Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The C Word - Second Opinion

As the enormity of the message (from Dr. Sankar) started sinking in, we went through mixed emotions.  On one side, we were comforted by the assurance given by the Doctor and on the other side, we were confronted with the long journey and the stuff we need to do.

Even as we were coming to terms with the overall situation, I wanted to believe there is some way out of this whole situation and this not happening to Sita.  (I was in the denial).  This led me to want to get the second opinion.  But, not everyone in the family was with me on this one.

Taking Thiruvalluvar to my defense and I found myself saying
எப்பொருள் யார்யார்வாய்க்  கேட்பினும் அப்பொருள் 
மெய்ப்பொருள் காண்பதறிவு.

But, others in the family were taking the same Thiruvallur and said
எண்ணித்துணிக கருமம், துணிந்தபின் 
எண்ணுவம் என்பது இழுக்கு 

That's exactly what I wanted to do as well.  Before embarking on this long journey, I wanted to be sure of the course we were taking and sought and got second opinions.

We got plenty of advice from our wellwishers who laid out plenty of options in front of us.  But, we also got a sane advice from a young couple who had just gone through this ordeal.  He said, "just follow one course of action and ignore the rest".

We decided to stick to allopathic route and got few second opinions from far and wide.  I scanned all important medical reports and sent to few of our Doctor friends in the US.  All of them seconded course of treatment we were advised locally.

With that reassurance from few more oncologists, we set on a course of allopathic recovery for Sita and she has gone through three Chemos thus far.  More on that in my next post.

Earlier Posts
#2 - Discovery

Monday, January 01, 2018

Three Things I Want To Do Better This Year

Three things I want to do better this year. Two more of and one less of. These are not new things, but new year gives me an opportunity to reflect and reaffirm it for myself.

  • MORE OF - Rise early - I want to rise early, regularly. Even after years of trying, this habit hasn't become part of my DNA. I find myself exercising more and generally having more time if I rise early. I am going to keep trying in 2018 to make this habit stick.
  • MORE OF - Write often - I need to do better in this area. Whether it is writing about technology or running or about anything I wish to share. I can do a lot better and will try again this year.
  • LESS OF - Social Media - It's not that I want to totally shun social media, but want to be mindful where I spend time. These days, I seem to wander around aimlessly. This year, I want to be more judicious on where I spend my time on social media. Unfollow or exit groups that I can be without.

What do you want to do better this year? What's your three?

Saturday, December 30, 2017

The C word - Discovery

First - Friends, Thank You for the outpouring of love.  Sita and I have received numerous messages and phone calls over the past few weeks.  From Books to Ilaneer to second opinions, we are simply overwhelmed by the affection showered upon us.  Thank you, friends, from the bottom of our hearts.

It has been exactly a month since the C word entered our lives, changing our outlook and priorities.  In this post, I will talk about the sequence of procedures Sita went through to the C diagnosis and the next steps.

Annual Checkups - Though reluctantly, Sita does take her health seriously and goes for an annual checkup with a little bit of nudge.  But this year she procrastinated more than usual and went for her annual checkup only in November. 

She has been complaining of discomfort near left breast/shoulder area for a few months now.  First, she attributed it to her Friday strength training.   After the workout, discomfort used to last for a few days and subside.  But when it started lingering a little longer, Sita finally pushed herself to go for overdue annual physicals.

Annual Checkup at Apollo Spectra Clinic in Alwarpet - Sita went through the usual battery of tests (and more) during the third week of November.  While she got a clean chit, for the most part, Doctor did advise her to go for a Mamogram since the last one was done over two years back.  This advise combined with her discomfort made Sita head to Chennai Breast Center.

Chennai Breast Center - Sita has been seeing Dr. Selvi Radhakrishna for several years now (referred by Dr. Uma Ram) and decided to get a mammogram done with her.  Sita had gone through a mammogram procedure in 2015 and we were hoping this time also it would just be a routine affair.  But, after the mammogram, Sita was advised to go for a biopsy.

Looking back, I feel Doctor knew of the C even before the biopsy results came in.  Dr. Selvi had asked Sita few times if she had come alone to the clinic (which was the case).  I understand needle biopsies are generally painful and require the presence of an attendant, but Sita went through the procedure by herself with the next appointment on Nov 30 to collect the results.

On that fateful morning, Sita and I went out for our usual morning walk and discussed the impending Doctor visit.  Even then we assumed everything would be normal and collection of reports was just a formality.  So, Sita decided to go alone to see Dr. Selvi.

But, life changed by that afternoon.  Sita was told that the biopsy reports came positive for malignancy and was advised to undergo Petscan and ER-PR tests to determine conclusively the spread of C.

Pet Scan - We were told to go to one of the three places (Apollo Speciality, Bharat Scans and another place in Anna Nagar).  Our first preference was to get the procedure done at Apollo but there was no open slot for several days.  Our next best option was to go to Bharat Scans, Royapettah where a slot was available for the very next day (Dec 1, 2017).

