I Fought The Big C
Read how this brave woman keeps her spirits up in the face of the Big C
A breast cancer survivor shares her journey to recovery
For Sharanjit Kaur, a former manager with a multinational company, life took a dramatic turn when she discovered a lump a few days after her 46th birthday last year while in the shower.
“I felt a lump in the upper area of my left breast. I tried to brush it off as maybe I had exerted myself during a workout at the gym. Knowing that I had diligently been going for yearly breast screenings both mammograms and ultrasounds, I did not think anything of it. However I monitored the lump daily and after a week felt that something was not right. I decided to make an appointment to see a doctor at the Breast Care Centre in Pantai Hospital, KL,” says this bubbly mother of one.
Sharan was referred to Dr Saladina (Dina) who did an initial manual check and told her there were two lumps. Not wanting to jump the gun, Dr Dina sent Sharan to do a mammogram and an ultrasound. She saw Dr Dina later the same day and after taking one look at the results the doctor said that most likely the lumps were malignant.
After that everything happened really fast. Sharan first saw Dr Dina on a Monday and on Wednesday she went in for a biopsy and by Saturday Sharan received the official results. “It was confirmed, I had the
Big C,” says Sharan.
The following week, on December 5, Sharan had a lumpectomy to remove the malignant lumps as well as some of her lymph nodes. Thankfully her lymph nodes were clear, indicating that the cancer had not spread yet.
Says Sharan, “I was truly blessed to have been in tune with my body to check and realise that something was not right. I was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer, which is very early stages and therefore treatable with higher chance of recovery. “
Sharan had always thought she led a healthy and somewhat balanced life. She went for regular health checks, worked out at the gym at least three times a week, was careful with her food choices and tried to maintain a healthy weight. However, she admits that her job in the retail industry had been very stresful.
Explains Sharan, “I guess without realising it, the stress levels were just too much for my body to handle. By the time I was diagnosed, my blood pressure was sky rocketing and I realised that it was not from the diagnosis but because of work stress.”
“The decision to leave my job was hard to make but I knew that my health was a priority. I just had to trust that all else will find a way,” she says.
Through it all, Sharan has managed to keep an almost upbeat manner and approach to her cancer diagnosis.
“When Dr Dina gave me the results of the biopsy which confirmed I had breast cancer, I think I was in shock as I didn’t feel emotional at all. My only thoughts were what’s next, what do I need to do to recover from this. I looked at the situation as I would a problem, what is the next step and solution. Later when I related my story to a friend, she said, ‘you were in your manager mode’. That pretty much sums up how I managed the entire journey!”
To treat her cancer, Sharan was referred to oncologist Dr Mastura who mapped out her course of treatment based on her cancer diagnosis, which was triple negative. She started chemotherapy in January 2018 and had to go through six cycles, with each cycle at three-to-four week intervals.
Says Sharan, “Even though I’d read and heard from other cancer survivors about chemo and its effects, there’s nothing like going through it yourself. Each cycle and its effects were different, so I really didn’t know what was coming and what to expect for my body.
“Some sessions the nurses had trouble finding my vein for the intravenous injection and took two to three tries. I went into one session feeling down and even before the medication could take effect I was throwing up and feeling sick.”
While effects after each cycle differed and ranged from severe body aches, sore throat, constipation, and diarrhoea, a few of the side effects were constant throughout the six cycles – loss of appetite, extreme fatigue and loss of sense of taste. The first week after each cycle, without fail Sharan would struggle with these effects, the worst being the loss of sense of taste. “I’d be dreaming of eating all kinds of food and when I do eat it, I’d feel upset because it didn’t taste like how I’d imagined it would taste like,” she shares.
Treating a disease like cancer often can wipe out someone financially. “I cannot stress enough the importance of having your own medical insurance,” advises Sharan. “It’s the pay-out I received from my insurance that’s helping me sustain my day-to-day expenses without my having to dip into my savings or think about getting another job for the moment.”
A TURN FOR THE WORSE
The months went by. On May 3, 2018, Sharan completed her final session of chemo and believed the worst was over… or so she thought.
“I started radiotherapy that month and worked with Dr Mastura to ensure I finished the allocated 15 sessions before I left for a long holiday in June. Radiotherapy was a breeze compared to chemo. For three weeks I went to the hospital every afternoon for my 4pm session and I got through the three weeks without any side effects.
“On June 9, I left for my holiday to Europe. The following week, all hell broke loose. The skin around my breast started turning black, part of the skin tore off leaving the area raw and exposed. Due to extreme changes in weather – hot, cold and then hot again – the affected area became infected.”
It’s been 11 months since her diagnosis. “I am getting through one day at a time. While the physical scars have healed I still struggle with fatigue and a general feeling of my body operating on a slower mode than it used to,” shares Sharan.
“I know women who have been diagnosed will probably feel tired of hearing this but being positive really helps. I believe it’s half the battle won. Keep your spirits up and surround yourself with positive people. You deserve a happy and positive environment to heal.”
I now look forward to a battery of tests in December and getting an all-clear from my doctors, which will tell me that for now my body has been able to fight the cancer and it has gone in remission. It will not be the final prognosis as I will have to continue being tested and monitored periodically, while praying that the cancer does not return. My journey is far from over.”
I’m glad I invested in a medical insurance from when I was younger and healthier. There’s nothing like having the bene t of your own medical coverage as a back-up
From left: Sharan now, 11 months after her diagnosis; She had been a busy manager working in the retail industry; Apart from hair loss Sharan experienced other unpleasant side effects from chemotherapy; Her 14-year-old daughter has been her greatest cheerleader.