In October every year I think about my dear friend Ruchi, who succumbed to breast cancer some years ago. This is breast cancer awareness month, the time to remind women to get their mammograms done, and adopt a lifestyle that helps them stay healthy and cancer free. Ruchi was only 37 years old when the doctors told her she had stage-four breast cancer that had had penetrated her lungs and skeletal system. “You have a couple of years left to live,” said one specialist. At first, she refused to accept this verdict, convinced it was a mistake. When the denial died down, she decided cancer was God’s final blow, the final cataclysmic event in a series of disasters. “ I had lived in a loveless marriage, raised a mentally challenged child with cortical visual impairment and grappled with the emotional demands of a widowed mother-in-law. The cancer diagnosis came just after my husband demanded a divorce,” she said, at that time. “ All that was left was for me to die.”
They say a diagnosis of cancer changes you. In Ruchi’s case, the transformation was akin to a miracle. Over the months following her diagnosis, Ruchi’s death wish was replaced by an appreciation of life. “Cancer has given me a life,” she would say, “Rather than taken it away.” When the mammogram revealed her tumours, Ruchi realized she had no real respect for herself or her existence. “I realized the only time I had any conviction about myself was in my teens, and this had eroded over the years. So when the doctors told me that the cancer in my breast was fourth stage, had penetrated my lungs and skeletal system and that I had two years to live, I was devastated at the lost opportunities,” she said.
Once the fear dissipated, however, she decided to become an active participant in her treatment and healing process and adopted a holistic approach. “The emotional and spiritual dimensions of my life required as much healing as my physical body,” she said. Aside from traditional treatment such as chemotherapy, Ruchi practiced Buddhist chanting, Reiki, Siddha healing, deep breathing and used visualization techniques to imagine herself whole and healthy. Those who believe in metaphysics would appreciate what she meant when she said her energy changed from being a victim, “ to becoming a winner.” Cancer gave her the opportunity to create a meaningful life by becoming the person she had only dreamed of being until then.
Throughout her experience with cancer, Ruchi urged me to document and disseminate her journey of survival, in the hope that others would learn and benefit from her tale. At times, she handed me her diary and other notes and suggested I share the material in an appropriate manner. In the four years of her life with cancer, Ruchi learned new skills, made new friends, and travelled to the places she had always wanted to see. Her decision to make her life a celebration changed her into a person everyone wanted to be around. The single message she imparted to other cancer survivors was, “Don’t waste the time you have left feeling sorry for yourself. Just do all the things you were afraid of doing instead.”