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"No stepping out" is the life-influencing message of breast cancer thriver

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Dr Rita Banik - CNS

I was born and brought in a happy family in New Delhi. I had a twin sister and a younger brother. Both my parents were working. I graduated from Hindu College, Delhi University in 1977 and went to Peoples' Friendship University in Moscow (erstwhile USSR) for an integrated course in Geology. Finally, back home again, I did my Ph.D in Geochemistry. After getting married I stayed in Eastern parts of India and for the first time saw the economic and social difficulties that I had never come across in Delhi.

We had just moved to NIT Silchar, Assam in 2006 when I discovered a lump in my left breast. I did not expect it to be cancer but I went to the doctor the very next day. My biopsy report confirmed breast cancer. I was terribly shocked--sort of in a trance. I immediately flew to Delhi for treatment as we knew Dr Dinesh Pendharkar (senior oncologist) there and he took my treatment under his wings. I was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer and I had to go for surgery Modified Radical Mastectomy (MRM) on 24th March 2006. I was smiling and trying to stay normal while being wheeled for surgery. My physical weakness started after the surgery and during chemotherapy. Whenever I felt healthy enough, I kept myself occupied in some work or the other but there were moments of anxiety and depression when I would worry about my college going daughter's future. Once I even told my sister to take care of my only daughter Jessica if anything went wrong with me. I was quite satisfied with my doctors and their team of healthcare workers. I was in good hands. I learned how to use the computer during my chemo, wrote a few articles, as well as a handbook called 'Kick the Beast out of your Life'.

In 2008 I got reconstruction surgery done, which, at that time (and perhaps even now), was not understood by many in our country and not very acceptable. People get scared of the word surgery in the same way as they are afraid to even utter the word cancer. I felt complete after the surgery and gained confidence.

For seven years I lead a happy go lucky life again, travelled a lot and started spreading cancer awareness. I had completely forgotten about my disease. In 2012 I, along with a friend (late Rashmi Kapoor), opened charitable trust called RACE to rein-in-cancer. But the year 2013 was an acid test in my life. Suddenly, I was diagnosed with a relapse- cancer was now found in my sternum bone. I was more shocked than when I was diagnosed the first time. Rashmi also passed away that year due to spread of cancer in her body. It was a devastating time.

Cancer related fatigue

Cancer related fatigue (CRF) started paving its way through my body and mind because I started getting relapse every 2-3 years. In fact, cancer cells may freeze or get killed by one type of medication but with time they become immune to it and start growing again. Then the medication needs to be changed or chemotherapy has to be given again. CRF is related to physical, mental and emotional stress, may lead to acute depression, loneliness, leading a solitary life. I became my own healer and whenever I felt such symptoms, I would engage myself in reading, writing or spreading awareness, counselling cancer patients and their caregivers.

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