Navigating breast cancer as a 30-year-old in India

I was very, very lucky to get Covid-19 earlier last year. I know it may sound weird, but I say that because during a CT scan at the hospital getting treated for it, they detected a lump in one of my breasts.

That lump turned out to be cancerous. My treatment required chemotherapy, radiation, and hormonal injections.

My first reaction: WTF! Why me? 

My reaction after calming down: I am not alone. Look around, Swati, everyone around you in the hospital is either fighting cancer with you or have fought cancer.

After my first round of chemotherapy, I started losing my hair. When I saw the first patch, I told my parents I wanted to go bald. They were not very happy with my decision and told me to wait and see how much hair comes out on its own before cutting it all off. But, I did not want to mentally add the torture of seeing my hair fall every day on top of everything else, so I shaved it off. I booked an appointment, took my mom with me and made it a date. This feeling of having off was extremely liberating and empowering.

With every cycle of my chemotherapy the days were tough, but I kept myself going by looking at the smallest thing to cheer me up. There were nights I slept beside a dustbin because I was so nauseous, but then there have been mornings when I motivated myself to get out and spend time with my parents. During this time I channelled all the energy left within into gardening, painting, enjoying Netflix, enjoying Diwali, enjoying the winter sun, the birth of my nephew — basically enjoying being ME in all the ways I could while going through treatment. I also made decisions about changing my lifestyle so I can be healthier overall.

I was very sure I wanted to spread awareness about cancer right before starting my treatment. I knew I wanted to be open about this experience for those who felt they couldn’t be. During my chemo, I would talk to people around me in the room and encourage them to share. I was known as the “ball of energy” in the room by the nurses, and I would do countdowns when my chemo was a minute away from getting over.

After chemo, when I was going through radiation, the waiting hours were really long. I would usually sit and talk to people there too. I would flaunt my bald look and encourage others to do it. My message to them was that they don’t need to feel ashamed for having cancer.

I started getting messages and calls from known and unknown from people who had heard my story. That’s when I decided I wanted to share more openly about my experience to continue to encourage others.

Please listen to your body. Please pay attention to the signs it is showing you. I am talking about my experience so that in India, people stop considering this as taboo or something we can’t talk about. I want more people to feel comfortable in sharing their experiences.

Today, whenever I go for my checkups, I flaunt my bald, bold look and hope to inspire others to do it too. In India, most people would cover their bald head out of fear or being judged, shamed, and not accepted. I encourage the people I see doing this by telling what they have been through is not something to be ashamed of, it’s not something to hide. Be proud over this victory, celebrate it. — Swati Garg

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