By NOUMAN KHALIL
When Meera Kumar was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007, she knew there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Brampton’s 50-year-old Kumar is one of those courageous women who have not only battled and defeated cancer, but are today living with pride and spreading awareness among fellow community members.
“When the doctor told me I have cancer, I couldn’t believe my ears. I didn’t want to die, but I had a hope and confidence that I can live,” Kumar told Focus in an exclusive interview. “In fact that ‘hope’ and ‘will power’ made me succeed.”
The Greater Toronto Areas have been painted pink as Breast Cancer Awareness Month is being observed across Canada this October to encourage women about the importance of breast cancer screening and to be proactive about it.
This year, according to the Breast Cancer Society of Canada, an estimated 22,700 Canadian women will be diagnosed with breast cancer and 5,100 will die from it.
The numbers further show that some 200 men are also likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer while 55 will die from it.
“I understand it is deadly, the word ‘cancer’ itself is very scary, but that doesn’t mean we cannot defeat it. We can win this battle by supporting and making each other emotionally strong and spreading awareness about different factors,” said Kumar.
“My family always told me ‘we love you and we need you’. I also got tremendous support from friends, community members and support groups… finally I beat cancer because of all this support.
“I’m very happy to come back to normal life… no more treatments, just maintaining a healthy lifestyle and going for ultrasound and mammogram tests every six months.”
Mom becomes idol
The remarkable combat not only gave Kumar her life back, but also raised her image in the eyes of her loved ones.
“It was before my eyes when she courageously fought and then beat cancer… it was truly amazing. Before she was my mom, she was my friend. But now she has become my idol,” said Pallavi, Meera’s 28-year-old daughter.
“I could not believe how she handled the situation and how she managed to tackle. She taught us the lesson of ‘life goes on and you have to look forward’,” said Pallavi.
One in nine women is expected to develop breast cancer during her lifetime (age 90) and nine in 29 will die from it, shows the Breast Cancer Society of Canada (BCSC) statistics.
When asked, Marsha Davidson, executive director of BCSC, said there are different types of breast cancers and each type of treatment varies from person-to-person.
However, she stressed the need and importance for early screening to reduce the risk factors.
“All women, especially over the age of 40, must take active role in personal screening such as regular mammograms,” said Davidson.
“Women also need to exercise regularly and keep their diet healthy and balanced.”
About the risks of cancer, Davidson said: “The biggest risk is age, but the use of alcohol and tobacco can increase the risks of breast cancer.
“Even some ingredients in cosmetics can also cause cancer,” she warned.
She further warned breast cancer survivors to keep healthy lifestyle and have regular checkups in order to avoid the disease from making a comeback.
Breast cancer screening can detect cancer as early as possible, even before its symptoms appear. Research clearly shows the benefits of screening for breast cancer, which is the most common cancer in Canadian women affecting one in nine in their lifetime.
Dr Craig McFadyen, Cancer Care Ontario Regional Vice President for the Peel Regional Cancer Program, said regular screening of women, aged 50 to 69, can reduce deaths from breast cancer by 21 per cent.
“The reduction in breast cancer death rates for Ontario women is a direct result of better treatments and increased screening with mammography,” said McFadyen.
The Ontario Breast Screening Program (OBSP) provides free-of-charge high-quality mammography services and meets Canadian standards for the early detection of small invasive cancers.
Some OBSP High Risk Screening Centres, including Credit Valley Hospital and Trillium Health Centre in the Peel Region, now facilitate genetic assessment for women who may be at high risk for breast cancer and also offer screening mammography and breast MRI for women whose high-risk status has been confirmed.
Meera Kumar, who was born and raised in New Delhi, India, and migrated to Canada from Mauritius in 2007, was also interviewed by Focus in 2008 when she was under treatment at the Credit Valley Cancer Centre in Mississauga.
At that time Kumar was well supported by the professional staff of Wellspring Chinguacousy, a not-for-profit centre in the Peel Region that helps cancer patients recover from pain and stress.
Every year the centre provides free services to hundreds of registered cancer patients from Brampton, Caledon, Mississauga and Woodbridge.
Today Kumar was again all praise for Wellspring Chinguacousy, Credit Valley Hospital, doctors, nurses, technicians, the facilities as well as the Canadian technology.
“When I was diagnosed with cancer, my husband told me ‘not to worry about, we have the best doctors in the world, we have state-of-the-art facilities, we are in the most modern era… trust me, we are in good hands’,” said Kumar.
“Now I can proudly say he (her husband) was very right,” said Kumar. “Everyone at the Credit Valley was nice and professional. Even nurses are well-educated and cooperative, they guide patients step-by-step about everything.”
However, critics believe treatment procedures for breast cancers still need to improve.
For Kumar, it was a time when she was on a wheelchair, but today she regularly goes out for a walk with her husband Vinod Kumar, plays badminton with him, watches movies with her family and goes out for shopping.
Kumar, a former teacher, is focused on maintaining health. She has also joined seniors club to keep her busy.
Her preferred foods are broccoli, cauliflower, grapefruit, apples, berries and other violet and green colour fruits and vegetables.
Healthy food choices
It has been that proven that regular exercise and healthy diet can help prevent breast cancer and support the patient’s body during treatment.
Healthy food may not cure cancer but help the body fight against further damage. Healthy food choices can be broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprout, cabbage, collard greens, radish, garlic, tomatoes and bokchoy.
Other food that can also help fight cancer can be grapefruit, apples, berries, papayas, oranges, pomegranates, avocados, strawberries, pumpkin, brown rice, nuts and beans, flaxseeds, sweet potatoes and mushrooms.
Important cancer help organizations
There are several different breast cancer organizations working for the cause of supporting breast cancer patients.
Some of them are:
• Canadian Cancer Society is a charity organization that fights more than 200 different types of cancers on numerous fronts. Its website offers a wide-range of reliable information for cancer patients as well as brochures and booklets that are easy-to-read and can be downloaded. For further information, visit www.cancer.ca or call 1 888 939-3333.
• Willow Breast Cancer Support Canada is a national not-for-profit organization that provides free support and information to anyone affected by breast cancer. Willow connects people with a trained breast cancer survivor who understands the impact of a diagnosis and offers information, emotional support and encouragement.
It can be reached at www.willow.org or 1.888.778.3100.
• The Breast Cancer Society of Canada is a registered, national, not-for-profit, charitable organization dedicated to funding Canadian breast cancer research into the detection, prevention, treatment and to ultimately find a cure for the disease that women fear most. For further information visit www.bcsc.ca or call 1-800-567-8767.
• Wellspring Chinguacousy provides free of charge emotional, psychological and informational support to individuals and families living with cancer in Brampton, Caledon, Mississauga and surrounding areas. Visit www.wellspringching.ca, or call 1-877-907-6480 or 905-792-6480.
• The Carlo Fidani Peel Regional Cancer Centre is a department of Credit Valley Hospital Cancer Centre and Trillium Health Centre in Mississauga that has state-of-the-art technology and provides highest quality treatment under care of specialized professionals. Visit www.cvh.on.ca/cancer.
• Proactive Healthcare offers all sorts of healthy and customized food programs designed to achieve long-term health goals. Visit www.proactive-healthcare.com.
By NOUMAN KHALIL