A gut-wrenching first-person account of a Cancer Thriver. The journey of a soul who held through is now a Cancer Awakens’ Sherpa.
My name is Anamika Chakravarty. I am based in Mumbai. My life was, and is a celebration. As my parents gave me everything I asked. And encouraged me to recognize and achieve my potential. I got a job in a prestigious organization and went on to work for two of the Big Four consulting firms. A very caring and considerate man entered my life, spreading happiness. Together experiencing and travelling the world. We had a wonderful family life and we had a baby girl. Our daughter is a blessing who has grown up to be a remarkable young woman.
Struck By The Bolt
It started with an unexplained weight loss, which I ignored and did not get any medical investigations done. Resulted in a continuous fever that wouldn’t go away. And my blood test revealed a high ESR (Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate). And I went for a Sonography which revealed an enlarged spleen. Next, I was admitted to Hinduja Hospital, under the very able hematologist, Dr. Balkrishna Padate. After the full-body PET scan, he delivered the shocking news, “We have identified cells with abnormal activity.” Simultaneously, I knew what was in store and shared my fears with my husband, while anxiously waiting for the biopsy results.
First day Impression of January 2016
A shawl wrapped around me and could not stand on my feet. Reason being, persistent pain shooting up my back. I felt weak and sick. My right leg had swollen up. And I entered Dr. Padate’s cabin in a wheelchair. Also accompanied by the two most important men in my life – my dad and my husband. The doctor confirmed what I intuitively suspected “You have lymphoma. I am referring you to Dr. Advani, for furthermore treatment.”. I actually did not feel anything. Perhaps I was just numb. Or, somewhere at the back of my mind, I just knew.
Some people tell me that “indifference” was my expression of denial. I don’t know. All I know is that I was not in shock. I was not scared. The doctor had clearly said that my cancer was 100% curable. And there, I did not pause to dissect my feelings. And followed with what the doctors said to do. I was in a hospital room with a sea view and we stayed there for four days. And still, I hardly saw the world outside the window.
The Start of the Adventure
Chemotherapy is not an easy journey for anyone to go through, the doctors don’t tell you about the cancer side effects upfront – firstly maybe because they don’t want to scare you. Also because they don’t know which side effect will manifest in which patient. But for someone like me, it would have made a world of difference if I had been prepared.
The Loss of Appetite
I had no appetite. My husband got me my favorite Rawa masala dosa and it tasted like sawdust (I don’t think I have actually eaten sawdust before though!) But that moment I realized that what I was going through was because there was something wrong with my body.
Also, there was an irritation for a short period. And some frustration at not being able to eat properly – the enlarged spleen was compressing my stomach, in addition to the post-chemo effects. For that short span, there was a sense of helplessness and being overwhelmed. At my second chemo (scheduled after three weeks) I had the strength and presence of mind to have a detailed conversation with the assistant doctor and wrested answers for my prepared list of questions. Additionally, I talked to friends and family who were familiar with the journey and got information from them. I strongly believe that it’s important to take charge of your own life and it starts with being well-informed.
Enter Psycho-Neuro-Immunology (PNI): the Mind-Body Connection
With my cancer, my journey into the world of PNI started. I discovered how my thoughts and feelings were affecting my physical body. Strangely, no one teaches this aspect in schools and colleges, or at home. Given my propensity to learn new things, this knowledge had not come my way earlier. And through this wisdom, I learned that people who have a problem with the spleen (an essential part of the Immune system) tend to have control issues. So I questioned myself on what I was controlling and what I needed to let go!
My disease posed some tough questions to me
- What direction was my life taking?
- Did I feel “attacked”? Is there a way to protect me?
- How would I reset my priorities?
- How do I assert my own needs and rights?
- What if I have to compromise on my core beliefs and values?
- What am I unable to accept or change about myself?
Apart from trying to find meaning in life, I also started sharing my cancer story at various forums – online and otherwise. And I continue looking for such opportunities. Introspecting daily, I detect diligently the areas that I need to improve on. Next, eliminate the negative aspects of my life ruthlessly but kindly. I substitute these negative aspects with constructive and creative activities.
The cancer was not a ‘bump in the road’ after which I continued on the same path. It was a ‘fork in the road’. I completely changed not only my lifestyle but also my attitude, self-talk, and beliefs.
I let go of my strong beliefs, some attitudes, emotional blocks, and baggage. It is not an easy task to change oneself. But determination and perseverance are now my new friends. I know that I have to undo years of conditioning and form new habits, new neural pathways. With kindness and patience, I will gradually overcome the obstacle to living a life of happiness and fulfillment.
Coaching Cancer Patients
Meeting Vijay Bhat (thank you Rishi Gangoly!) and undergoing the Sherpa training made me discover my life’s purpose. Now I am a dedicated coach, coaching cancer patients and helping them address their stressors and build up their strengths – physical, mental, emotional, relational, and spiritual. I help them introspect on their lifestyle, life history, and life stance to facilitate healing from within.