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Living with cancer: She did not just survive cancer, she continued to live

  • Published at 10:56 pm December 24th, 2019

After fighting a pitched battle against a rare form of cancer, clear cell carcinoma, she came out on top with renewed zest for life

Shammy Wadud was a 33-year-old NGO worker who loved to travel when she was diagnosed with cancer.

After fighting a pitched battle against a rare form of cancer – clear cell carcinoma – she came out on top with renewed zest for life. 

It all began in 2017, when her mother was hospitalized. Out of convenience and self-concern, Shammy got herself a check-up at the same time. Doctors found aggressive ovarian cysts in her body.

Before the shock could register, her belly alarmingly swelled, and doctors urged immediate treatment.

She said: “They found a large cystic mass in my right ovary. Doctors said it was urgent that it be removed. But the cost of surgery in Dhaka was much higher, and I was told it could be cheaper in India.”

Yet that surgery seemed like a distant dream as the passports of her family members were expired. And more importantly, she was almost out of money. 

It was almost serendipitous that she had previously worked with Apollo Hospitals Chennai, whose doctors asked her to fly alone and promised to take care of her, stressing that any delay could be potentially fatal.

She flew to India and was admitted to Apollo Hospitals India, where she found the treatment was 1/4 of what it would have cost in Bangladesh. And even But things took a dark turn after the surgery, the doctors said ovarian cancer had already started spreading through her body.

Shammy braced.

After the first chemotherapy, she shorn her long, silken tresses and donated them.

Showing a photograph of her when she was bald, she flashed a brilliant smile and said: “They were going to fall out anyway. I found no problem in being without hair. Do bald people not exist?”

Her family and her friends visited her, providing a constant supply of compassion and support throughout her treatment. Not one of them brought up cancer.

“They were empathetic, not sympathetic, and that made all the difference” Shammy said.

Her doctor, Dr Raja T, never addressed Shammy by her name. Always as “young lady.”

Every morning he would visit her and found new ways to inspire her.

Being confined to a bed could hardly make Shammy idle. She began making mats out of used T-shirts. Dr Raja noticed his patient sew away patiently. He bought a mat from her for Rs10,000.

When she was being anesthetized, the doctor asked her where she would like to go after her treatment. Shammy thought of the verdant hills of Nuwara Eliya in Sri Lanka. The doctors told her to think of Nuwara Eliya. 

Shammy said: "I honestly cannot remember anything after that. There was a lot of pain after my sensations returned. But I was surprised how that was possible since I genuinely believed I was in Nuwara Eliya.

“From all the encouragement they have given me, I never thought I would die. The mental strength alone is at least 50% responsible for me being here today, alive and well.”

While she was in the hospital, Shammy would ask the medical staff where they had travelled and where they would like to go. Her traveller’s heart longed to roam. And after the second chemo, she toured all of Kerala. From the enchanting ruins of Hampi and over the viridian hills of Kodaikanal, through the bustling expressways in Bangalore to the rapids of Rishikesh, she roamed with her mother, a childhood dream come true.

“I was in Parvati Valley in India’s Himachal Pradesh when I realized how grateful I was to the universe for my life. It is simply amazing. The hills vibrate a strange energy that inspires me. At that moment, I knew that once I overcame cancer, I had to tell my story.

A different perspective

As the president of the United Nations Youth and Students Association of Bangladesh, she says she is in the second innings of her life, yearning to travel and see the world.

“In Bangladesh, we see things differently. In every cancer hospital in our country, you will see notices that say ‘cancer is a deadly disease’ but you see ‘cancer is a disease, early detection can save lives’ abroad,” she said.

“And it was the food that gave me cancer. In Bangladesh, we add so many chemicals and preservatives in our food. My cancer was caused by these chemicals. If I had to sue anyone responsible, it would have to be the entire food industry.

“Our way of thinking needs to change. We need to stop assuming certain death and think positively. Hair loss and skin damage as part of chemo is acceptable. There are many people in the world who are bald, and people who have skin afflictions,” Shammy said.

Shammy remains under treatment. Though her cancer remains at bay, its aggressive nature dictates it could strike anytime, anywhere.

“If it comes back, I will not survive without timely treatment.”

Once she returned from death’s door, Shammy posted several notes and photos her bedside. Each an artefact, reminding her of the best people and moments in her life.

“These notes, these photos, they sooth me. Every morning when I wake up, the sight of them fills me up with positivity. I am thankful for every day in my life,” she said with a twinkle in her eyes.