Breast Cancer Hero S Lakshmi
When I first met Sheela Prabhu about 15 years ago, (she was 55 then), she struck me as the most energetic, social and enthusiastic person I had ever come across. Smiling continuously and offering hope to any problem, she was the indeed the epitome of optimism, resolve and good cheer. Later that evening, I came to know the story of Sheela Prabhu and what made her what she was.
A mother of 3, Sheela was detected with Breast Cancer at the young age of 37 years. A freak accident at home led to acute pain in her right breast and then a battery of medical tests followed. To make matters worse, her cancer was in the third stage and doctors offered very little hope of survival. At that time, her youngest son was merely three years old. She approached Tata Memorial Hospital in Mumbai was immediately asked to get operated upon.
At that time, Sheela and her husband were facing extremely tough times monetarily. Apart from their children, she and her husband were also supporting three of her husband’s siblings who were studying at that time. Her own sister who was a polio patient was also staying with them, albeit she was employed. Sheela was a home-maker and had to support the family income by selling eatables and other decorative articles. It was a tough life. When Tata Memorial gave her an idea of the estimated expense towards her surgery and subsequent rehabilitation, she was in for a shock. There was no way they could afford the treatment in those conditions. However there was no option.
So in her state of ill-health she ran from pillar to post meeting with a lot of officials to present her case. Ultimately she got a sanction for treatment at reduced expenses. It was a big deal for her. It meant that kids at home would not have to compromise on food and essentials. An eight- hour mastectomy and 40 radiations later, for which she often had to go to the hospital alone, Sheela started gathering her life together all over again. The fight for survival was still on. Educating six kids was expensive. There was no time for respite. She had to start work almost immediately.
Considering the stage at which her cancer was detected, the doctors had given her a just few more years to live. At first she was highly dejected, considering she had so many people to look after. But then she resolved to make the most of the years she had. She worked very hard trying to supplement the family’s income. She joined The Indian Cancer Society in Sewri, Mumbai where she was in charge of making breast prosthesis. She also offered counselling to numerous patients and gave them constant encouragement and support by citing her own example. “Never give up in your fight for survival; it’s your right to live. So fight back,” she would say. And she helped several women – rich and poor – to see hope, fight back and live with dignity. Together she and her husband managed to get his siblings and their own children educated and settled in their jobs and lives.
Today, at 70 she is still a fighter. The cancer treatment has left her with a weak immune system and she falls prey to various ailments from time to time. But she fights back always with hope in her heart and a smile on her face. She has been felicitated by a number of organizations for her work and her fighting spirit, but I have never seen her make big a deal of it. She has always enjoyed helping others in the most selfless manner.
Her survival is nothing short of a miracle. 14 years ago she had told me one day “Deepa, when I was diagnosed with cancer, my older son was 14. The doctor who treated me told me that I would live just enough to see him pass his 10th Grade,” I was moved. I said “You saw your older son pass his 10th grade and eventually settle into a successful professional life and a blissful marriage; you will live to see your grandson pass his 10th Grade.” This year when her grandson cleared his 10th Grade examinations with 88% marks, Sheela was the proudest grandmother ever!
Sheela Prabhu- A surviour; a fighter; a humanitarian; my mother-in-law- You make me proud!
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