“Sometimes, when you least expect it, life throws you a curveball“, tweeted Sonali Bendre.
The 47-year-old Bollywood actress was diagnosed with metastatic cancer in 2018.
After diagnosis, she had flown to New York for treatment, where she was told she had “about 30 per cent chance of it all going away.”
Being a public figure, she actively engaged with the people regarding her experience and struggles. Sonali received her public engagement with a lot of support and love.
But more importantly, her sharing of experiences generated a wide range of awareness regarding the disease.
But as it is said, little knowledge is a dangerous thing. So, it is crucial to know more about metastatic cancer.
What is Metastatic Cancer?
Metastasis is how cancer cells spread to different parts of the body.
Also seen as high-grade cancer, metastatic cancer spreads from the original primary cancer to distant body parts.
Its transfer happens through lymph or blood. The cancer cells break off from primary cancer and travel via lymph nodes.
While many such cells die, some settle in a new organ and form tumors.
Due to the transformation that these cells go through, they are different from primary cancer cells. This sometimes makes the treatment process difficult.
Metastatic cancer is also called Stage IV cancer for several types of cancer.
A thorough investigation related to Tumour, Node and Metastasis (TNM) needs to be conducted for its diagnosis. It carries the same name as primary or initial cancer.
To put it simply, if breast cancer spreads to the lungs, it would still be referred to as metastatic breast cancer.
What are the key symptoms?
Metastatic cancers are somewhat concerning because they don’t always have any key symptoms.
Sonali Bendre, in her tweet, mentioned how she did not have any severe symptoms. She said, “A niggling pain led to some tests, which led to this unexpected diagnosis.”
If a person has metastatic cancer, their symptoms also vary according to the size and location of the tumour.
They often only come to the surface when cancer has reached a more advanced stage.
However, some primary common symptoms that we can look out for include:
- Pain and fractures (when cancer affects the bones)
- Headaches to seizures (when cancer affects the brain)
- Shortness of breath (when it involves the lung)
- Jaundice (when cancer affects the liver)
What does the treatment involve?
Sonali Bendre wrote, “There is no better way to tackle this than take swift and immediate action. And so, as advised by my doctors, I am currently undergoing a course of treatment in New York.“
The treatment of metastatic cancer depends on various factors, such as original cancer and its location, how far it has spread, the age and health of the patient, and their personal choice of the method of treatment.
The main goal of the treatment is to limit the spread of cancer cells. Patients with well-controlled metastatic cancer can live for years.
This type of treatment is called palliative care. Some major types of treatment include systemic and local therapy. Systemic therapy treatment affects your entire body and includes chemotherapy and other medications.
Local therapy treats only the area that has been affected by cancer cells. It includes surgery, radiation therapy, and so on.
How to minimize the risk of metastatic cancer
The research on how to prevent cancer is still evolving. But, specific lifestyle changes are said to lessen the risk of cancer. These changes include:
- No Tobacco: Tobacco is associated with various forms of cancer. Even second-hand exposure to smoke increases the risk of lung cancer.
- Eating Healthy: While this is a fundamental tip, it is just as important. This tip includes eating plenty of fruits, vegetables and greens, maintaining a healthy weight, drinking in moderation, limiting processed meats etc.
- Regular Health Check-ups: Metastatic cancer does not have any significantly visible symptoms at its initial stage. Regular health check-ups increase the chances of finding the cancer cells at their initial stage.
What are the emotional issues that patients face, and how to cope?
Each patient’s reaction to their diagnosis differs. Their feelings can range from upset and anxious to angry and lonely.
The journey from the diagnosis is full of challenges, but several coping mechanisms could help.
The patients must find their way of coping.
The first thing to do is share your thoughts. Bottling up emotions is more likely to cause a spiral of negative thoughts which can’t find an escape. By sharing her experience online, Sonali Bendre formed a platform where she could voice her emotions and receive love and support.
In an interview in Jaipur, she spoke, “I didn’t want any rumours about my absence from the show. So, I posted about my condition.
I didn’t want any sympathy. It was only to wipe out the possibilities of any false news. And it is not something to hide about. I was surprised by the response that I got to my post.
People from every stratum of society started writing to me about their battle with the disease. It did two things for me — firstly, I realized that I am not alone and this is rampant, and secondly, it gave me a lot of strength and hope.”
To manage their emotions, patients are often advised to talk out whatever they feel. A healthy support system can do wonders.
Sharing your thoughts and feelings not only give a sense of control over things but also makes you understand them better by putting things into a clearer perspective.
Understandably, it is a little difficult to talk to one’s friends and family because even they are struggling to accept the reality of the disease.
In such cases, the patient should be vocal about their struggle to talk as well. One can also seek help from their healthcare team of professionals.
A counsellor, clinical psychologist, psychiatrist, and community psychiatric nurse are specialists trained to guide their patients in managing their emotions.
Talking to professionals at individual levels or in group sessions would ensure that the patient won’t isolate themselves.
What are practical issues faced in life after cancer?
The diagnosis of cancer often plagues the patient’s mind with uncertainty. After treatment, as the hospital visits gradually decrease, one would indeed feel more positive.
But after the diagnosis and treatment, you will have to re-discover yourself and adjust back to your old life with a new perspective. Things can get overwhelming for your mind, even after successful treatment. So, these are things that you can keep in mind:
- Give it time: You must spend your energy wisely and don’t rush yourself. Prioritize your goals and start small. That way, completing the task would give you a sense of accomplishment and control.
- Talk it out: You should share your feelings with your friends and family, whether positive or negative. It would make them understand how they can help you.
- Eat healthily: Remember that you are still recovering, and a little caution in your eating habits can help you a lot.
- Finding a Balance: You should not over-exert yourself, but lazing around can make you feel tired and depressed. You should see a balance between working and resting. Try getting back into your routine at a slow and steady pace. Gradually, cancer will become less and less of a concern for you.
It is a given that cancer changes your outlook on life. It makes you rethink your previous lifestyle and can make you realize new hobbies.
It makes you reflect on what you’ve been through and wonders how you want to proceed further. Sonali Bendre talks about similar emotions when she writes about her life after cancer in an open letter to herself, “Change is the only constant in life and how life has changed.
It’s been almost two years. These two years have taught me many lessons. It gave me the patience to look for the light at the end of the tunnel.”