Imagine how it would be to step into one of the most beautiful phases of a woman’s life – motherhood – and getting diagnosed with cancer just months after bringing a new life into the world. The thought itself may bring shivers down your spine. But it is a reality that breast cancer survivor Neha Anand, now a professional life coach, has lived.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cancer is the second leading cause of death worldwide. Statistics indicate that almost 9.7 million people died due to cancer in 2022. Of these, 2.3 million cases were related to breast cancer. On World Cancer Day 2024, let us remind you that awareness can be your first step towards prevention and early diagnosis of a disease like cancer. It is also what helped Neha Anand suspect a problem, seek professional help and discover that she had Stage 2 breast cancer. She was only 32 then, and it had been seven months since she gave birth to her daughter. It was her self-determination and hope for a brighter future with her newborn that helped her fight cancer mentally, and win the battle physically.
In an interview with Health Shots on World Cancer Day 2024, New Delhi-based Neha Anand opened up about her cancer journey, learnings and more.
Neha Anand: I was 32 and had just delivered my daughter in September 2019. After that, I felt multiple lumps in my breast. Most of the lumps went away, but one persisted. My doctor had put me on a lot of antibiotics and other medicines, but no tests were done. In March 2020, I realised that the lump was growing. I found it alarming and went for a biopsy. It came negative. I took a second opinion and went for another biopsy, which came out positive. That’s how, in June 2020, I got to know that it was a full-fledged breast cancer. I undertook 9 rounds of chemotherapy, followed by surgery, radiation and immunotherapy.
Neha Anand: I was very scared. My daughter was just a few months old and I was wondering who would take care of her. I also realised how much I love my life because in everyday activities you don’t realise your love for life. But when something like this comes up, you realise that life itself is more important than everything that we worry about every minute. It was a moment of self-realisation that living is more important than dwelling on the hardships of life.
Neha Anand: It can be a traumatising experience. When you give birth to a child, you are emotionally drained. On top of that, going through the pain of cancer is also very exhausting. But what I learnt is that ultimately you have to step up for your own self because if you are not going to do it, who else will? How will you face the treatment? To come out of any hardship in life, you need to have the courage within you that you are going to make it, that you are going to come out of the situation. The people around you can be there for you till a particular point. You have to cover the rest of the journey on your own. So, I realised that I would be the only one who needed to stand up for myself.
After my treatment, I used to play with my daughter and do everything a normal parent would do. I never wanted to live my life with the regret that because of my treatment, I could not play with my child. I never cut down on her time.
Neha Anand: Acceptance is the only thing that will help you heal it because I lost my hair, my strength. And there were a lot of other physical changes in my body. You have to look at your life and yourself from your own eyes rather than how people perceive you, right? So, I started looking at myself, and I started feeling beautiful, because I know that even without the hair, even without everything, I am beautiful because I realise that it’s the soul that matters better than the outer beauty. So despite all the tiredness, the weakness, the loss of strength and the other physical changes, like no eyebrows or probably how a girl should be like. What I realised is that above all of that, it’s the heart that matters.
Neha Anand: Everyone was supportive. But everyone, even the caregivers, can be there for you to a certain extent. Ultimately, it’s you who has to be your biggest cheerleader.
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Neha Anand: My father had pancreatic cancer and at that time when I lost my father, doctors had told us to go for BRCA testing. I did not go for it because who would have thought that I could get cancer at such an early age. But during my cancer diagnosis, I went for BRCA testing and found out I was BRCA 2 positive. But I don’t think it was a lack of awareness. I think it was a lack of treatment from the doctor’s side because if I was not aware, I would not have persisted with doctors to get me checked. After my delivery, the ultrasound scanning should have been recommended by the doctor. There should be scans post delivery to check whether the lumps and whether everything else in the body is fine or not. But in my case, it was not done. And when I went to my doctor stating that I have a lump in my breast, she put me on antibiotics and other treatments, but she did not get anything scanned. Had they asked me to go for ultrasound early, my cancer would have been detected at a very early stage. I won’t say it was a lack of awareness in my case. I was lack of medical support.
Neha Anand: When I went through cancer, I realised that medical treatment is available but there is a need for a proper psychological environment for the patients and caregivers to survive and fight it out. If a patient is undergoing cancer treatment, they are already thinking whether he or she will make it or die. When I was taking my chemotherapy sessions, I used to talk to a lot of patients who were taking the treatment. They could not open their heart to their family members because they were so scared that they used to think that the family was doing them a favour by being there for them. But that’s not true. So, that’s when I decided to become a professional care coach because one needs to teach people that cancer is not a death sentence.
Neha Anand: I discovered that there is a lot of difference between what we think life is, and what life really is. Most people live in the past or future. But they don’t live in the present. After my cancer diagnosis, I started living in the moment. I also realised that as women, we take care of everyone else, except ourselves. So I started taking care of myself more and accepted that sometimes, it is okay to let go. I started feeling that carrying negative feelings of anger or regret is not worth it because life is too short and you need to live it.
Neha Anand: I want to repeat that cancer is not a death sentence. It is just a part of life and it is not the entire life. Just as we keep our jobs as a part of life, just keep cancer as a part of your life and keep living your life because people are also dying of heart attacks and road accidents. So your chances of surviving from cancer are still pretty good. You need to live up life till your last breath. My experience made me become a better and more positive person.