Keshwant Kaur – my story
It can happen to anyone.
Before I begin my story, I’m writing this so that if just one reader takes steps to take care of themselves it can change their lives as well as the lives of the people who care about them.
My Name is Keshwant (Kesh) and I was born in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and moved to Auckland, New Zealand in 2002 after completing my study in the UK to become a lawyer.
I was working as a HR Legal Adviser and life was good to me. I am blessed with lots of friends and I regularly went to the gym, shopping, temple and pretty much whatever I wanted to do in my spare time.
In January 2014 everything changed for me.
Over the years, I’ve heard of many campaigns about breast cancer awareness. Whenever I used to see an article on breast cancer, I would flip the page thinking “it will never happen to me” and never gave it any attention. Mammograms in NZ are recommended for women aged 45and over and I had never been for a breast check- up- ever!
Was this due to my ignorance?
What concerns me is that most women under 45 are just like me and don’t give the topic much thought. This is something that I hope will change as awareness grows and I feel compelled to play a small part of this.
The first time I felt something was wrong was in late January 2014. I felt a slight dull pain in my breast, which mildly concerned me. Not wanting to think it was anything out of the ordinary, I asked a few friends if they thought it was something I should have looked at. They, like me, never thought it could be anything serious and assured me it was quite normal to have mild breast pains.
On one particular morning, I woke up and felt pain that I had not experienced before my breast was painful to the point that I literally couldn’t get dressed and putting on a bra was painful.
I hadn’t seen a Doctor for over 12 years because I have always enjoyed good health – I exercise regularly and eat healthy food.
I was scared.
With the escalating pain, I made an appointment to see a local doctor and she checked me over and even though she did feel any lumps, she assured me that I was fine.
She said that it was normal to feel lumps or cysts and added that breast cancer is typically is a silent disease – not triggered by pain. So, having being reassured by a medical practitioner, I took her word as gospel and left it at that.
Three weeks later, the pain worsened.
It was excruciating. I couldn’t sleep at night as I wasn’t able to put any weight on my left side and the pain was now constant. I went back to the GP who assured me again it wasn’t something that I should be worried about. Just to be sure though, she said she would send a request to the hospital for me to have a mammogram.
About a week later, the correspondence from the hospital arrived and the appointment I was given was for six weeks down the track.
During this time, the pain grew more intense.
Realising this wasn’t normal and the potential seriousness of the condition I called Owen and he encouraged me to go and get it checked as a matter of urgency rather than wait for the appointment. This time, I decided to go to a private Breast clinic for an immediate check-up.
At the clinic, I had a mammogram and a biopsy and even though there was a visible lump, the breast surgeon said to me it was nothing to fear as it was not breast cancer. When I explained to him about the pain I had been suffering, he said the lump was hitting my nerve and suggested I should get it removed to which I agreed.
On the 13th March 2014, I underwent surgery to remove the lump.
It was a simple non-invasive procedure and I was able to go home after a couple of hours. The surgeon informed me that he had sent the lump to the laboratory for routine testing. Once the lump was removed the pain vanished and naturally I felt relieved, thinking that the surgery had been successful. A week later when I went for a follow-up appointment with the specialist, he broke the news to me.
It was not good news – the lump that was removed was Cancerous.
I was confused and in an utter state of shock. The “C word” terrified the hell out of me. I broke down and there was nothing I could do to stop the tears from flowing. The specialist told me that I had a rare type of fast growing breast cancer. The lump had grown into the size of a table tennis ball in just 6 weeks and it was sitting 2 millimetres away from a bone.
It was stage 3 Cancer – Making that call to my family
I remember my sister-in law, Kanchan, calling me on my mobile as a follow up, asking how my appointment with the specialist had gone. By then I was sobbing and told her the news I had just been given. She was there at the clinic in no time to be with me and took charge. Soon after, I called my other sister-in-law, Maninder (in Malaysia) to tell her about my diagnosis.
One of the most difficult moments of my life was telling my Mum and brothers the shocking news. I did not have the courage to tell them myself as I knew they were going to find it very difficult to deal with. Instead, I got my sister-in-laws to do that. In the next few weeks, my family and I felt like our lives had broken apart with ‘that’ fateful news.
In the next few days a seemingly endless stream of tests followed (MRI, Pet Scan etc.), to see if the cancer had spread to the other parts of my body. It was nerve wracking waiting anxiously for the test results. Fortunately it hadn’t spread… and Thank God for that!
On 2nd April, I had to go for another surgery – lumpectomy. This time, I stayed overnight at the hospital. Maninder had flown in from Malaysia to be with me while I recovered from the operation.
A panel of specialists decided that I needed to go through the full cancer treatment – chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
The thought of undergoing chemotherapy sounded frightening. I felt that I was going to be sent to an eerie gas chamber and banished to a dark room. Of course it was not as I had expected, silly me!
