What I Know About... Surviving Cancer

Monica Chindalia, 33, from Dubai, tells us how she fought it
Monday , 24 October 2011
What I Know About... Surviving Cancer

“Being told that you have cancer is something you’re not likely to forget soon. But of all the things that I remember of that day, from my husband holding my hand to the clinical terms the doctor used, I remember the feeling of relief the most. I smiled as the doctor told me what needed to be done as all I could think was, ‘finally, I know what’s wrong with me’.

I was told I had Paget’s Disease, a chronic disorder that can result in enlarged and misshapen bones, and that cancer is the underlying cause of this 99 percent of the time. The doctor said I’d have to undergo more mammograms, sonographs and blood tests, but I knew that all of them would confirm what I’d suspected for some time. I had stage one aggressive breast cancer and I was 14 weeks pregnant.

I first felt a small lump in my right breast back in June 2008. I booked an appointment with my gynaecologist straightaway but when I met her, she said it was just a cyst. The following September I noticed that my right nipple had developed a layer of crust. Again, I booked an appointment with my GP but was told it was nothing.

It came to a head early last year. I was getting ready for bed and when I lifted my shirt I noticed that my right nipple was bleeding. It was then that I knew. The next day, I searched for a specialist and discovered Dr Houriya Kazim, who founded Dubai’s Well Woman clinic, and secured an appointment with her. After a biopsy she told me that I had stage one breast cancer and would need a mastectomy. As I sat in that room I felt like all the points in my life had been leading up to this moment. The thought of having my right breast removed was terrifying, but it was also a confirmation; this is what needs to be done to beat it, so I’ll do it. It was as simple as that.

What wasn’t so simple was the aftermath. I had a full mastectomy with lymph nodes removal and I also needed a course of chemotherapy. The only problem was that by this point I was 17 weeks pregnant and my doctors wanted me to go to London for the initial course as I was the first woman in the UAE to be pregnant and requiring chemo at the same time. So my husband managed to secure some work in London and in May 2010, we left Dubai for the UK, with our daughter.

Being from the States, my trip to London was the first time I’d visited the city, so I made a point of making the move all about exploring it. We rented an apartment near Westminster that was way over our budget, ate out every night and visited the theatre whenever we could. I made sure that my four rounds of chemo were made to fit in with my schedule, not the other way around.

While there I had a break from the course to give birth to a beautiful baby boy. It was a planned Caesarean and I’d spent the whole night beforehand thinking about how perfect my baby would be, and he was. When we returned to Dubai a year ago I still had 12 more rounds of chemo to do. But I knew I could do them.

When my hair started falling out, I was scared, but by this time I’d undergone a mastectomy, so I knew I could cope. My friend took me to Harvey Nichols where we tried all different kinds of wigs and I briefly considered going blonde, but I eventually went for something that looked most like the old me.

Although I tried to be as positive as possible, especially when my daughter was nearby, I’d still have the odd breakdown. I vividly remember walking past a mirror one day and bursting into tears – I was bald and post-baby fat. I worried I didn’t look anything like the woman my husband had fallen in love with, but after my initial outburst, I set about changing things. I hired a personal trainer and eventually my hair started to grow back – now people say I look like Halle Berry!

I finished my treatment two months ago and now I have to take the hormonal drug Tamoxifen for five years, as well as attend regular check-ups. These I’ll tackle like everything else: head on. I know the cancer could come back, but what is the use of living your life full of what-ifs? I got through my mastectomy, chemo and ultimately, have survived breast cancer by being positive and surrounding myself with a fantastic support network. This is all you need to get by. I remember coming home one night after a hospital visit to find my mother-in-law crying and I said to her that if she continued I’d send her home. Crying isn’t allowed in my house. Just laughter and positivity.”

For help and advice on breast cancer visit wellwomanclinic.ae, (04) 332 7117