When we hear the word cancer, what comes to mind is the end of the road, a point of no return. But this is not always true. Babita Agarwal and Nanda Kare, both breast cancer survivors were the guests on The Navhind Times, Talk from the Heart show that aired on the Goa365 channel on April 30. They shared stories about their life with cancer and post it.

Agarwal who is also the managing trustee of Muskaan, a cancer support group, spoke about her journey and how Muskaan came to be. Muskaan which was formed in 2006, has not only been dispelling myths about cancer, but also helping those detected with it understand surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and immune therapy needed for the next few years. Through street plays, presentations in schools, colleges and wherever the opportunity rises, Muskaan members have been and are sensitizing people about breast cancer.

Early detection of cancer greatly increases the chances for successful treatment and in many cases helps to save lives. The 2 components of early detection of cancer are early diagnosis and screening. Highlighting this need for early detection, Agarwal who has had a mastectomy and Kare a lumpectomy, both spoke about the importance of timely detection and being breast cancer aware. Kare whose cancer was diagnosed in 2011, recounted how a talk on cancer detection by a renowned oncologist, helped her to detect and catch her cancer in time. A mustard –sized lump on her chest bone, was the first warning sign for Agarwal followed by a swelling in her breast but it took about six months for her to go get it checked and the final diagnosis. “Even though we explore everything under the sun on the internet, we do not do so about cancer, as we think it happens to someone else not to us,” she said. She then highlighted a few symptoms of breast cancer that women should look out for like lump in the breast or underarm, thickening or swelling of part of the breast, discharge from the nipple, pulling in of the nipple, etcetera. “I would have saved my breast if I had paid more attention to the signs and symptoms hence I would like to say to all women, do not delay any check-ups and start treatment as quickly as possible,” she added.

Being diagnosed with cancer is traumatic and life-changing. “It has been a difficult journey, especially the initial part but after the surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, it became easier for me,” shared Kare. “The first hurdle is the acceptance,” said Agarwal, “It is not something that you ever expect to happen to you and hence the shock, the distancing from the diagnosis and the fear all come in.” Cancer diagnosis affects not just the person but also family members and Kare as well as Agarwal shared how their families stood by them and helped them on their road to recovery.

After diagnosis come the treatments which include chemotherapy, radiation, immunotherapy, hormone-therapy and surgical procedures like lumpectomy or mastectomy. These treatments have various side effects like fatigue, skin issues, hair loss and others. “The after-effects of the treatment too are very difficult to endure like bunches of my hair falling during chemotherapy,” said Kare. “The breast is a symbol of femininity and beauty so when I had my mastectomy it was extremely hard,” said Agarwal. Both spoke about the importance of counseling and support groups for emotional, psychological and psycho-socio support. “You need to open up and share with others and eat, exercise and sleep well,” said Kare as they signed off while Agarwal spoke about self love, positivity and mindfulness.