Surviving Breast Cancer: A journey of hope and courage

Ahimsa Zhimo
Ahimsa Zhimo

Vishü Rita Krocha
Kohima | October 1

“I was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2015. I had been noticing that lump for quite some time. I knew there was something wrong; there was no pain but my instinct told me and I thought I’ll die just like that without telling anyone because I also knew the consequences, the stigma, the indifference and I also didn’t want to be a burden.”

These were some of the first thoughts that came to Ahimsa Zhimo’s mind as she goes on to recall that her “initial reaction was that of shock and denial” while  so many things went through her mind “like a storm.”

October being a month devoted to Breast Cancer Awareness, The Morung Express spoke with Zhimo, who survived a conservatory breast surgery, underwent 6 cycles of chemotherapy and 19 sessions of radiation.

The journey 
 “We really have to muster up the courage because people think it’s a curse. It is a tough and tumultuous journey,” she relates. However, Zhimo has come a long way, accepting her sickness and viewing life with positivity. She believes she is cancer free for about 5 years now.

She was treated at Tata Medical Center Kolkata, where her family also rented an apartment and lived for 8 months. 

“I met a very good doctor, who was the HoD of Breast Surgery Department. She was so good to me, and really took time to talk to me,” she recounts.

“I knew my hair would start falling after chemotherapy so I bought a wig prior to my chemotherapy but even then, I was not prepared to see clumps of my beautiful silky hair falling so I asked my son to shave my head,” she further recalls.

Understandably painful for his son, she simultaneously watched her daughter trying to adjust to her new look. Going through different emotions, they tried to make the best of the situation.

 “I knew I had to maintain a positive attitude so I started paying attention to my grooming and created a new look by wearing big ear rings and bold colored lipstick,” she adds.

However, at times, she confesses, “I had self-pity, and asked, why me? At times, I was unhappy with God also. I started comparing my life with many other people.”

Clearly, it was not just fighting cancer, but battling several negative thoughts.

Amidst the negativity, she started noting all the positive things in a notebook as well all the negative things on the other side of the page. This little exercise, she shares, helped in assessing her own thoughts, and further enabled her to start focusing on brighter things.

Reminding herself everyday that ‘it will come to pass,’ she feels that her positive attitude and sense of humour helped her throughout the period. 

Nevertheless, she recollects the struggles as well. “Despite all my resolutions to stay strong and fight back, during my second chemotherapy, I almost  gave up and if it were not for my family, my brothers  and sister-in -law, I would have not have remained strong.”

‘Knowing that I had a strong family supporting me kept me going through the treatment. Above all, God has been so good to me,’ she professes.

Beyond Cancer
In the words of Zhimo, “No amount of preparation can fully prepare you for the treatment, and unless you experience it yourself, no one can truly understand.” 

While her experience has taught her that a cancer patient needs holistic healing, she firmly believes that “a simple comforting word from a person who has journeyed down the same road can have immense impact on a person who is undergoing cancer treatment.”

This motivated Zhimo to start visiting cancer patients in 2016 and it eventually led to the formation of a cancer support group called ‘Beyond Cancer' in 2017. 

“In spite of getting all the information from Google, there is nothing like hearing from a survivor,” she points out.

But even in boldly disclosing her cancer status, she admits, “I still have apprehensions sometimes, but I think we have to really liberate ourselves.”

Sharing the experiences, she sometimes goes through the pain again or gets hurt to see the scar of the surgery, “but when I go back and think of cancer patients, I feel that I am helping someone.”

Beyond Cancer currently has a group of about 100 people inclusive of caregivers, which, she emphasizes plays a very important role. 

Members gather once a month to talk and share about their wellbeing. “We meet and invite professionals from different departments such as from the oncology department, dieticians or physiologists because what chemo does to our body is like undergoing a shipwreck. Not everyone has side effects, but most patients do,” she discloses.

Over the years, Zhimo has been extensively involved both in church ministry and social work. She is also currently taking up an online foundation course on Palliative Care apart from another called, “Hope Road Recovery” with faith that subsequently it would help those who are in their palliative stage. “Once COVID-19 gets over, I would also love to start a small retreat centre for cancer patients,” she reveals.

Ahimsa Zhimo’s few positive coping mechanisms during treatment:
•    Regular exercise throughout treatment.
•    Meal chart and maintaining a regular schedule.
•    Ignoring people's negative comments and resolving never to allow people to control her emotions.
•    Maintaining a diary and penning down - both positive thoughts and negative thoughts. The exercise was cathartic.
•    Always listening to her body and noting down unusual feeling or discomfiture.  She could tell those to her doctor. 
•    Reciting Bible scriptures.