Women fighting for women - Beating Breast Cancer
(As told by a female breast onco plastic surgeon)
My journey as a Breast Oncoplastic Surgeon began during my surgical residency when I came across a young lady in my clinic with a locally advanced breast cancer. On enquiring about the reason for delaying her visit to a doctor, she pointed out that most clinics she visited had only male surgeons and it was embarassing to speak about her 'private parts' to them. She was afraid of what people would say, how they would react not being taken seriously.
I realized the gross gap in male and female surgeons in our society. Women needed other women to hear them out and understand what they are going through.
That was the day I decided to primarily focus on specializing in breast surgery with the aim of providing better outcomes and improve over all survival of my patients.
Over the course of time of treating women with breast diseases, I also sadly realized that there was a lack of general awareness amongst women in almost every strata of society in being able to identify changes in their breast. When explained that self examination was the key to and early diagnosis, they brushed it off as being too embarassing or not having enough time to do so. As a general theme, it was easier to put a blanket on a problem and ignore it, than to make it real and scary by talking about it. Women tend to take their health less seriously than men, and is only proved time and again with the stage at which they choose to see doctors.
To add to that, the image of breast cancer surgery to several women meant loosing a entire breast to the disease. Breasts are not just an appendage that serves no other purpose that being milk glands for a baby. And who better than a woman to understand their worth. Breasts change the way you walk, talk and act. although society has over sexualized them, they are an important part of how women view themselves and a massive part of their confidence comes from their appearance. To themselves, their partners, and society.
Today, multiple studies can back my claim that if breast cancer is diagnosed in it's early stages, the shape and size of the breasts can be saved with appropriate treatment. The overall disease free survival of our patients have reached an all time high.
However as I stated, this desired result is only possible when we take specific measures to diagnose any abnormalities early. And the safest, and most inexpensive way to do so is - self breast examination. I strongly advise my patients and several another woman during our health awareness camps to perform regular examinations atleast once a month to look for any changes. Just look at yourself. Look at the beautiful body god has given you.
Understand it and know it. Know when things look different. And know what 'different' can look like so you can identify it early. This small act can go way. Not only in confirming a better outcome. But also in keeping you healthy and aware of your body. I hope some day soon we can educate young girls about SBE, who in turn can educate the older women in their family about the same, so we can create a circle of awareness and a safe space to voice our concerns.
I am always rushed with unspeakable emotions when I treat cases of advanced breast cancers with unsure prognosis. Unfortunately these are specifically seen more in younger age groups in India. There’s one particular case that comes to mind - An beautiful young girl of only 17 years presented with a hard lump in her breast to the clinic. Such cases are specifically challenging and demands a multidisciplinary team comprising of oncologist, Gene testing counsellors as well as mental health care professionals. With every cycle of chemotherapy, she used to loose a fraction of her physical strength but never her emotional ability to view situations in a positive light. She was a beacon of hope for several other cancer survivors women during her treatment and follows ups. It only went to show that miracles do happen. She beat her cancer at the end of 1 year of strenuous therapy.
A strong will and positive outlook is an adjunct, and sometimes even more important than your treatment. Every time I am upset or lose hope, this story lifts my spirits. I am proud to say she was my patient and a strong breast cancer warrior. These are the women I admire and salute, and hope that we can all have a fraction of strength they show, in order to help ourselves and each other beat this demon.
You may have heard deterrent stories of women who needed a second revision surgery and an additional round of chemo and radiation therapy due to inadequate treatment received in the past. And you are not wrong. This was not only seen in women from rural parts of India, but also urban cities. Although it is important to know that in the past there could have been a lack of awareness in the medical community towards managing breast cancers. However times are changing for the better, and telemedicine, easier referrals and distance learning has improved education and in turn outcomes on specific topics such as breast cancer.
I strongly urge you to speak to your doctor about what is bothering you, be it big or small. Even if you suspect something or you just need to talk. We assure you we can help relieve you of your anxiety with the right facts and assistance in the right direction.
There is no hush hush about our health anymore.
We are daughters, wives, mothers, working women and home makers. The health of our families is in our hands. But it is about time we understand that there is no health of our loved ones if we ourselves are sick.
Dr. Khizer Doctor Ganju,
Breast oncoplastic surgeon,
King Edward Memorial Hospital,
Dr Urjita Patil
The Safety Net