I am glad to report that I have just completed six months of chemotherapy. What a journey it has been! Nothing can prepare one for the sessions, even though the oncologist had explained what the side effects were going to be and what to expect.
Diet and the Gerson Theory
I asked the surgeon and the oncologist if there were any dietary restrictions and they said ‘none” and to eat what I normally ate.
A very close friend has done a lot of self-study on Cancer and its relationship with our diet. She encouraged me to follow ‘the Gerson’ diet. I wanted to do what was best for my body and followed her recommendation. That meant drinking one litre of green juice daily, eliminating sugar and yeast, going gluten free and organic. Me, the café queen, having to give up cakes and everything nice? Not very easy!
The first few weeks I managed to follow the dietary pathway religiously. I think my ‘survival mechanism’ kicked in and I was able to commit to the strict regime.
I felt nauseated after my chemo session for days. My taste buds had all gone. All I felt was a horrible metallic taste in my mouth – it was like some bomb had exploded in my body and the metallic taste was the ashes that had been strewn about. I could no longer bring myself to drink any more green juice and gave up on the Gerson Diet. I decided to start eating normally.
I couldn’t taste any flavour in my food apart from sugar, chilli and tamarind. My niece, Asees, had come from Malaysia to be with me as well by that stage. I cooked us some fried rice one day. As we began eating, Asees exclaimed that she could not eat the rice because I had added triple the amount of salt! Oh dear!
Chemotherapy is a necessary evil and nothing can really prepare you for
Losing my beautiful hair
I am of the Sikh faith and have never cut my hair as this is an essential component of our belief system. When the succession of treatments started, I noticed that I was slowly starting to lose my hair – strand by strand. I was too scared to brush my hair for fear of accelerating the hair loss but I knew that there was nothing that I could do and it was inevitable that I would soon lose all of it. I reached the point where I needed to buy a wig.
Later, I found out that most female Cancer patients are confronted with fear, and normally cry (which I did too) when they are told that they will be losing all of their hair. Most of us women associate our beauty and femininity with our hair. I don’t know which is more terrifying for us – finding out that we have Cancer or losing our hair!
My silky long hair has now been replaced by a bald head!
The truth sinks in – I have Cancer
There, I said it and saying it aloud made it real. I was alone when I came to this realisation (three months after I was diagnosed). I cried, I felt sorry for myself, I asked, ‘why me?” There were no answers, just an endless stream of questions. Cancer does not discriminate – it doesn’t care how old you are, how healthy you are or how rich you are. Anyone can succumb to it at any point in their life.
People asked me, “how did it happen?” How would I know? I decided against seeking an answer because deep down I knew there wasn’t one. It is what it is so I decided to capture the “new me”.
My lovely, talented and creative nephew, Jiwan Singh, volunteered to take some pictures of me for breast Cancer awareness month. A special thank you to him and also to Christina Croucher (Christina’s Makeup Services) for doing such a wonderful job with my makeup, maintaining natural look and introducing me to fake eyelashes!
It was my faith, friends and family that helped me through.
This experience has taught me to accept my situation as part of my journey and to learn from it. It has given me a wonderful appreciation of how much I have and how rich my life really is.
Acceptance and embracing the journey
Having completed 6 months of intensive chemotherapy I am now undergoing radio therapy for the next five weeks.
What have I learnt from this experience?
- Faith and trust in GOD. Remember God and thank him for everything. He is the Master and Protector.
- Acceptance of the disease is very important and then trusting the medical process in order to heal.
- Family support is so important. My brothers, sisters in laws, nieces and nephews have all been so loving, caring and have given the emotional support that I needed throughout my journey. My Mum’s prayers and unconditional love has especially given me so much courage and strength to face my low moments and there have been a few.
- Friends – they have been wonderful. It’s at times like this you discover who your true friends are, and I must say all of them have been great and really stepped up when I needed them most. Friends who live all around the world were sending their well-wishes and keeping me in their prayers. The ones in Auckland were always caring, supportive and uplifting to me with their kindness. Thank you all.
- Insurance is so important – if I was not insured, I would have had to wait for my turn in the queue in the public health system and perhaps by then the Cancer would have spread. A special thanks to my Insurance Adviser Owen Grauman from Group Plus who had persuaded me to get insurance back in 2010. My operations in a private clinic were covered as was my chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments – the cost was over $100,000. I was also paid out under a trauma claim as well as income / mortgage protection and this afforded me the luxury of taking time off work to focus on my recovery.
The last thing anyone needs when faced with a serious health scare is financial pressure!
Life is precious
You only get one chance at it. Look after yourself, trust your body, your instincts and go with the flow. Look at life positively and take precautions, get checked out and DON’T WAIT.
An ounce of prevention is worth a ton of cure.
Thank you for taking the time to read my story.