Shefalee Vasudev's road to overcoming the diagnosis of a severe breast condition


Shefalee Vasudev’s road to overcoming the diagnosis of a severe breast condition

Lessons in the importance of regular breast check-ups

By Mamta Mody  October 21st, 2019

“Going under”, the term for the momentary, warm, sharp rush in the body and brain before you slip into anaesthesia was, for me, a heady flashback to verdant Kashmir. Like knocking back an ice green shot.”

“It was in Kashmir, just a few days back before that, that I had first noticed a tiny blood stain on one side of my T-shirt. It was 2012. I was looking out at the snow peaked mountains holding tall pine trees in their fond gaze, when I felt something wet and sticky on my breast. It was a single drop of thick blood on the nipple.”

“Three days later in Delhi, after taking a stain on a glass slide for a routine biopsy, my gynaecologist sent me to a lady oncologist at Apollo Hospital. “Malignancy must be ruled out at all costs,” she announced matter of factly.”

“Dr Ramesh Sarin, the warm, matronly, senior oncologist, in printed chiffon sari, blouse with strings and trims, diamond bangles and a piercing gaze asked me dozens of breast questions. After a thorough exam, she ordered another lab biopsy for the blood, a breast MRI and a mammogram to be done immediately that very day. “Clinical experience suggests duct papilloma, but we don’t take chances in the cancer clinic,” she said smiling. I smiled widely right back.”

“I had no reason not to. I had gone to the hospital, taking an hour or two off from office, for the consultation and so far I wasn’t stressed. My simple mantra, don’t worry till you have to, came handy. I read the book I had in my bag, phoned my husband, ate bread pakora at the Haldiram’s canteen in the hospital, and looked around the cancer clinic. Tired, anxious looks, women in head scarves, couples living out their sickness and health vows and some distressed families bound by loyalty sat around.”

“Soon, the tests would confirm duct papilloma, an infection in one or more milk ducts of the breast which are made of fibrous tissue, gland and blood vessels. There are no established causes for this infection. Dr Sarin said she would only be at ease if I was operated on as soon as possible and the infected duct sent for biopsy.”

“After the surgery, when I woke up in the hospital room, I was ravenously hungry, and cheerful. Dr Sarin trooped in with a bunch of young white coats, patted my bandage and sweetly said no to my second round of bread pakora craving. The operation had gone well, I would be discharged the next day and the biopsy report would come three days later.”

“I felt unruffled and nicely drowsy. I was back at work in two days, bumpy bandage under my kurta and all. There was no dizziness, little or no pain.”

“The only slightly painful part was the removal of stitches though I had bravely declined local anaesthesia. The mint green Chanderi sari I had worn for the follow-up didn’t reduce my discomfort though Dr Sarin was impressed! The biopsy had indeed confirmed a benign duct infection and the doctor’s only instructions were regular DIY breast exams, annual mammogram and a breast MRI once in three years. I have never missed a check-up.”

“Friends ask if I was scared and if it was painful. Frankly, it wasn’t. It came and went, without drilling a hole in my head. I think pragmatically and am blessed with optimism that I have done nothing to work towards. My doctors were forthright instead of being fussy or vague.”

“The big, sobering lesson though was the difficulty later to find a reliable health insurance policy. No company would sign me up. After five years of aggressive struggle, I finally got one last year. That’s another story. The back stroke after the breast stroke.”

Shefalee Vasudev is the editor of The Voice of Fashion