By Sharmila Vaidya
On the afternoon of May 1, I was lying on the couch mindlessly watching TV after a long day at school. Suddenly, the loud ring of the phone made me sit up. That was the most difficult phone call I've ever answered.
I can still hear the doctor's crisp and clear voice saying that my cyst was malignant and that I had breast cancer.
I just sat there numb with no sensation in my body. I have no recollection of calling my husband at work.
I was still in a state of trance when my husband walked in the door about an hour later. We sat there holding each other in shock, not knowing what to say.
So many thoughts crossed my mind. How were my kids going to take the news? I was paranoid that they were now at a much higher risk of getting cancer. And, my husband has always been a tower of strength and support. I could not bear to see him so sad and heartbroken.
Searching for answers
The first thing I did was read as much information as I could find on cancer research. I scoured the internet and bought books, reading everything I could find. It was as if I was desperately trying to find a cure.
I wish I had known some basic facts before my diagnosis. I'd never imagined that I could get a disease like cancer; nobody in my immediate or extended family had a history of any kind of cancer. I was surprised, though, to find that this is true of many women with breast cancer.
Even though I'd gotten regular mammograms every year, nothing suspicious had ever been detected. Later I found out that women with dense breast tissue are much more likely to develop breast cancer, and I was one of them. This is why it's so important to ask questions about your own breast cancer risks when you go for a well-women exam.
When my doctor told me that I had an aggressive kind of cancer, I was confused. I wasn't aware that there were different kinds of breast cancer and that each had their own prognosis and treatment plan.
Ready to fight
After the news of my breast cancer diagnosis had finally sunk in, I was ready to fight this awe-striking disease with all my might. After all, I was in a city with one of the world's best cancer hospitals, MD Anderson. We had good health insurance. The administration and staff of the school where I work were very sympathetic and helpful. My husband's boss said that he could take off as much time as needed.
Above all, I had a lot of emotional support from my family and friends. Some friends and family brought me food. Some sent gifts and cards with their blessings and good wishes. Friends I hadn't connected with in ages called regularly to ask about my health. Some who couldn't visit called just to make me laugh.
Every time I was at MD Anderson I often saw older women, after undergoing chemo, lying on the couch with warm blankets, waiting for their rides. I saw older men taking care of their wives, even though they themselves had a hard time walking. My heart went out to them.
I started thinking I was lucky to have everything I needed to help me fight back in the best possible way. I started feeling bad for some of the patients with who didn't have some or even most of the support that I had. That's when I said to myself, "Why not me?"
Dance in the rain
I'm grateful to the entire staff at MD Anderson for making my experience as pleasant as possible. I'm grateful to people who volunteer their time at the hospital. I also appreciate people and organizations that take the initiative to raise cancer awareness and fund cancer research.
Often in our daily busy lives and trying to keep up with the 'Joneses' we forget to sit back and appreciate the things we already have. Life is full of challenges. It's how we handle them that make a difference.
I had heard the phrase, "Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, but about learning to dance in the rain" before my diagnosis, but it now holds more meaning than ever.