February is internationally marked as the National Cancer Prevention Awareness Month to raise awareness about the disease and to encourage its prevention, detection and treatment. Surviving cancer and going through its treatment is not easy. Going through three relapses continuously is even bigger of an ordeal especially when the world we live in doesn’t make it any easier for them.
The highest number of cancer cases in India is detected from Kerala, followed by Mizoram, Haryana, Delhi and Karnataka, while it is the lowest in Bihar. In India (2018), there were about 1.16 million new cancer cases, 7,84,800 cancer deaths and 2.26 million 5-year prevalent cases in India’s population of 1.35 billion, said a World Health Organization and a World Cancer Report.
“Our society looks down upon people who are different – they don’t treat you as humans,” said Samridhi Gogia, a 29-year-old four-time cancer survivor. Gogia was diagnosed with Hokins Lymphoma – stage II B in 2014 during her five year course at Amity Law School, AU. Some of the symptoms of this cancer include swelling of lymph nodes in the neck, armpits or stomach, fever, unexplained weight loss and itchy skin.
When her shoulder started paining, she thought of it as a muscle pull rather than a symptom of cancer. Who would have thought of it anyway? Nobody in their right minds would go, “Hey, this muscle pull might be a tumour, slowly building in my lymph gland and spreading throughout my body.”
However, that’s exactly what happened to Gogia. The doctors at Fortis Hospital claimed that her shoulder was filled with pus and did FNAC tests on her that included sucking out puss from her neck through needles to run tests. The results were inconclusive.
The doctors then gave medicines which were supposed to dry up the puss. This went on for 3-4 months till the swelling went down a bit and Gogia went to Mumbai after her doctor’s permission to intern with a law firm. That’s when she relapsed. Fever and swellings led to her first biopsy at Fortis hospital – the report was inconclusive again.
She was suggested to get a second opinion from Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital where she was asked to go for a second biopsy and it was then that she was diagnosed with stage 2 lymphoma about to touch stage three.
She went ahead for a six month-long chemotherapy at Safdarjung Hospital on a simple bed-sheet spread on the hospital’s floor. She came out cured with chipped nails and sensitive-itchy skin.
Gogia took her time to recover and after three months started looking for a job. A month later, she got placed with a law firm in Delhi. However, within a month she had a relapse. The doctors at Safdarjung Hospital suggested autologous bone marrow transplant along with chemotherapy. However, since Safdarjung Hospital did not have a bone marrow transplant facility, the doctors referred her to the city's BLK Hospital.
The law firm she worked at asked her to leave, suggesting someone else might need this job more and refused to give her a medical leave as well.
“People look down upon you, they think you can’t cope with the condition. That’s the struggle – you have to prove to society that you are as normal as anyone else and can work for odd hours and deliver work on time,” Gogia added.
I could hear her tearing up. The physical and emotional burden can be overwhelming not just for the patient but also for the family. It drains them physically, emotionally and financially.
“The time they asked me to shave my head was a very emotional moment for me. I was hooked to a port that went into my throat, stitched into a place for a 24x7 chemotherapy. They collected my stem cells, removing the bad ones and culturing the good ones,” she said.
There was a point during her chemo cycles when her body stopped responding to the medicines. She couldn’t eat or move. Ulcers started developing in her body. The doctors had to trick her into doing some physical activity by making her walk to the restroom. Her pulse dropped, she blacked out and almost died during her treatment, having trouble breathing and waking up to a panic attack.
“I just have to be here and tolerate this pain for 21 more days’. That’s how I motivated myself,” said Gogia. “Living in a joint family set-up, I was sure we could seek help from them but they refused to support us.”
In fact, her relatives didn’t even come to donate blood. In the need of hour, her childhood friends donated blood for a transfusion.
After battling these odds and struggles – first to survive cancer, then to adjust in society and show that you are as normal as anybody else, there’s nothing left that can break one’s spirit. Now with a greater appreciation for life, she came out confident and victorious, grateful to the ones who stuck around. “This experience has taught me that I can survive anything,” she ended, with a sense of pride.
Vishal, a 13-year-old boy, started experiencing swellings and mild pain in his left knee. Being a young cricket player, he brushed it off so as to not burden his father, who recently went through a bypass surgery.
When the situation escalated, he was taken to a local doctor who suggested Crocin and questioned his oddly bent middle finger. Being bamboozled by this local doctor, they resorted to their family doctor, who suggested they take an X-ray for the lumpy left knee.
Vishal was later diagnosed with osteosarcoma, cancer of the joints. Cancerous tissues were being generated in his left knee that had to be immediately removed.
“I was just a kid. I had no issues being pampered. I could obviously sense something was off but didn’t care much about it at the time,” Vishal told me laughing. The family was adamant on not letting him know about the situation and was kept in the dark until they had to take him in for chemotherapy.
The school he went to was kind enough and allowed him to be promoted to Class 9 while he went through his chemo.
“What joy it is for an 8th grader, to pass a semester without sitting in for any exams,” he said, his voice dripping with glee. If Cheshire cat had a twin, it would be him.
After three days of chemotherapy, the pain in his knee was completely gone with no side-effects what-so-ever. But this could be worrisome. According to his doctor, the chemo was supposed to have a bad effect on the body – dizziness, headache and vomiting being some of the major side-effects. They were then informed that the dosage will be increased since it wasn’t having any effect on him.
It was one day when Vishal started throwing up on his way home when the realisation hit that the treatment had started working. His body began to get weaker, he was sensitive to touch, couldn’t hold his food down and didn’t have the will to speak to anyone.
On September 6, he went for a knee surgery and had a rod inserted in for support. The family were informed it had to be replaced after ten years. As he was in his growing years, he experienced a height spurt, which caused a slight limp.
Even after such detrimental effects, he still keeps a high spirit and speaks with pride when telling people his survival story. Beating cancer made him fiery and helped him develop a ‘never-back-down’ attitude. Vishal will soon be going for another surgery for the rod replacement.