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I am a big fan of Angelina Jolie. So what is the big deal about it? Half of the human race is possibly her fan..her looks and her acting prowess has had the world swooning. I am her fan for a different reason. I haven’t followed her movies, her drop dead gorgeous looks or her personal life but I admire her for her courage. Some years ago, this remarkable lady announced to the world that she is having both her breasts removed. She knew that she was carrying a genetic mutation which made her susceptible to breast and ovarian cancer. Her family history was strong for both breast and ovarian cancer and once she tested positive for the mutation, she knew she carried a 60-80% risk of developing either of these cancers. She was faced with the prospect of prophylactic breast and ovarian surgeries. I can only imagine the sleepless nights, the battle within-to do or not to do, several rounds of long discussions with her doctors, family and friends, the impact on her career which relied heavily on glamour, her children... and so much more. And then she made that decision to have both her breasts removed and subsequently her ovaries. She shocked the world but at the same time catapulted herself to that realm of courage and fortitude that rarely people of her standing dare to tread. I joined her fan club and her story of courage became the benchmark for women caught in a similar situation. Why I recalled this story was when I encountered my own Angelina Jolie. This young lady of 35 had a very strong family history of breast, ovarian and colon cancer on her maternal side.Her husband was gutted when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. I advised her for a genetic consult while planning for her surgery. The genetic consultant had barely advised her gene testing and was discussing the possible implications, when she said that she had made up her mind. She very calmly told the consultant that irrespective of what the test says she was going ahead with bilateral prophylactic mastectomies and bilateral ovarian surgeries in the same sitting. She came to be and conveyed the same to me. It shook me inwardly and took me a while to gain my composure as her husband stood by her, rock solid in his support of her decision. ‘COURAGE’ as a word probably does not do justice to the tenacity with which one arrives at this supremely difficult decision. I have done these surgeries before and this one was certainly not the last. Such decisions are rationalised within the multidisciplinary board, the molecular oncologists, the psychologists, the family and most importantly, the patients!! While I see more of these Angeina Jolie clones, I will always hope and pray that these amazing ladies’ decision translates into long, meaningful and inspiring lives!
WOMEN SHOULD BE ALLOWED TO MAKE THEIR CHOICES.............. I see a lot of lady patients in my practice since I deal with breast cancer and other breast related conditions all the time. What has struck me as the rule rather than the exception, is that, women don't have a complete say in matters dealing with not just their breasts but their life.....whether she should keep her breast or sacrifice it, whether she should go for chemotherapy or not, how much should she be told about the disease etc. etc.The people involved in these crucial decisions involve men ranging from a husband to the father-in-law to a second degree male relative or sometimes even an 'educated' male neighbor. Women empowerment is the only answer....her issues are her own, her body, mind and intellect are all her own.Only she must be allowed the right to decide what is good for her, with gentle gestures of support from her immediate family.
ANOTHER STEP IN AN EXCITING JOURNEY!! It has been an exciting journey as a surgeon spanning over 21 years.... from an unsure, rebellious senior resident to a muted mature version... Director, Surgical Oncology- Breast Cancer.The journey has been anything but easy but I look back with lot of pride. I chose to take up surgery for my post graduation, a decision certainly emerging from the heart. To step into a male dominated world could only be a prompt from the heart. The brain would have screamed, “Harakiri”! I soon found that out as my immediate senior with my being in residency for a week declared with impunity, ”You will never make a surgeon”!I was discouraged but was not one to give up. I was labelled ‘The Rebel’! I carry that tag still. I am never one to back away from voicing my opinion, which may be uncomfortable but many a times the truth. I will agree that one art that I am yet to master from my male counterparts is their innate ability to be at their diplomatic best in the worst of situations. I have been promoted to Director, Surgical Oncology! I must have done something right to get here but I have been fortunate in several ways as well. The good fortune of having an amazing mentor in Dr Harit Chaturvedi and his confidence in my abilities, a supportive family and the ‘bug’ in my head which keeps pushing me to do more, have got me here.For me, this is an opportunity to lead, to mentor and to leave a legacy.It is also time now to shift gears from not just treatment of breast cancer but to prevention and early detection. I have taken baby steps in that direction but there are miles and miles to go before I sleep.... and the rebel in me is still alive and kicking. All that I can say is that the landing punches are just that much softer!
How tough is the job of an oncologist? I am often asked this question and I have probably never admitted the whole truth. An oncologist is a strange amalgam of extremes of emotions....it is a never ending balancing act.While he or she has to create that environment of positivity to enable the patient to make the right choices for his/her treatment, without being overwhelmed by the side effects of treatment, he or she also has to ride the see saw of ups and downs that are likely to happen during the course of treatment with the patient. Being cheerful in the face of adversity yet remaining detached from the outcome of treatment is learnt painstakingly over years. The troubles don't end here. The oncologist is subject to scrutiny all the time....an innocuous expression could be read by the attendant or patient as despair or hopelessness, a phone call for another seriously ill patient could be extrapolated to one's own self by the patient across the table, a slight drop in the wattage of your smile could be interpreted as doomsday......and so on.It is a tough life but it becomes worth the effort when patients defy statistics, come back to meet you, year after year, treat you like a part of their extended family contributing to crucial personal decisions..... and threaten to outlive you! For more details, please contact Dr Geeta Kadayaprath, Head Breast Surgical Oncology, Max Cancer Centre, Patparganj, Delhi, India
Breast cancer is not a battle that is fought alone, if the goal is to win. Victory comes to those who are supported by family, friends, doctors.....and a positive attitude.
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