Rising from the ashes
Devieka Bhojwani’s life changed forever when she was diagnosed with cancer 13 years ago. At first, there was obvious reaction, fear and depression. Her world turned upside down. And then, slowly but steadily she rose from the shambles and saw the light at the end of the tunnel. It dawned on her that she was really lucky. Her cancer was detected at very early stage.
Devieka Bhojwani is the founder of Women’s Cancer Initiative in Mumbai. The foundation has been designed to take care of various issues related to cancers in women such as breast, cervical and ovarian. ‘‘It’s been a wonderful journey. I’m blessed with the realisation that women have amazing strengths and can look at adversities in the face,’’ says Devieka in an interview with Future Medicine. Here, she shares her experience as a cancer patient over the last 13 years
By Sumithra Sathyan
How did you detect the disease?
All my life I have been really healthy and have had no problems at all, with the exception of my tonsils being removed. It happened when my daughter was leaving for the US to study and needed to get some medical checks completed. Sitting with her at the hospital, I saw a sign that said the mammogram department. On a whim, I decided to have my first mammogram. I was asked to wait to meet the doctor personally. She had spotted a few microscopic specks on the right breast x-ray, and wanted to repeat the x-ray with an enlargement of the area. I was really cool and wasn’t even reacting because I didn’t think there was anything to worry about.
The doctor called me in a little later and informed me that she was seeing a micro-calcification on my right breast (a cluster of tiny white spots on the x-ray). She explained if the specks are spread out, there is no cause for worry. But if the specks are seen close to each other, confined in a small area, then it is advisable to do some more investigations. She advised me to see an oncologist right away with the results.
Who was your doctor?
Dr Prafful Desai, Oncology Surgeon, Breach Candy Hospital Mumbai.
What was the treatment process?
After a thorough examination and studying my mammograms very carefully, Dr Desai explained that a micro-calcification can sometimes be the first stages of a tumour. He advised that we have it removed, and in this way we would be making sure that it would not grow and invade the surrounding areas. On removal, if it turned out to be non-malignant after testing, then we got rid of any potential danger and if it did turn out to be malignant, then we could decide on a course of action, after that. Post surgery, I was advised two months of radiation, which the doctors felt would be one way of destroying any malignant cells that were left behind.
How did you get in contact with The Tata Memorial Hospital?
The radiologist who was treating me, Dr Katie Dinshaw, was also the Director of The Tata Memorial Hospital at that time. Over our numerous sessions, we became friends. Dr Dinshaw would talk with great concern about the rise in women cancers and the pressing needs for women in India to take their health more seriously. I began to look upon her as a great inspiration. She got me thinking! I realised then that I had a role to play. I had always believed that nothing happens without a reason! Maybe, I had to go through this experience to use it in some way? I was given an opportunity to understand and reach out to other women. I decided that once I was stronger through my treatment, I would help Dr Dinshaw in her endeavour. It was with her encouragement and motivation that I decided to set up Women’s Cancer Initiative in partnership with The Tata Memorial Hospital in 2003.
Your experience as a patient at The Tata Memorial Hospital?
The Tata Memorial Hospital in Mumbai is one of the leading hospitals in the country, working on treatment, education and research in the field of cancer.
Waiting at the radiation centre for a couple of hours, five days a week for two months, was an eye-opener. Interacting with little children, adults and old people battling with cancer was an inspiration. I witnessed stories of tremendous courage which gave me so much strength. I could see how ordinary people faced cancer with an extraordinary courage.
What inspired you to survive?
Within the next three years, when my treatment was over, I went about setting up Women’s Cancer Initiative to provide help, give courage and raise funds towards the treatment of cancer in women. Their stories and fears I shared. They were all brave women with the will to survive, but no means to make it happen. Over the past 10 years, the foundation has supported the treatment of over 5,000 women.
You said cancer was a ‘blessing’ to you. In what context, cancer becomes a ‘blessing’?
I said it in a different context. The disease came as a blessing to me. I was humbled and moved by the stories of the women I met. Their resilience to overcome the disease won me. I could understand the pain of others and worked for them. How many of us get a chance to re-evaluate and take charge of their life? How many of us get a chance to reach out and help others?
Women’s Cancer Initiative
Devieka Bhojwani was instrumental in setting up Women’s Cancer Initiative in 2003 in partnership with The Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai. The foundation has undertaken numerous initiatives to create awareness and emphasize the importance of early detection of cancer. It aids R&D on the causes and cures of the disease, as well as facilitates interaction between professionals through the annual breast cancer conference. The foundation also financially supports over 300 women every year who are unable to afford their treatment but have over an 80% chance of recovery.
Famous cancer survivors
The beautiful actress who won hearts with her powerful performances in the Bollywood movies was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at the age of 42. She underwent treatment at a New York hospital. She boldly posted her hairless pictures on websites during chemotherapy. She has promised to use her celebrity status and her own struggle with cancer to inspire and spread hope among the people fighting the battle against cancer.
India’s number one cricketer faced the disease like a true fighter. With prayers from family, friends and fans, Yuvaraj successfully battled serinoma which causes tumour growth between the heart and the lungs. In the book The Test of My Life, Yuvaraj writes about his experience with cancer. After receiving Arjuna Award, Yuvaraj made a comeback to cricket by playing Twenty20 match against New Zealand.
The Hollywood actress stunned us when she announced that she had undergone a preventive double mastectomy in May 2013. She did it after a genetic testing which showed that she was at high risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer.
Telugu actress and the wife of Kamal Hassan was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 35. She successfully fought the disease. She said she had all supports from Kamal Hassan while battling cancer and it wouldn’t be possible for her without the mental support from the great actor.
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