She felt that one of her breasts was unusually engorged while breastfeeding her newborn baby boy. This was in April 2020.
Due to the circuit breaker and Covid-19 pandemic, it wasn’t till months later, in August, did Snehal Ponde, 39, schedule an appointment with a doctor to get a screening done.
But by then, the homemaker and former human resources personnel who had recently moved to Singapore from Mumbai, India, was told that she had Metastatic Breast Cancer (Stage IV).
Going through treatment
Snehal had to stop breastfeeding and is now receiving treatment. “It’s been a roller-coaster journey with the treatment. I was on chemotherapy, after which I moved to hormonal therapy but will have to restart chemotherapy soon.”
“In terms of side effects during chemotherapy, I was dealing with fatigue, mouth ulcers, and hair loss. I tried the ‘cooling cap’ and was able to retain more than 50 per cent of my hair. Hormonal therapy offers a better quality of life but is slower to act than chemo.”
Mental health matters
“Nothing prepares you for the three words ‘you have cancer’. My first thought was that it’s not possible. No one in my family or friend circle had cancer. It seemed unreal, as if the doctor was talking about someone else. I was in complete denial for quite a while,” shares Snehal.
“Everybody tells you to stay positive, but how do you do that when you have just been diagnosed with the emperor of maladies? It was and still is scary and my anxiety levels were at an all-time high.”
Apart from the physical ramifications, she also had to take care of her emotional well-being. “Everybody tells you to stay positive, but how do you do that when you have just been diagnosed with the emperor of maladies? It was and still is scary and my anxiety levels were at an all-time high. Additionally, I was a new mother (my child was five months old when I was diagnosed). I wanted to see my child grow up and be there for all his firsts,” she tells us.
It has now been seven months since the initial diagnosis, and while it’s been challenging and overwhelming for Snehal and her family, she says that it has also made her more resilient.
“The feeling of powerlessness over the unknown is receding, as I keep reading and updating myself on research, nutrition, and healthy living blogs. I do have my dark moments when my anxiety hits the roof but I guess it’s part of this journey.”
“It also helps to know that I am not alone. Being part of BCF’s support group has helped me tremendously in knowing there are others like me out there who have or are weathering the storm.”
A new perspective
Snehal and her husband started reading up a lot on cancer and healthy living and started leaning towards a plant-based diet, and limiting processed food. Snehal also ramped up her physical activity.
“Even during chemotherapy, I would do yoga and pranayama (breathing exercises) which kept me fairly active. Now, post-chemo, I exercise for at least 45 minutes daily.”
But it’s the emotional aspect that has proven the most challenging. With all the changes happening to her body, it also caused a flood of emotions, from fear and anger to resentment. “That’s when I learnt self-love, to love my body and not take it for granted. Cancer has also helped me appreciate what all I have in my life,” say Snehal, whose days are now often spent with her one-year-old, reading, exercising, catching up with a friend, or writing on her blog.
A strong support group
While initially shocked and devastated, her family and close-knit circle of friends became her biggest cheerleaders, and frequently check in with her or send her helpful article links.
“One of my closest friends is my counsellor, who doesn’t let me mope around. She plans fun things, and helps celebrate small wins,” she shares. “She has helped me deal with my emotional triggers and overcome so many mental blocks I have had such as moving away from a victim’s mindset.”
“My family has given me unwavering support through it all. They are my rock. My in-laws pretty much have put their life on hold to take care of my child while my husband and I focus on the treatment. My husband has been my anchor, my everything through this.”
Snehal also reached out to the Breast Cancer Foundation (BCF), and is now part of their support group. “It has benefitted me a lot with my queries and concerns I have had through this period. The befriender service is extremely helpful in the initial phases while you are in complete chaos.”
Words of advice
To other women who have also been diagnosed with breast cancer, Snehal has this to share, “While hearing the three words “you have cancer” can be extremely overwhelming and painful, just know that you are not alone.”
“There are so many of us, who are or have gone through something similar. BCF is a sisterhood that has helped me with the smallest query. Reach out to them, as their support groups and Befriender service can help ease the anxiety. They also have an amazing wig loan service. These are all focused on helping us feel better.”
And it’s okay to not be okay. “You don’t have to put up a front and act strong, which can be quite draining. Prioritise your emotional well-being, find your support system, talk to someone you trust, and practice mindfulness. Be kind to your body; it’s going through a war. All this has really helped me.”
Of course, it can take a toll on your finances, too. Snehal adds, “Get a hang of your financials. While insurance did cover our treatment expenses, there were other expenses that cropped up which were not covered (I had to get a lot of my dental work done prior to starting a particular medicine). In terms of treatment, always remain flexible since the plan can change.”
“Finally, have a mantra for yourself, the road ahead will have ups and downs but always, always believe that in the end, it’s going to be all right. My mantra right now is ‘whatever it takes!’”
This article was first published in Women’s Weekly.