It Was A Challenging Phase, But It Opened My Eyes To My Inner Strengths: Malavika Shah Shares Her Journey
In life’s unpredictable script, a cancer diagnosis often arrives like a sudden plot twist, catching us off guard and unsettling our very core. The journey through cancer can be an arduous expedition, depleting not only our physical reserves but also challenging our mental, emotional, social, and financial fortitude. Malavika Shah, a woman leading a seemingly ordinary life, effortlessly juggling work and family, found herself thrust into this unforeseen narrative when an unusual bump on her neck and persistent fatigue cast shadows over her days. Today, she graciously shares her transformative journey with the CancerMitr team.
Fatigue, an unusual and disconcerting symptom, and a lump on her neck became her constant companions, and the former left her perpetually drained. Despite consultations with medical experts and a battery of tests, the elusive truth remained veiled. It wasn’t until seven months later, when dizziness and fainting spells entered the scene, that Malavika sensed something more profound at play. Sleep became challenging, and an irritating itch tormented her skin. Faced with these distressing symptoms, she sought answers through comprehensive blood tests, including a complete blood count (CBC), a diagnostic tool that reveals vital information about the blood’s composition, such as red and white blood cell counts, platelet levels, haemoglobin, and hematocrit. Any abnormalities in these parameters spark concern.
“I was informed that my white blood cell count had skyrocketed. Suspecting an infection, I was prescribed medication,” she recalls. However, as the lump on her neck persisted, she confided in her physician, setting the stage for a crucial turning point.
A neck lump could signify various conditions like infections, thyroid nodules, tonsillitis, or abnormal cell growth that ranges from benign to precancerous or malignant. In the realm of abnormal cell growth, only a biopsy could unveil the true nature of the cells within.
The biopsy results delivered the sobering verdict: Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a form of blood cancer.
As the biopsy results materialized, Malavika was travelling, leaving her family to receive the news before she could grapple with it herself. She vividly remembers the numbness that enveloped her.
“When the news was revealed to me, my mind went blank. It took a while for me to process the news,” she said.
The subsequent days tested her resilience to its limits, subjecting her to further tests that would determine the stage and grade of her cancer. Each test was a critical measure of her odds against this relentless adversary, a period marked by an emotional numbness as the reality of her situation sank in.
“You need to understand that these tests were meant to check my chances of beating this disease. Mentally, I was undergoing a state of numbness because all of this was happening to me. In addition to all that, I was stressed about how I was going to break this news to my sister and other dear ones,” she recalled. Additional tests revealed that her battle was against stage 3B Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Hodgkin’s lymphoma, also known as Hodgkin’s disease, intrudes upon the body’s intricate lymphatic system, comprising organs, nodes, and vessels that network throughout. Lymphocytes, white blood cells within this system, ordinarily combat severe infections. However, in Hodgkin’s lymphoma, these blood cells multiply uncontrollably, disrupting the harmonious functioning of normal lymphocytes. Swollen lymph nodes, whether in the neck, chest, armpit, abdomen, or elsewhere, often serve as the initial signposts of this condition. Other indicators include fever, night sweats, fatigue, cough, chills, weight loss, loss of appetite, and itchy skin.
In Malavika’s case, the giveaway symptoms were the neck lump and the relentless itchiness, apart from fatigue. Recognizing the urgency of her situation, she embarked on her treatment journey at Mumbai’s Jaslok Hospital. Her cancer treatment regimen unfolded with 12 sessions of chemotherapy and 14 rounds of radiation therapy, both notorious for their formidable side effects.
Throughout her journey, Malavika experienced hair loss, constipation, change in appetite and the ever-persistent brain fog. “For me, brain fog was the worst. I mean, the way in which your body changes during these phases is not something that can be explained with mere words,” she said.
Yet, within this formidable battle, Malavika found solace in the presence of essential pillars of support: a compassionate physician who empathized with her struggles and a family that fortified her spirit. She commended her doctor for offering unwavering guidance and the information she needed to navigate her treatment journey. To mitigate the side effects, she diligently adhered to a structured diet and exercise regimen. Nevertheless, she remains mindful that every journey is uniquely individual.
“As I mentioned before, our bodies face an array of unexpected challenges, morphing in ways we cannot predict. Each person’s experience is distinctly their own. Every journey is a singular expedition, necessitating personalized support, therapies, and protocols,” she reflects.
In time, Malavika emerged victorious over the relentless adversary that had invaded her life. Today, she radiates with pride at the distance she’s travelled since vanquishing the disease. Throughout her journey, the unwavering support of friends and family, particularly a fellow warrior in the battle against cancer, provided her with the strength to persevere. While every cancer journey carves its own unique path, one constant remains the universal need for empathy and understanding.
Her message to those currently navigating their own tempestuous seas of adversity is one of resounding hope: “Remember, faith has the power to move mountains. My faith kept me going. If you believe in yourself, your faith becomes your strength and will help you in the darkest of times..”
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