Chhavi Mittal says that her diagnosis was a matter of chance. She recalls that her life changed in a matter of a day. “One night, I went to sleep peacefully. The next morning, I was diagnosed with cancer. Life changed as I knew it,” the actor says.
Chhavi is a film and television actor known for shows like Ssshhh, Phir Koi Hai and Twinkle Beauty Parlour, and runs a digital production company named Shitty Ideas Trending with her husband Mohit Hussein. She made her debut in a show on Zee TV. She is originally from Gurugram, Haryana, and has a television and film career spanning 15 years.
Presently, the actor is on a journey to create awareness about breast cancer by sharing her own story.
In April, she shared her cancer diagnosis with her followers on Instagram and YouTube, and has been open in discussing details surrounding surgery and radiation as well.
“I went to the doctor for a chest injury when I was working out. When we did an MRI scan, the doctor noticed a lump on the other side. He then asked me to get a sonography and a biopsy, which confirmed that it was cancer,” Chhavi recalls in conversation with The Better India.
She says that when the reports confirmed her diagnosis, she was calm, and didn’t cry or panic.
“I always stress over the smallest things, but when it comes to big problems, I’m calm. That’s how I felt post-diagnosis. Of course, it took some time for the news to sink in. I allowed myself a few days to accept it. I did a lot of groundwork in that time, spoke to different doctors, breast cancer survivors…My biggest takeaway from those conversations was that, if detected early, it is curable,” adds Chhavi.
Doctors also stress on the importance of early detection and self-examination.
“We see a huge gap between the women in rural areas, where awareness and accessibility is low, versus women in cities like Chennai, Mumbai, Bengaluru, where awareness is high,” Dr Rajasundaram, director of Oncology at Gleneagles Global Health City, tells The Better India.
“The latter come for regular checkups and have a good prognosis due to early detection. Women from the former category often come late, which causes problems in treatment and survival. Governments must work towards accessible care and health education in rural areas.”
Breast cancer is the most prevalent cancer in the world, says WHO. In India, one woman is diagnosed with breast cancer every four minutes, according to Breast Cancer India.
Coping with cancer
“When the doctor said there was a lump, I thought it’s nothing. I went in for the biopsy with a lot of reluctance. Before the reports came, I was scared. I didn’t want cancer. I think this is pretty much everyone’s first reaction,” she says.
She adds that her family has been her biggest support.
“My husband has been my rock. He has handled everything in the hospital, at work, and at home. My children have also been understanding. My daughter is nine years old, and when I told her, she cried. But I explained to her that just like any other disease, I will fight this too. My son is three and too young to comprehend. He just knows that I am ‘hurt’ and that I can’t pick him up. He has suddenly grown up, and has behaved very well when I was in the hospital. He’s been strong and caring,” says Chhavi.
She says cancer is something you don’t have a choice with.
“When you have a baby inside you, it needs to come out. There is no use panicking at the delivery table. I treated this surgery just like any other one, and decided to go for it. I didn’t have a choice of whether I was going to get cancer or not — once you get it, you have to deal with it.”
Speaking about the physical toll post-surgery and radiation, she says although it’s been more than two months since the surgery, she is still recovering.
“My radiation was over 15 days ago. I still have pain, swollen breasts, and the colour has changed. It’s a slow process. I have been mentally and physically strong, but there are days when I wonder when this is all going to end. I have tried to do things that help in recovery, I started physiotherapy early, try to stay active, and eat healthy. There are good and bad days,” she says.
Speaking about her bad days on an Instagram post, Chhavi said, “It’s been two months since my breast cancer surgery, and just like a mother, pregnant in the last few days, I’m getting impatient to feel okay, to feel normal, to be able to do the things I did before it all began, to be able to smile from within… tired of going back to bad days after seeing a few good ones… sick of not understanding what my own body can or cannot do.. exhausted from fighting… but I know there are some battles you can only fight alone.”
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She says a lot has changed physically — her breast is swollen, heavy, and painful, and she can’t sleep on her right side, can’t lift things with her right hand, and feels exhausted. But the biggest change, she adds, has been in her thinking.
She says she’s learnt to prioritise herself.
“I was somebody who was always running. I was busy working or focusing on my kids. I had no time for myself. I used to stress about things and put pressure on myself. I wanted everything to be perfect. I failed to prioritise myself, which I think so many women in India also do. My biggest realisation has been not to take life for granted,” adds Chhavi.
‘Women above 40 must get a mammogram every year’
Dr Rajasundaram says that there are three types of examination — self-examination, clinical examination, and screening tests, like mammograms.
“Examine yourself every month. Use your fingers to check every quadrant in each breast, check for lumps, spots or any changes. Clinical examination is done by trained nurses. Self-examination helps women detect cancer early,” says Dr Rajasundaram.
He adds that one in 21 women in India have breast cancer. Awareness and education has increased survival rates, and yearly checkups post 40 help in early detection.
“Women over 40 must get a mammogram done once every year. Think of it as a gift you’re giving yourself, and do it without fail. Survival rate is 100% if detected in early stages,” he adds.
Chhavi also stresses the importance of checking yourself and going for regular check-ups.
“Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in India. It is curable if detected early. Every woman must do self-examination, mammograms, and go to the doctor. Nowadays, women are getting cancer earlier, even in their 30s. I know of someone who had inverted nipples and discharges, and still didn’t get it checked. This is ignorance. Even I ignored my lump, and it was dumb of me. Please go get yourself checked regularly,” she says.
Edited by Divya Sethu