoelaces, etc. Eventually my orthopedic surgeon said that I was risking an arterial bleed at any time, so I made the decision to have my arm amputated. The only good thing was that it would then enable me to travel safely, and of course I had time to get used to the idea rather than it being ripped off in a motor vehicle accident. I am learning to manage quite well with one arm, although it can be very frustrating at times.
I have met many inspirational people in my life, including the lovely ladies who belong to Dragons Abreast Australia, paddling those big heavy dragon boats in regattas, all dressed in pink. We have a very vibrant club here on Bribie Island, formed by one very strong woman who at first couldn’t even bring herself to mention to others that she had had breast cancer. Obviously I can’t paddle in the canoe, but I do get to sit at the bow of the boat and beat the drum to keep up the pace during a race.
So when I was in the depths of depression about this time last year, I was looking around me: there was the guitar I could never again play, and the saxophone; the wave ski in the garage, the snow skis; the bicycle; was there anything left that I could do? There was such a strong feeling of loss and nothing I could do about trying to regain the fit and active life I once had. When it came to New Year in 2010, and thinking about a resolution to make, I decided instead to name it the year of living gratefully. There are so many things to be thankful for: my wonderful family and friends who have supported me through all of this and continue to do so; living on the beach and listening to the sound of the waves at night; the opportunity to travel, especially to Antarctica, which was truly a once in a lifetime experience; the financial freedom not to have to work through all the illnesses that I’ve had; and learning how to let people help you. I am forever grateful to my surgeons and nurses, and most of all to my medical oncologist whom I’ve known for eight years and who gives up so many aspects of his life to look after people like me; and for a medical system that is probably one of the best in the world. I’m grateful for organizations like Breast Cancer Network Australia who sponsored me to the international Project Lead course where I met Rita and other wonderful women.
When I look back over my life, I am enormously grateful for all the opportunities that presented themselves to me and that I grabbed with both hands. I feel that I am extremely lucky. But you do make your own luck to a certain extent, you need to take chances, you need to work out what it is you want and then go after it. As someone said winners make it happen, losers let it happen. Somerset Maugham said, “Those who accept nothing but the best very often get it.”
So I am challenging you, when you are looking forward and looking back, to find what it is that you are grateful for. I hope you find many, many things to put on your list!
Note : Kay Ellis had recurrence in the bones and could not survive. She fought cancer with a smile till the end.
Just Seven Years
APPLE changed the world with a comeback in Just Seven Years. YOU came back again in my life – after Just Seven Years! Should I be happy for being loved so much or Sad - for your mere presence in my body, may mean the end of my being in this Universe.
I was born and brought up in New Delhi. In 1974 I saw my father (age 47 years) suffer from cancer before he passed away due to lack of treatment opportunities. After graduation from Delhi University I went to Peoples’ Friendship University, Moscow for Masters in Geology, stayed there for Just Seven Years. In 1985 I got married and moved to Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad, from where I did Ph.D in Geochemistry.
This was in March 2006 (soon after Holi) when we were in Assam. I had cough & cold, sore throat and had lost weight. One day I felt a lump in my left breast and within no time I was diagnosed with breast cancer stage II. Who could have imagined that those were the symptoms of cancer! In that state of shock, I flew to Delhi and was treated at Batra Hospital. The whole treatment of Surgery, Chemotherapy and Radiation was a traumatic experience in itself. Almost a year gone in getting rid of cancer and attaining my normal self or the so called ‘Normal Self’.
I still shudder with memories of the year 2006. So much pain, distress and mood swings, all piled up together. Each day brought a new challenge with itself. Yet I crossed all the hurdles and survived. Not only this, I started writing about cancer. On the last day of my chemo I was rewarded by the publication of my article in TOI, ‘Coping with Cancer’. The very next year I wrote a handbook on awareness of breast cancer: ‘Kick the Beast Out Of Your Life’, which has been published in two editions. It was my inner instinct which pulled me towards Workshops, National & International Conferences, that I attended as a delegate and also as a speaker. I met many people from different walks of life, in some way or other connected with cancer. For me life had changed entirely. It was amazing that a shy person like me started attending support group meetings, talking freely about my own feelings. Unknowingly, slowly and steadily, I become a part of cancer world. Today I accept and admit that cancer has been a good teacher to me.
At International level I saw how people shared their cancer journey with ease and volunteered to work for cancer. International conferences became a learning experience for me, that I wished to implement in my country – something was to be done for cancer awareness poignantly. In 2012 I met another young lady, (Late) Rashmi Kapoor, suffering from breast cancer. Together we started giving awareness presentations and then registered our Charitable Trust at Gandhinagar, named with two R’s - RACE to rein-in-cancer.
During yearly follow ups, I would fret and worry, though each year my reports were normal. Being cancer free for five years was an achievement in itself. When I crossed seven years of being cancer free, an internal courage took over with a belief that ‘I would not get IT again’. But that was not to be! I was diagnosed of a second primary in sternum bone in 2013 – Just Seven Years from my first cancer diagnosis. I was totally shattered. But the thought of RACE always pulled me out of depression. I have now stopped looking for ways to fight my own cancer. I would rather see others kick it out in time or fight it back bravely. Rashmi also passed away due to metastasis on June 9, 2013– the acid test year of my life! Being alone did not dissuade me from working for cancer, I would plan my future actions every day. Gradually I built a small team at Gandhinagar. We visited many interior places of Gujarat to spread cancer awareness. Presently we work from Gandhinagar, Delhi and Mumbai. None of our members is paid. All work for the cause of cancer with dedication.
Looking back, I sometimes wonder how I could reach so far in my tryst with cancer. Every time I tried to take one step back I found myself taking two steps ahead. Perhaps I was destined to work for the cause of cancer.
“We all die. The goal isn’t to live forever. The goal is to create Something That Will !” - ~ Chuck Palahniuk
RACE to rein-in-cancer