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Breast CancerPatient StoriesSurvivorship

Staying Positive

Neelam Shinde, a 2-time breast cancer survivor, reflects on the power of positive thinking and remembering that setbacks are integral parts of life.
December 2020 Vol 6 No 6
Neelam Shinde
Solon, Ohio

Staying positive does not mean you have to be happy all the time. It means that even on hard days you should know and hope that there are best and better days to come.

Keeping a positive outlook can help with stress management, but to say “think positive thoughts” or “be optimistic” when being diagnosed with cancer is easier said than done. Although cancer can be quite challenging and taxing, once you enter a dark mindset, it can be hard to get out. But most of us have one stroke of hope and inspiration that helps to bring perspective and optimism to overcome the situation.

I am a 2-time breast cancer survivor. I was 27 in October 2003, living in Mumbai, India, and preparing for my final exams. Suddenly, a few weeks before my exams, I felt pain in my right arm and armpit. I ignored it and tried to concentrate on my studies. When the exam was over, my pain had worsened. The next day, I visited my family doctor.

Post-Marriage Shock

After examining me, she suggested that I go for a mammogram. I was stunned. Subsequently, I had 2 mammograms and more tests. The reports stated, “carcinoma right breast.” That was an enormous shock to me and my husband. We got married a year before, and we were devastated. All my dreams were strewn.

My husband kept his cool and called my parents and a few of his friends to share the news. My parents and our very supportive friends advised me to get a second opinion. We decided to consult the best oncologist and surgeon in Mumbai from Tata Memorial Hospital. So, the next morning, we arrived at the hospital. I had another mammogram and more tests. This time I was hoping that a miracle would happen, and all the reports would come back negative.

But the reports again stated, “carcinoma right breast with a lump.” The only thing now was to accept it, and fight it with the belief that “everything happens for the best.” Hope keeps you alive.

I received treatment from November 2003 until August 2004. Those 9 months were challenging, physically and emotionally. I will be always thankful to the Medical Fraternity of Tata Memorial Hospital and P.D. Hinduja Hospital in Mumbai.

During my battle to survive, I was brooding on the “Why me?” My anxiety was touching the skies. The side effects of chemotherapy were torturing me. Many negative thoughts were haunting me every chemo cycle.

Strength Is Ageless

But this experience also had something good. On the day of my fifth chemo cycle at Tata Memorial Hospital, I came across a boy who was also battling cancer. He must have been 7 or 8 years old, and he was accompanied by his mother. After a long wait, I heard the boy saying to his mother, “Mumma, you leave for work. Don’t worry, I will wait and manage my chemotherapy cycle alone.”

Oh Lord! I thought, “At least God gave me 27 wonderful years of my life, but what about this little kid? He is just 7 or 8, and look at his approach toward life.”

This little kid changed my attitude forever. That was the moment that induced inner strength in me, to fight this battle in a positive way. This small child made a big difference for me. When you are going through a hard time, remember that sometimes inspiration comes unexpectedly, from unlikely people or places. I overcame my fear. I was mended, as in cancer-free.

So now, my career challenge was again knocking on my door. I had never wanted to give up my desire to become a chartered accountant. So after recovery, despite the pain in my right hand from breast surgery, and the veins of my left hand damaged from the IV chemo insertion, with my willpower and a positive attitude, I appeared for the exams in May 2005, and became a qualified chartered accountant. It was like a dream come true. I was determined and positive enough to overcome any hardships.

By now, everything was going very well. I delivered a baby boy in December 2006 and was busy “balancing work and home happily.” Life after cancer was not so smooth, but I was happy and contented.

It is said correctly that there are always alternate sequences of rise and falls in our lives. In 2013, my father was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and in 2014, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was surrounded by cancer and motivated by it: each day was making me stronger and stronger.

Another Episode

The string of misfortunes struck again. It was me again. Almost 14 years after my first diagnosis, during self-examination in March 2017, I felt a lump in my left breast. Since I had a similar lump 14 years earlier, as well as a strong family history of cancer, this time I didn’t panic. No anxiety, no fear, no destructive thoughts. I was very bold, positive, and physically strong enough to deal with the situation. By now I was 41, and a genetic test showed that I had the BRCA mutation; the diagnosis was invasive BRCA1-positive breast carcinoma grade III.

Again, I had 6 cycles of chemotherapy, and because I had the BRCA1 mutation, I had to have multiple preventive surgeries, which included left breast mastectomy with reconstruction, a total hysterectomy (removal of the uterus and ovaries), followed by 30 radiation treatments.

It was hard to have multiple surgeries at once. But I had made up my mind to tackle it in a positive way. I never looked at this disease as a cancer. I told myself, “Don’t let cancer kill you. You kill the cancer.”

Embracing the Good

My positive vibes encouraged me to continue doing my daily routine. During my chemo cycles, I decided not to stay in bed. The only thing I avoided was long-distance traveling. I followed a healthy diet, as my doctors advised. I continued with walking and yoga.

I embraced myself, my looks (though bald), my physique (though weak and pale), my complexion, my face without eyebrows, and my inner beauty. I got one more chance to love myself. By God’s grace, and with strong support from my family and the blessings of all my jovial friends and relatives, as well as my own positive approach, I won the battle again.

I owe my gratitude to the team of doctors, oncologists, cancer surgeon, reconstruction surgeon, gynecologist, and radiologist from all the hospitals, and their supportive staff, without whom I could not have done it. I also thank the 2 pillars in my life: my husband and my 11-year-old son, who stood by me through­out treatment, uplifting my will to become healthy again.

Perseverance

I accept that depending on the severity and intensity of your cancer, it’s not always easy to have positive energy. But at least try to stay positive; as mentioned earlier, hope keeps you alive. Please don’t allow cancer to dominate you.

A diagnosis of cancer can affect your attitude. It is extremely difficult to accept a life-altering disease. This can lead to hopelessness and despair, and these feelings can result in a negative attitude. Thinking about a diagnosis of cancer can be overwhelming.

Difficulties will occur throughout your life, at different stages and ages. My appeal to cancer survivors is that we all have to “rise like a phoenix from the ashes and stand up again.”

Remember that setbacks, failures, and tragedies—however painful they may be—are integral parts of life. Finding joy and success in the daily struggle of life depends on one’s ability to persevere through even the toughest adversity, without ever giving up.

Giving Back as a Survivor

Today I am 44, and in January 2020 I moved to the United States. I have made an honest attempt to share my journey here, with the small hope that my story could be inspiring and a force of motivation for other people who are battling cancer.

Today I am enjoying a healthy and happy life. Multiple surgeries and other cancer treatments have never been a hindrance to me in my day-to-day physical activities, or in my workplace, and have never affected my emotional well-being.

My cancer journey has taught me to overcome and fight it strongly, not only for my survival but also for my family, my loved ones, and all my supporters and well-wishers. It has made me realize that I owe something to mankind, and I need to repay it in whatever way I can.

I have recently joined the American Cancer Society as a Reach to Recovery Volunteer. I firmly believe that if detected early, breast cancer is curable; we need to spread awareness!

Patient Resources

American Cancer Society
www.cancer.org/treatment/support-programs-and-services/reach-to-recovery.html
Cancer.Net
www.cancer.net/blog/2020-03/coping-with-cancer-through-yoga-and-meditation
National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship Toolbox
https://canceradvocacy.org/resources/cancer-survival-toolbox

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Last modified: January 11, 2021

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