Cancer patients often look for inspiration to survive during the difficult cancer journey. But in this case a Breast Cancer Thriver bowled us over with her positivity and zest for life. Let’s see from where she gets her inspiration.
There is a warm glow in the room, radiating from somewhere that I can’t quite fathom. Then I get it. It’s the glow of the strength, the love of life, and the smile. They’re all right there, in the woman sitting before me, so cheerfully.
The painful diagnosis
Vimala Francis was diagnosed with breast cancer in Nov 2006, and during the next seven months, went through four rounds of chemotherapy. She spoke about it honestly and earnestly.
“It was painful and traumatic, to see the damage it was causing my body. I couldn’t eat a thing and i was extremely restless.”
Clinging on to hope with courage
I tried to ignore my conscience, which was challenging me as to whether I could be so truthful and brave in her position. What grew instead was my awe at the mental and emotional strength that clearly saved her life. Did she ever wonder whether it was worth it … did she ever feel scared? The words got caught in my throat.
“I was scared, of course i was scared. But I had a six year old daughter I had to live for. And of course it was worth it. If i wasn’t fighting for myself, I was at least fighting for her.”
My stomach tightened. She went on, while my soul cowered and my pen scrambled.
“Even through all the side-effects of chemo, I was positive about so many things, like the fact that my health was otherwise excellent, and that the tumor hadn’t spread. I’d noticed it at a very early stage because I am always examining myself, which i think is very important for all of us to do. And I’m generally very positive towards life, so it did help me through.”
Sailing through the treatment
I had to bring up the subject of doctors, because I personally am somewhat suspicious of how modern medicine is evolving. She nodded knowingly,
“Yes, I trusted them. I’m a science teacher and i teach my students about the very thing I was going through. I decided to take the path that made the most sense to me. I didn’t hesitate when it came to chemotherapy; chemo to me may be prayers to someone else. It’s all subjective.”
Beyond the medical treatment
But despite her choice to take the scientific path of healing, it was clear to me that so many other more intangible factors were responsible for her incredible recovery and present condition. She spoke extensively about the support that she received from her family and colleagues, and I also knew that someone in a similar situation as her, minus the perpetual smile on her face and lightness in her heart, would very likely not have made it.
I was struck by how complex it all was, yet how simple it all could be, if only one has Mrs. Francis’s courage.
A new life purpose
She expressed her strong desire to give meaning and beauty to life, which so many people lack.
“I continued to teach at college through my first three chemotherapies, until I absolutely had to take leave. It helped so much to have a purpose and not have time to worry and be depressed. I liked being around the staff; they were supportive and loving. I spoke to them about my condition, advised them to examine themselves regularly and be cautious.”
Even now, after being completely cured, Mrs. Francis persists in giving her life that sense of purpose.
“I feel it’s my duty to do my bit and educate others. I am part of a breast cancer support group called AADHARA at St. John’s hospital. I counsel patients to help them cope with chemotherapy; I try and advise them on what food to eat, since eating is so difficult during chemo. I go to other schools and give talks.”
My pen slows as I wonder at the number of lucky people who, like me, will benefit from coming into contact with this amazing woman.
“Dying is inevitable. But when life gives you a chance, why not take it and do your part? There’s wisdom that comes along with the trauma. The small things don’t worry me anymore, and I appreciate everything about life so much more. The experience really changes one’s perspective.”
One thing clearly strikes me as I write this incredible thriver’s story: Cancer is a learning experience in itself.
“It’s not a battle, it is an opportunity to expand one’s soul.”
And those who have experienced it aren’t soldiers or heroes, they’re ordinary people with souls more honest, more magical and more tender than the average person. They carry no baggage, only a sense of gratitude that they’re alive. And in this, they teach us all.
- What can you do to develop a trusting relationship with your doctors?
- Even when things get difficult, what will motivate you to thrive?
- How do you balance your (natural) fear and restlessness with hope and optimism?
- To what extent do you feel supported by your family, friends and colleagues? Where can you reach out for more help?
- How will you give meaning and beauty to your life, post-cancer?
Apoorva Tadepalli is a student of Communications at Mount Carmel College, Bangalore. She is a dreamer, thinker, tree climber who always dreamt of becoming a writer. She likes watching people on the street and imagining what their stories are like. She plays a lot of football (barefoot) and her passion is the theatre (“It’s so real.”) You will often find her with flowers in her hair or her earphones plugged in.