Tuesday, 20 October 2015


Yes, you can beat breast cancer.

She asked the beautician to paint her nails in bright pink. Her instincts were telling her - it's no ordinary day. And indeed, it turned out to be the day that changed Dimple Bawa's perspective towards life.
Back in 2013, when the doctor handed over the mammogram report to her, it confirmed Bawa's doubts - she had breast cancer. "I decided to go to the salon before meeting the doctor as I was kind of anticipating it. I wanted to put my best face forward, and look prepared for the battle," says the 34-year-old entrepreneur.
However, it wasn't her first tryst with the disease. She lost her mother to it in 2007. She knew what it looked like. "My mother got diagnosed at the age of 44. And her battle lasted for one year and three months. I was her caregiver. I saw her in pain. But I understood what it felt like only when I underwent the same treatment a few years later after her death," she says.
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The key to knock down the disease lies in early detection. "The early you detect, the lesser number of treatments you need and the higher chances of survival you have," believes Dr Vedant Kabra, director, Surgical Oncology, Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurgaon. It is important to self-examine your breasts once in a month, preferably after the menses. Changes like lumps, swelling, skin irritation or dimpling are all signs that you need to bring to your doctor's notice immediately. According to WHO, the cases of breast cancer are increasing in the country and it has now become the most common cancer in urban women.
Apart from conventional risk factors good like age (after 45) and family history, environmental factors like obesity, lack of exercise, diet rich in sugar and carbs, tobacco and alcohol, are also contributing to occurrence and reoccurrence of the disease among women. "Professional women have 70 per cent higher risk of developing breast cancer than housewives or women in lower status jobs," says Dr Tetyana Pudrovska, lead author of 'Higher status occupations and breast cancer' study. Studies have also linked cancer to factors like late pregnancy (after 30), no breastfeeding, late menstruation, late menopause, lack of sleep and stress.
IT'S CURABLE
According to experts, breast cancer is totally curable if detected at an early stage. Thanks to technological advancements, doing away with chemotherapy is also possible in some cases nowadays. "Today with the help of a 'Risk Scoring System' based on genetic profiling, we can find out if a patient belongs to a low or high risk group, according to which the type and number of treatment/s is decided," says Dr Kabra.
Moreover, there are techniques with which the duration of the radiation has shortened from five weeks to two weeks in a few cases. "The radiation therapy is more directed due to which sparing the lung and heart has improved significantly. Plus, with Oncoplasty we can now remove the cancer and retain the breast and improve its appearance," explains Dr Kabra.
Exercise, diet and a few lifestyle changes play a crucial role in fighting the disease. The patients should take a diet rich in anti-oxidants during chemotherapy and strictly avoid eating raw vegetables or cut fruits as the chances of catching an infection are higher. "A patient can be given whole fruits and properly cooked green vegetables. The focus should be on adding different colours of vegetables to the diet because each colour offers a different phyto-nutrient. The key nutrients are Vitamin A, E and selenium. Avoid refined sugar and carbs," explains nutritionist Lovneet Batra. Plus, drink lots of liquids to flush out the toxins from the body. "You can have green tea, lemonade and coconut water," she suggests.
Also read: Diagnosing cancer gets easy, thanks to this online app
"One must move away from selfpity," says 32-year-old Sneha Routray who was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer in 2014 after her masseur spotted a peanut size lump in her breast. "Meditation, deep breathing exercises and walking outdoors helps many patients channelise their energies, feel calm and beat anxiety," says Dr J. B. Sharma, senior consultant, Action Cancer hospital, New Delhi.
BE A SURVIVOR
"Cancer doesn't need to be feared, it needs to be defeated," says Sneha's husband and IAS Ganga Kumar, who has been her pillar of strength through her struggle. Family support is crucial as sometimes patients tend to slip into depression due to side effects of chemotherapy like hair fall, low appetite, weakness, stress and lack of sleep. "In young patients the effect of the treatment on the ovaries is a cause of concern. But all these effects are temporary and we have seen women conceiving post-cancer treatment," assures Dr Sharma.
For Bawa, it was her positive attitude that gave her an edge over the disease. "For my first chemotherapy, I wore a new dress and before my mastectomy surgery, I went on a two- day holiday. I already knew in my heart that I am a survivor. There were days when I cried too; it's painful but you need to stop being a victim. You need to 'accept it' because the usual 'why me' is never going to help," shares Bawa, suggesting that catching up with a friend or going for a de-stressing massage also help keep negative thoughts at bay.
Most cancer survivors call it life enriching experience, which gave them a new purpose in life. While Bawa founded 'Cheers to Life' foundation to help others, Routray started the 'Hausala' programme under her NGO Gramin Sneha foundation, reaching out to women in rural areas with free screening camps. "Somebody like me can only imagine of what they have gone through. Breast cancer is curable and can be prevented with regular self-examination and active lifestyle. Life looks more meaningful when you meet these survivors with indomitable courage and spirit," says Milind Soman, renowned model and founder of Pinkathon.