Beyond the big 'C'
A cancer survivor turns a devastating diagnosis into an opportunity to throw a lifeline to other patients. Through the support group she leads, Aparna Ambike is an awareness crusader and inspires other cancer patients to live life to the fullest
Aparna Ambike was your typical homemaker. Her only son Anshuman was studying pharmacy, her husband had a good job and she was content to look after her family and take coaching classes. Ambike was coasting along till the tempest broke in 1994, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. "For several months before the diagnosis, I was aware of a lump in my left breast. However, since it was only occasionally painful, I neglected it and got checked by a doctor only when the pain grew persistent."
When her tests came back positive, Ambike was devastated. "Back then, 'cancer' was just another name for death. I panicked and didn't know what to expect. I was a ball of different emotions; anger, guilt and finally withdrawal." Thankfully, her brother-in-law was a well known onco-surgeon and his reassuring words helped her stay afloat.
"He advised an immediate mastectomy and within a week, I underwent surgery," Ambike recalls. This was followed by subsequent sessions of chemotherapy and radiation. But what really buoyed her spirits was the emotional support she received from her family and many friends. Most of all, Ambike was determined to have her dream come true: to see her son become a successful doctor. "The mother in me wanted to survive. So, regardless of the physical pain and emotional agony, I forged ahead with a sense of responsibility towards my son and my students," says our braveheart.
Nine years after she was diagnosed, Ambike experienced a turning point in her life. A breast cancer patient of her doctor urged her to attend a meeting of a support group for breast cancer patients. It was called Aastha and it helped Ambike make her peace with her predicament.
So she stuck with the group and, five years later, when the group was formally registered in 2008, Ambike was appointed its secretary. "Our group conducts home visits, where we meet patients who are going through chemotherapy or radiation. We talk to them and clear any doubts they may have. At times, we visit patients whose cancer has returned. We also organise music therapy, read to them and bring them their favourite dishes to cheer them up. The idea is to boost their morale. When we see the joy on their faces, the feeling is indescribable," smiles the gritty but cheerful 60 year-old.