Regaining My Identity After Breast Cancer: Rita Banik (2 of 2)

Dr Rita Banik, cancer thriverDr. Rita Banik is a breast-cancer thriver. After her diagnosis in 2006, she underwent a mastectomy and subsequently, breast-reconstruction surgery.  In 2008, she published her first book: “Kick The Beast Out Of Your Life”, which is distributed free of cost. Rita is actively involved with the breast cancer advocacy movement and has attended international courses and conferences on the subject. Currently, she works as a Co-ordinator for the Welfare & Development of Girls at the Pd. Deendayal Petroleum University (PDPU), Gandhinagar, Gujarat.

This is part 2 of a 2 part story. Read part 1 here.

Breast Reconstruction

cannot agree about breast reconstruction surgery
Disagreement

When I discussed this option with my sister and my mother, they were against it because there were many social issues involved. Moreover, they didn’t want me to suffer the after effects of another surgery. We simply could not come to an agreement. I was supposed to listen to them and accept what they believed was right for me. My heart gave in while my mind did not. I felt guilty for not being able to adjust or accommodate their opinion. Even now, I can’t understand why women in India are so submissive when making decisions about their own bodies. At 47 years of age, was I not mature enough to make my own decision?

A long wait

Again, my cousin Angela was the only person I could relate to and discuss my options with. She had already had a breast reconstruction and was very happy with the results. But hers was done in the UK so it was flawless, without any scars. Would my Indian doctors do an equally good job of it? Finally, when I had made my decision, I was advised to wait for two years from the date of my mastectomy. This seemed a really long time as I was keen to get the reconstruction done as quickly as possible and get on with my life. But the doctor’s decision was final and I started reading and preparing myself for the surgery.

Types of Breast Reconstruction

There are mainly two types of reconstruction procedures

  • Implant: silicone shell filled with either saline solution or with silicone gel
  • Tissue-flap: using tissue from other parts of the patient’s body, like the back, buttocks, thighs or abdomen

My cosmetic surgeon, Dr. Vipul Sud, advised me to go for the Lattisimus Dorsi flap, in which muscles from the back are pulled in front to form the breast mound.

Post surgical recovery

The pain after surgery was unbearable. When the bandages were opened I could not get used to the new breast. The stitches took a long time to heal. I felt heavy on my left side and sagging on the right. I felt uneasy and could not balance my body.  It took nearly one year to reach a stage of harmony between the two breasts.

Three years later, I am glad and proud of the decision I took against all odds. I can now wear nice swimwear, sexy bras and even look younger than my actual age. I am relieved of all nightmares as well as the lopsidedness. I can now step into a lingeree shop without a sigh of self pity. I must admit, I now have more lingeree than ever, neither do I hesitate to buy one when I feel like it. My new breast definitely deserves the indulgence of a nice bra once in a while, for giving me this new identity!

Helping others: Breast Cancer Advocacy

Based on my own experience, I felt called to make a difference in society by spreading awareness and educating under-privileged women about the disease. I started attending international conferences, which changed my perspective entirely. I am amazed and thrilled with the openness with which women from other countries express their thoughts and feelings. Interacting with these women has given me new confidence and taught me a lot about breast cancer survivors. I have seen that we all undergo similar emotional ups-and-downs, no matter our national or cultural background. Now I also know that I was not wrong in my thoughts, sorrows and decisions.

Learning the art of self-massage

In June 2011, I attended the 6th World Conference on Breast Cancer in Hamilton, Canada. I attended a wonderful session on breast massage (conducted by a lady named Pam) and I was amazed to see the ease of her strokes. I learned to do it the right way and since then I have been massaging myself regularly once or twice a day. I see the itching and pain inside the breast and around the stitches as my ‘free gift’ after reconstruction and the self-massage technique I learnt from Pam has helped me a lot. Using the right oil/ cream and applying the correct method regulates the lymph in the right direction and provides soothing relief for the surrounding muscles and nerves. Even a few minutes of self-massage does wonders to your body and soul!

 

More from this series

Title About the article
Part 1 I could never have guessed until I got it myself. My cousin (Angela) had experienced it but at the time I didn’t realize how bad it could be. A year later, I found myself in her shoes.
Part 2 Again, my cousin Angela was the only person I could relate to and discuss my options with. She had already had a breast reconstruction and was very happy with the results. But hers was done in the UK so it was flawless, without any scars. Would my Indian doctors do an equally good job of it?

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