Moving forward to live pink
Three years ago, I set aside my fears and opened up about my experiences to the world. I wrote a commentary in Nepali Times titled ‘Let’s Talk About Boobs’. Three years later, so much has changed. Yet, so much remains the same.
This October, during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, my main message has is still the same: I want to spread the right information, share knowledge, and change perceptions about the disease. I want my message to be one of hope rather than a continuation of the negative stigma associated with cancer.
Cancer is not something that happens to a specific demographic. It does not only happen to people of a particular gender or age group. It is also not something that is entirely linked to lifestyle choices, or ways of living. Cancer can happen to anyone, and at any time. Like it happened to me -- a then 32 year-old-woman in the prime of her life with no family history of the disease.
Let's talk about boobs, Suvekchya Ghimire
We need to bear in mind that cancer is on the rise in Nepal and around the world. There is no denying it. But here is what is truly important: early diagnosis is a lifesaver. It is why I am still here. It is why so many others like me -- and many more who are not like me -- are still here.
The big question so many people have is, “How can we tell that it is cancer?” The answer is simple: “Get to know your body.”
Apart from the obvious side effects, getting to know your body is the most important part of self-diagnosis. If you are not familiar with your own body, how could you possibly know if anything is wrong with it?
Feeling, cupping, and truly looking at your body on a regular basis are the best things you can do for yourself. Learn what is normal and what is not. Discover your body, talk about anything you feel may not be quite right. Shed the taboos that have been imposed by society or yourself. You do not need a superhero, you can save your own life.
Think pink, Sonia Awale
Four years after my treatment, the pain has subsided, but the memory remains. When I first received my diagnosis, I thought my life was over. I was unaware of the details surrounding the disease, the treatment involved, what it would do to my body, and how my mind and spirit would be affected.
The physical struggle was a nightmare. There’s no sugar-coating that fact. But there was more to it than that. I noticed changes that were more intense: changes that no one could see from the outside. I put pen to paper to process the crazy ups and downs in this chapter of my life. Writing became the only true and honest outlet for emotions I was not yet ready to share.
My treatment cycle took over eight months. The recovery process took even longer. While undergoing chemotherapy and radiation, I had a reason to wake up every morning. I had to get out of bed and make my way to those appointments. It was not so much a choice as it was something that was “just done”. This was my fighting phase. I had one goal: to beat cancer.
Once that phase was over, I needed to find my own motivation. I needed to find the fuel to get out of bed and to do something with my day. The aim during this time was to get better, to recover, regain strength, and rid my body of the toxins that had built up within it. It was a long, slow process and I would be lying if I said it was easy.
Suvekchya Ghimire speaking to Nepali Times in 2017
Two long years later, my hair began to grow back and I started to recognise the person I saw in the mirror. I was starting to look more “normal”, I was starting to look like my old self. But I did not feel like the old me.
I had lost a part of my body and because of this, I was unable to lead exactly the same life. Certain activities would forever be out of reach. After having my entire right breast muscle removed, I was unable to lift anything heavy or even straighten my arm above my head. Using chopsticks was almost impossible. Lifting a fork was more challenging than it should be. My new life was alien to me and as a result, I felt lonely.
No one truly understood the pain I felt, although they really did try. This made me feel even more alienated because they were normal and I was not. People often asked what my plans were, what my next steps would be, what I wanted to do with my life. I had absolutely no clue. I was stuck in a state of limbo. Depression was my new foe.
I knew I had to do something. I was fortunate enough to attend a course offered by a local charity and cancer hospital. The course was called ‘Moving Forward’ and for me, it was just that. I met fellow survivors and learned that most people (around 80% or more) who face cancer are affected mentally once the treatment is over.
I was no longer alone. I had found my path to healing my mind, heart, and spirit. I was supported and understood in a way I never was before by people around me and also by myself.
It became more important than ever before for me to offer others that support. I wanted my experience to be both educational and a ray of hope. And I wanted to make sure that at least a few people would feel less alone than I did.
I realised that my book was more than just a therapy tool. Through my experience share, I had the opportunity to do something positive - to make an impact. The raw, honest scribbles I had collected during my treatment and recovery became the foundation for my book, Cancer, Curry & Me, which will be released on Amazon at the end of October 2020.
It is important to understand the changes around us, and inside of us. It takes a tremendous amount of energy and strength to get out of a chronic condition like cancer, both mentally and physically. When you are in the thick of it, it is too easy to get lost and not be able to find the ‘support’ you need. While the people around you may think you are coping (because that is what they see from the outside) you might still be breaking down inside. I know I was.
This year, my hair has grown longer and I look a lot like my old self. I have learned to remember and appreciate how each passing year has brought me a tremendous amount of new energy, opportunities, and greater things in life. It’s this hope that I want to share with others.
Given the current global situation, it is only too easy for us to fall back into the darkness. The instability around us is a reminder of the difficulties we faced in the past and it threatens to take us back to that scary physical and emotional state.
This October, it is not only time to support various charities, or wear a pink ribbon, but it is also a time to eradicate that fear of cancer. Instead, it’s time to develop a better understanding and support those who want to learn more.
Now is the time to appreciate those who have had cancer, to think of them, and to celebrate their journey. It is time to live pink.
Cancer, Curry & Me by Suvekchya Ghimire
Paperback 192 pages