It took me a real life experience to understand the importance of early diagnosis

Next thing I knew I was sitting at the radiologist’s office with an ultrasound report revealing that there is a cyst.

Tasneem Faridi October 18, 2015
It was the summer of 1999 when Pakistani cricket fans were eagerly hoping our cricket team would bring home the second World Cup from the Lord’s Cricket Ground in London. That night, I was not watching the hyped Australia versus Pakistan match in the comfort of my TV lounge or with my family and friends; rather I was watching it with my mother who was lying in a hospital bed, after undergoing a single breast mastectomy (which is the surgical removal of the entire breast in women).

I remember my mother being in excruciating pain. I was too young to comprehend what on earth brought my mother to this stage, I was angry and confused because I did not understand why she had to undergo two surgeries even though she would consistently be visiting experienced doctors at one of the most renowned hospitals of Karachi.

As I grew older, I came to know that the doctors at this renowned hospital in Karachi had misread my mother’s breast lump for around two years; and two years are enough for the lump to grow bigger and harder. To diagnose whether it was cancerous or not, she was scheduled for a lumpectomy (a surgical procedure that removes only the tumour and a small rim (area) of the normal tissue around it). The reports showed stage two breast cancer which had already spread to her lymph nodes (part of the body’s immune system) in the left underarm area. Therefore, to prevent the cancer from spreading to other parts of the body, she had to undergo a mastectomy of her left breast.

To further prevent the cancer cells (if any were remaining) the doctor prescribed radiation therapy, which is a form of high-energy particles or waves, such as x-rays, gamma rays, etc, to destroy or damage cancer cells . Since radiation only works around primary areas, she was further administered with chemotherapy (chemo) which is a combination of pill form or medicine injected intravenously (into a vein with an IV) to treat cancer.

The goal of chemo was to kill cancer cells throughout the body which may have spread to parts of the body away from the primary (original) tumour. Although the treatment procedure nauseated her beyond belief and caused hair Loss, but my mother did not lose hope and strength.

However, 15 years after my mother recovered from breast cancer, my life took a U-turn. It was the summer of 2014 in June when I developed a constant pain in my right breast which made me cautious and I started getting flashbacks of my mother’s cancer treatment days. One day, the thought of having to deal with the entire diagnosis of breast cancer jolted me out of my bed. Without delaying things any further, I scheduled an appointment with my primary care physician and the next thing I knew I was sitting at the radiologist’s office with an ultrasound report revealing that there is a cyst which needs to be biopsied.

I underwent a needle aspiration procedure, which is meant to draw a liquid sample from the cyst. The struggle of inserting a heavy needle in my right breast under a localised anaesthesia was traumatic as the doctors figured the breasts were too dense. I couldn’t hold back my tears and screams because the pain was so intense. After failed attempts of needle aspiration, it was then determined that since it was a lump, it would need to be removed surgically in order to be able to tell if it was benign or malignant.

At the age of 28, knowing that my early age pregnancy and breastfeeding routine would protect me from breast cancer, I was at a loss after hearing about my lumpectomy. While recovering from lumpectomy and waiting for my biopsy reports, my mind automatically edged towards all sorts of negative thoughts about chemotherapy, losing my hair and ultimately losing my breast just like my mother did. It was devastating.

Finally the day arrived when I was sitting at the breast surgeon’s office, waiting to hear the results. The doctor was snipping my dried out stitches with a pair of scissors and examining my recovery from a week old lumpectomy. I was relieved when the reports came clear and I realised that all the pain and apprehensions were worth it. The only way to prevent breast cancer is early detection, especially for high risk women like me who have a history of breast cancer in their family.

However, early detection and regular breast examination should not only be followed by women with a history of breast cancer in their family but for all females once they hit puberty. It took me a real life experience to understand the importance of early diagnosis and early treatment to minimise the possibility of breast cancer.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month worldwide. Due to this annual campaign, more and more young and post-menopausal women are able to gain wider insight into the possible causes of breast cancer, such as high breast density and a family history of breast cancer, along with the understanding of preventive measures for women in the form of post-menstrual breast screenings and annual mammograms in post-menopausal women for better results.

