In conversation with Mrs. Poonam Nanda on her brave journey battling breast cancer.
- Please tell us something about yourself.
My name is Poonam Nanda. I have been Dean student welfare at Shoolini University for past nine years and I am also a founder member of YouWeCan foundation. Right from teaching school kids to postgraduate students and training Air hostesses, I have been in education sector for four decades and I’m very passionate about it.
- Tell me a little bit about your journey. When were you diagnosed with breast cancer, and how did you find out?
I was first diagnosed with breast cancer way back in 2009. I found it on my own with self-examination. It was just a small lump which I thought was a normal thing and went into the denial mode. The journey was completely a rollercoaster one full of ups and downs where I underwent two surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation. Typically, I lost all my hair. The Chemotherapy lasted for around 4 ½ months and it seemed like it would never end. I recovered well but after nine years it surfaced back again. This time, the tumour was not so aggressive so I had to go in for a couple of surgeries and radiation again but luckily I could skip the chemotherapy.
3.What sort of treatment did you receive?
Both the times, I went to Dinanath Mangeshkar hospital in Pune and I am convinced that I received the best medications and excellent treatment. The doctors in the hospital didn’t make me feel I was going through a severe cancer form of disease and they made it seem just like a normal flu. They kept me motivated and the medication process was explained to me along with the consequences. Even at times when I felt mentally low, the doctors encouraged me to go on with the journey and assured me that it would soon be over.
- While you were going through treatment, did someone on your healthcare team speak to you about the possible effects of cancer treatments?
My doctor and my oncologist spoke to me about the chemotherapy and radiation. They explained about the side effects that I would be going through. They also assured me that the side effects would be temporary. Effects like nausea, loss of hair and mood swings would be there during the treatment but would disappear as soon as it would be over.
- As a survivor, how has cancer changed you?
One starts to realize the value of life much more when one goes through a journey like this. I was always an empathetic and compassionate person but listening to different people going through the trauma of cancer definitely made me a better human being. Now I feel more connected to each and every one around me and I believe that everyone should live their life to the fullest.
- What helped/supported you most during your treatment?
My family was the biggest support for me during the hard times. My husband was with me 24 x 7 during both the treatments. My son and daughter were on their feet constantly looking after me. By the second time in 2018, my son got married and I received the same care from my daughter in law. My university staff and kids flooded me with good wishes asking me to come back again to the campus. This is where I got my strength from. I pray to God to keep me blessed with the best around.
- What made you think of partnering with YouWeCan?
After being diagnosed with cancer in 2009 and recovering by 2010, I was of the firm belief that it was awareness and early detection that saved my life. I was unsure about initiating this effort but when I came to Shoolini University, I realised that I have the great workforce in form of students. I requested the management and I got a green signal to start an association for cancer related campaigns. This message was then spread out beyond the university and in the state. After this we realised that this awareness campaign has become a sort of movement with my workforce.
- What activities are you involved in for cancer awareness etc.
Pre- Covid times, we did a lot of on ground cancer awareness activities like organising screening camps and awareness drives in the rural areas where they were briefed mainly about breast and the cervical cancer. We also went in for lots of cancer detection camps with the YouWeCan team. The YWC team has been very supportive, they gave us a team of 35-40 doctors who helped us in setting up of camps and detection of oral and breast cancer. Post covid, we have been arranging sessions with cancer specialists, virtual screening camps and as soon as Covid cases dip, we will get back on the ground soon.
- What advice would you have for other women who have been recently diagnosed with breast cancer?
I have spoken to a lot of people; my friends and relatives keep asking me to talk to people who are going through this problem. I am always happy to talk to them. I tell them not to feel stressed. I quote my own example, that of someone being diagnosed twice. And here I am hale and hearty in front of them. It is just a couple of months of hardship in your lifetime which will soon go away. It is you who has to give yourself the attention you deserve, you have been giving a lot to your family and kids, but now it is time to focus on yourself. Get well, get back on your feet and get going should be the mantra.