Be a Survivor: Living Well Beyond Breast Cancer

Payal Babhale

Be a Survivor: Living Well Beyond Breast Cancer

Ismat Gabula’s life took a major turn when she discovered that she has cancer. She is a retired radiologist and sonologist who now focuses on promoting awareness about Breast Cancer through a program she began in 2019 called “BSE for Life.” 

“One day I found a marble-sized hard lump in the right breast. This was cancer stage 2B with multiple lymph nodes. It took time to accept that this was indeed cancer, though deep down I was certain. When it was finally confirmed after the biopsy I felt that this was God’s way of telling me to step up and do something about it. So I called up all the women I knew, relatives and friends and told them to do their monthly checkups regularly.”

Breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer and the leading cause of cancer-related death among women worldwide. Ismat advises that every woman learn how to do a self examination to check for breast cancer. This should be done monthly by all women who are over 20. That way if there are any problems a woman can pick up on them early and get them treated. 

Treatments are available for all different types of breast cancer and their side effects


Ismat says, “If you have to have cancer, then breast cancer is a good one to have as it is a visible cancer, so it can be picked up early and can be tackled.”

“Because of the visibility [of cancer treatments], such as hair loss or mastectomies, women can be upset or worried. Now, however, there are many options available so this need not be an issue. There are cold/ice treatments for the hair while taking chemotherapy, which helps prevent hair loss. Wigs are available for all hair types. Reconstruction surgery is available and takes away the stigma of a mastectomy. For mental trauma and pain, there are so many forums and groups available, online as well as in the hospital setting. These help women tackle these issues well. These have increased in recent years and now it is easy to get help. Information is available online and ‘google’ is a great help.”

Ismat also says that it is important to let the final decision be with your doctor as he or she is the one who is treating your case and each case is individual. 

“Of course, you should be comfortable with your doctor so that your queries can be answered to your satisfaction. Don’t try to do everything by yourself. Take help graciously if offered and rest and heal. The treatment plan usually lasts for 8-9 months and after that, there is a maintenance period of 5-10 years. The first 8-9 months are the hardest. Each patient responds differently to medicines. So don’t get disillusioned by the negative experiences of some people. Others may have had a relatively peaceful experience.”

Hard times but we cannot let cancer win

Treating cancer is a process that has many steps. It is important to stay positive throughout them and not let cancer win. 

“Chemotherapy was the toughest part when I was going through the treatment. It was very agonizing. I developed a rare side effect due to one of the medications which made life very difficult. The residual effects did not leave my body and I still have painful peripheral neuropathy. Of course, this can be partially attributed to the medicine I am taking as maintenance therapy. Some days are just better than others”.

How can friends and family help?

Oftentimes friends and family are unsure how to best help someone that is undergoing cancer treatments. Ismat has some key advice for friends and family to best support their loved one. 

  1. Listen to what the patient wants. Listen carefully. 
  2. Ask relevant questions. 
  3. Do small things to make her comfortable. 
  4. Involve her by asking for her opinion or help in daily family and home activities. It will make her feel needed and loved. 
  5. If she is having a particularly bad day, it is not a good idea to ask her for help in household matters. But if she seems bored and at a loose end, certainly draw her out by asking for her help. 
  6. Try to find time to spend with her individually. 
  7. Help her find some hobby to pass her time. 
  8. If she has questions about her health, do answer them honestly
  9. Try to keep her away from people who are not good for her mental peace
  10. See that she is adequately nourished.

Be optimistic and resilient 

Despite the difficult times there are always beautiful things to be thankful for even while treating cancer. 

“Count your blessings- every morning and every night. That is so important. Even in the worst situation, you can find a silver lining. That is the principle on which I have based my life. I tend not to get disheartened and therefore my mood is usually upbeat”.

Cancer is just a chapter in our lives and not the whole story

No matter your cancer or the stage of the cancer it is never your whole story. You are still you. 

“Stay positive, pray, do things that you enjoy and are able and comfortable to do. Take up some hobbies and pursue them whenever you can. This will help you go through this period with minimal stress and heal well and quickly.” 

There will always be naysayers but during this particularly difficult time make sure that you are surrounding yourself with positivity. 

“Avoid negative people, people who come to watch you and judge you and comment on your appearance and health. They are not coming to help; all they do is make you focus on unimportant things. You need to surround yourself with people who truly care and are positive. Don’t feel at all that you have to do anything for anyone. You are the one battling this disease, so love yourself first, second, and last. People who truly care will understand and stand by you. The rest will fall away, and you will know the chaff from the grain. For the rest of your life!”

So if you or someone you know has a breast cancer diagnosis make sure they are getting the help they need. Reach out to local support centers, virtual communities or forums, and make sure positivity surrounds this person so they can stay as healthy as possible with everything going on. 

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Be a Survivor: Living Well Beyond Breast Cancer
Be a Survivor: Living Well Beyond Breast Cancer
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