This means young women are advised to schedule their breast screening after their menstruation, because the change in breasts due to hormonal fluctuations just before and during the menstrual cycle can affect the clarity of reports. Women over 40, who have reached menopause, should not skip their annual physical appointments which should include mammograms.

Apart from early screening, the healthy behaviour, along with healthy lifestyle choices may help in lowering our risk of different types of cancer listed below.

- Be physically active (Get regular exercise).

- Achieve and maintain a healthy weight. (Survivors who are overweight or obese should limit high-calorie foods and beverages and increase physical activity to help with weight loss).

- Choose 100 per cent whole grain foods (such as 100 per cent whole grain breads and cereals, brown rice, millet and quinoa).

- Limit red meat and processed meat. Choose chicken, fish or beans more often.

- Limit bad fats (saturated and trans fats). These are found in foods such as red meat, fatty deli meats, poultry skin, full fat dairy, fried foods, margarine, donuts and microwave popcorn.

- Eat good fats (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats). These are found in foods such as olive and canola oil, nuts and natural nut butters, avocado and olives.

Since Pakistan has the highest incidence of breast cancer amongst the Asian countries, it is extremely important to emphasise a culture of healthy choices, early examination and diagnosis through public service messages and observing breast cancer awareness month at schools and colleges. Since early diagnosis increases the chances of surviving breast cancer as high as 90 per cent.
WRITTEN BY:
Tasneem Faridi The author is an Advocacy Team Member at the New York City chapter of the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum (NAPAWF* NYC). She writes about women's health and empowerment and loves engaging in a heated intellectual discourse. She tweets as @Tasfaridi (https://twitter.com/Tasfaridi)
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.

COMMENTS (5)

fze | 7 years ago | Reply Thank you so much for sharing your experience and generating awareness about breast cancer in women. May God give you long life and health, Ameen.
Adi Pranoto | 7 years ago | Reply I married my wife in 1994 and lived happily. We have two children. But something happened in late of 2009. My wife felt something in her left breast. So we went to a hospital. The doctor told us that my wife was attacked by breast cancer. Her left breast should be removed and she should get chemotherapy. But my wife was scared of this. So she asked me to allow her to get alternative medicine. She convinced me that alternative medicine could cure cancer too. Although I actually disagree, finally I allowed her to take alternative medicine. But instead of gone better, the cancer was going worse. Even later cancer attacked her backbone that made her could not stand or walk. Finally in 2010 I brought her to hospital where she got surgery. Doctor removed her left breast and she started to get chemotherapy. Her condition recovered fast. She could walk again. People said, that's miracle, but she told them "that’s because my husband's love". We continued our happy live again although routinely she still got chemotherapy. But in mid of 2012 her condition was going worse again. She back to the hospital where doctors tried to save her. But finally they gave up and told me that the cancer was too strong. But I still took care of her and hoped that miracle would be happen, until June 2013, when God took her return to Him in the afternoon. She was 45 when she left me and our children, forever. Yes, breast cancer is not only deadly, but also scary for women who experience it. Lost the breast will make a wife scared that her husband will not love her again, and will make a girl scared that no guy will marry her. That's why, there are women who choose alternative medicine because they afraid they will lose their breast and lose their hair due to chemotherapy. My wife was scared of this too. And lost her confidence after doctor removed her breast. But then she realized that I always love her. It made her gain her confidence again and started to have a hope again. Love. This is what a woman need when she experience breast cancer. Love would make her stronger in fight the cancer and would make her has bigger chance to survive. And if she still lost in this 'battle', love would make her still could feel happiness in the end of her life. Breast cancer can attack any woman, that maybe your wife. And if your wife attacked by cancer, try to realize that it's the time when your wife really need your love.
Saher | 7 years ago This is very touching! Seeing true love brings tears to my eyes!
Nana | 7 years ago Bless you for being so kind and understanding.
Videlicet | 7 years ago Thanks to yourself and the author for sharing your experiences. Many golden words and harsh truths in what you have written.
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