journey of a cancer survivor

Defeating cancer together: Stories of survival and support

Meet patient navigators Meera Raj and Mili Baruah, who have become inspirations for countless others through their own stories of surviving cancer.

According to WHO, “Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for nearly 10 million deaths in 2020.” Cancer is a dreaded illness no one is ever truly prepared to face. However, when it does happen, it leaves a gaping hole only time can fill. Anyone who is a cancer survivor, who has fought this invisible enemy knows how physically, emotionally, and mentally trying this fight can be.

The journey of a cancer survivor, from diagnosis to treatment to recovery, is a long haul, but it needn’t be lonely. The unconditional support of friends and family makes all the difference in putting up this brave fight. But the real source of motivation and strength is in the knowledge that this wouldn’t be the end of it all; that there are many others, who have emerged victorious despite the odds, not only to find hope for themselves but also to spread the glimmer to others like them. Not everyone who has defeated cancer comes back to defeat it again, this time for someone else. But there are those who make it their life’s purpose, bigger than themselves.

On National Cancer Survivor’s Day, Soulveda spoke to such courageous warriors about their journeys as cancer patients and their conviction as ‘patient navigators’ to help others going through the same ordeal. Meet patient navigators Meera Raj and Mili Baruah, who have made their own stories of survival the stories of inspiration for countless others.

National Cancer Survivor’s Day is an initiative founded in 1988 by the US-based National Cancer Survivors Day Foundation.

  • Meera Raj

    Cancer Survivor, Patient Navigator

    I was 59 when it all started. I was alone when I got the report and just sat down on the stairs looking at the word “malignancy”. With fear and shock, I asked myself “how could I get it?”

    I wanted to find the answer to “why me”. So I started reading philosophy, on religion, stories of other survivors, psychology but with no answer in sight. I can sum up all that I read about, heard about defeating cancer in the phrase “moving from denial to acceptance”. This, combined with a positive attitude, helped me trust the doctors that led to my speedy recovery. It is about realising that you need to put your best foot forward to heal and recover.

    After defeating cancer, my new chapter is one of the best chapters of my life. All through my chemotherapy, I was pondering what I would do after my recovery. I reflected in detail what was the one aspect of my recovery that helped me the most, other than doctors, family, and friends. I realised it was my first conversation with the survivor that had helped me the most.

    When a person who had undergone innumerable chemotherapies for three different cancers, tells you about it with a smile and encouragement, they light up your heart with hope, inspiration, strength, and confidence. She was beautiful, cheerful, and very positive. So the idea that I could do the same for other women post-diagnosis made me think about this aspect. I talked in detail to my doctor about what I wanted to do. He encouraged me and mentored me, and also allowed me to be present in many of his consultations with patients.

    I was sure I could be a ray of hope in the darkest hours for many women. To be able to put a smile on someone’s face by encouraging and motivating them is indeed a rare privilege and an honour.

    My message to those who are fighting this faceless enemy:

    Never feel guilty for getting the disease or allow others to do that to you. Accept the disease, however long it might take. Accepting it certainly helps in healing and recovering.
  • Mili Baruah

    Cancer Survivor, Mind and Body Consultant

    I was diagnosed with cancer in 2014. The day I found out about the diagnosis, I realised that I have two choices—to cry and worry about pain and death, or to face it, accept it, and move on. I chose the second one.

    Cancer strikes everywhere—your mind, body, and your family. I feel this extreme and tough situation in life teaches us to be stronger, if we take it positively. For eight months, I withstood chemotherapy, surgeries, and other treatments. During my treatment, I started practicing yoga and once my doctor declared that I was cancer-free, I continued practicing yoga a lot more and finally did a course to get an International Yoga Instructor Certificate from SVYASA. My patient navigator, Meera Raj, used to come and meet me, which was a great feeling.

    When I was diagnosed, I realised many people have a wrong conception about cancer. Many believe it is a contagious disease. Others think that the only option is death. People who really don’t know much about cancer put restrictions on cancer patients from eating sweet to practicing yoga. These restrictions can make a patient more depressed. I thought such myths must be broken.

    Ever since my doctor offered me a job, I have been running the Mind-Body Department in the wellness centre at Cytecare Cancer Hospital. I teach cancer patients how to manage stress, how to manage pain; teach them restorative and laughter yoga, and help them take care of their mind and body.

    My message to those who are fighting this faceless enemy:

    Stay positive and stay away from negative thoughts and people. Practice any form of physical activity—laughter yoga, pranayama, or mediation after consultation with a doctor. Eat healthy. Stay connected with support groups. Listen to your doctor and last but most importantly, stay happy!

    This is a phase and it will pass. There is a door with sunshine waiting for us.

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