I have a bone to pick with you. You came into my life after I had just finished 10 years of training to become a breast surgeon. I was waiting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but instead felt like I got hit by a train. To be honest, I never liked you in the first place. That was the reason I became a breast surgeon: to help others who are affected by this disease.
Up until my diagnosis of cancer, I felt like I had control of my life—I did whatever I wanted to do, and I became a surgeon in spite of other challenges against me. Because of you, I cried every day for the first few months. I felt like an uninvited stranger took over my life, and I lost control. My life is changed forever. Every night when I went to bed, I would pray that this was a nightmare. You have not only affected my life, but also countless other women who were minding their own business. You have attacked the nicest people I know. You take away people’s joy and happiness. At first I was very angry, sad, and depressed, but then one day I realized that you are the best thing that has happened to me.
Because of you, I have grown, and my character has developed. I have learned about ‘being in the present’ and cherishing time with my family and friends. I have learned about the world I live in, about relationships, about loyalty, about trust, about faith, and about never ending hope. Because of you, I pray more intently, and I hug my kids more tightly. Because of you, I am stronger. I persevered, and because of you, I have found my purpose in life.
I am so fortunate to have patients who inspire me every day with their great attitude, joy, and hope. They make me want to be a better person everyday.
We have come long ways in the treatment of breast cancer. Even though it is the most common type of cancer in women, the survival rates are better than ever before—up from 75% (1975) to 91% (2010) for all stages of breast cancer. Because of my own experience with cancer, my medical practice has changed drastically. The biggest change I see in myself is that I am very empathetic with my patients when they complain of pain: I feel their pain in my chest. I call them back with the biopsy results the minute I find out (regardless of weeknights or weekends), as I know how it feels to wait. I listen deeply to their complaints and make them a priority on a daily basis. Moreover, when I am taking care of them, I feel that I am serving God.
Cancer, you have no place in our lives. There will be a day when we will have vaccines and other preventative measures. You are not going to affect future generations. You will be a thing of the past.
Dr. Deepa Halaharvi, Breast Cancer Survivor and Breast Cancer Surgeon
Learn more about the “Dear Cancer” Campaign