Pet Scan uses a special dye with radioactive tracers and is injected into a vein in one of the arms.  Tracers help to understand how well organs and tissues are working. 

Sita was advised to fast the previous night and report for the scan at 7:00 AM in the morning.   As luck would have it, it rained cats and dogs overnight and a lot of places including the Scan Center was inundated with water.    We managed to get in on time but a lot of their employees couldn't.  After some wait and elaborate preparatory work, Sita went through dye injection and scan over the next 5 hours.

ER-PR - This is an extension of the earlier biopsy examination and will help determine the kind of cancer receptor that is active.  There are basically three possibilities Estrogen, Progesterone or HER2 (Human epidermal growth factor receptor 2). 

Globally, 80% of the breast cancers fall into ER- PR category and if ER-PR results are negative then the HER2 determination is done.  For Sita, it was ER positive with an intensity of 3.

Consultation with Dr. Selvi (Dec 1, 2017) - After the pets scan, we went and saw Dr. Selvi.  She gave us a patient hearing and took time to explain the whole thing again.  Though Doctor must have discussed the situation at length with Sita previous day, she perhaps zoned out and I wanted to see the Doctor myself to get a better reading on the entire situation.

As the next step, Dr. Selvi asked us to see Dr. Sankar Srinivasan, a reputed medical oncologist at Apollo Cancer Hospital at Nandanam.  He is a super busy guy and was tough to get a slot to see him.  But, after much persuasion, we got an appointment to see him on Monday, Dec 4, 2017.

The intervening two days was rather intense and busy for us.  On one side, we had a stream of wellwishers calling/visiting us and on the other side, there was this TWCM17 for which Sita had registered for 10K and was planning to run with Meera.  But Sita was in no mood to even get out, let alone run. 

Until that Thursday (Nov 30) morning, Sita was her usual, donning many roles she plays with elan, but after the C diagnosis, I could see her energy level going down dramatically.  Though she put a brave face, I could see the turbulence she was going through.  In fact, the entire family struggled to come to grips with the new situation in different ways.  More on that later.

Confirmation of C - Even before we saw Dr. Sankar on Dec 4, 2017,  we came to know of existence C from the pet scan report.  Though none in my family is even remotely related to the medical profession, we all became one by relying on Dr. Google.  Even then, we were hoping Dr. Sankar would tell us otherwise.  He didn't. 

Dr. Sankar confirmed the existence of C but comforted us saying this type of cancer is completely curable and suggested a clear but lengthy course of treatment.

  1. Chemotherapy - Undergo 8 sessions.  First four, every other week and the rest every 3rd week.
  2. Surgery - To be decided after the first four Chemo sessions.
  3. Radiation - Few sessions to be decided after Chemo
  4. Oral medication - For a prolonged period of time, duration to be decided after radiation.

Thus C entered our lives.  Now, Sita's journey to recovery has started with Chemotherapy and we are talking one day at a time.

Earlier Post
#1 - Coming to terms

Friday, December 08, 2017

Coming to terms with the 'C' Word

It's exactly a week since the C word struck us and we are still coming to terms with it.   Lot has happened in the last 7 days and lots more to happen in the coming weeks and months.  I am starting this blog series with a hope to share our experiences and get help from the larger community as we go through this journey.

Fateful Day
Certain events make you step up and reevaluate your outlook on life.  One such event happened in our life on November 30, 2017.  Till then, Sita preparing for the TWCM17 10K and I was planning logistics to volunteer.  But on that day, Sita was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer.  I was at work when she called me from Doctor's office.  She must have been in shock because all she mentioned was 'things are not good' and hung up.

It took me a few moments to understand what Sita said or didn't.  But, I understood enough to realize what it could be and rushed back home.  As luck would have it, Murphy's law stuck me.  There was some VIP movement and took me over 2 harrowing hours to reach home.  By then, Sita had come back and was looking glum.   I read the biopsy report multiple times and googled furiously hoping to find something sliver of hope.  But, all my searches pointed to the C word.

Though we knew of several of our friends who had gone thru this and fully 'cured', our emotions were at a different level when the C word stuck closer.  The stigma and fear that comes with this dreaded C word is something we are still dealing with.

Since that fateful day, Sita has gone thru multiple procedures and doctor visits.  She went thru pet scan, ER PR tests and visits to surgical and medical oncologists.  All confirmed cancer and have chalked out next steps that include long drawn chemotherapy and surgical procedures.

These events and findings are still dawning on us.  we are struggling to come to terms with the discovery and haven't fully understood the repercussions, but are trying to take one day at a time.

Sita has agreed to go public as she fights this life-altering event.  I am not a good writer and will not be eloquent in describing what we are going thru, but we are hoping our story helps someone somewhere and Sita gets assistance from the larger community.

#cancer #breastcancer