How My Sister’s Breast Cancer Saved Me

As part of our International Women’s Day celebrations, we present eight inspiring stories that will touch your heart and kindle your soul. This is story number one.

Srishti Sharma is an investment banker based in New York who has been using OurHealthMate since 2017. In 2007, her sister was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. Here, she tells us how her family has come out closer, wiser and stronger, and how cancer has changed her outlook for the better.

I was a sophomore at college when my world turned upside down. I was living in Los Angeles at the time, 8,000 miles away from my family back in Mumbai. And yet, the day I received the phone call, I couldn’t have felt farther away. As I heard my mom’s voice quivering through the phone line, I felt the balmy California breeze fold me into an airless fortress of misfortune. My older sister, all of 24, had been diagnosed with breast cancer.

With a stage 3 diagnosis, Sapna’s prognosis was bleak. Even with chemotherapy, radiation and a double mastectomy, the doctors told us she had a 20% chance of making it through. For us, that number was a guiding light through the unimaginable darkness. We rallied for the best doctors, the best hospitals and the best therapies. And soon, our quest to save Sapna morphed into a scrupulous operation of military precision. My dorm room became a four-square research cell and our Mumbai home, an execution cohort. Together, we pursued treatment cycles, pulled double hospital shifts and lifted each other up. It took us two years and nine months to fight Sapna’s battle, and finally on June 6th, 2009 my darling sister was declared to be in remission. Despite the odds, she had been victimized by cancer, and despite the odds, she’d taken it by the horns and beaten it.

Before Sapna’s diagnosis, we weren’t the kind of family that would go for annual check-ups and routine doctors’ appointments. It just wasn’t in our ethos, that kind of thing. It took a brush with cancer to warm us up to the idea of preventive health assessments. Sapna’s doctor had warned us that cancer could be an outcome of a genetic mutation, and my mother and I were sensitized to the fact that we could be next. Two months after Sapna went into remission, we scheduled a risk assessment for ourselves. And while we were both declared cancer-free, I was diagnosed with a BRCA1 gene mutation, pointing me to more than an 80% risk of developing breast cancer in my lifetime.

I am 30 years old today and live and work in New York. Even now, I still have a lifetime of choices to make. I dream of having children and building a family one day, but until then, I’m not planning on taking any life-changing decisions. I have had a risk evaluation performed annually since 2009, and as long as I’m in the know of my progress, I’m happy taking life one day at a time. As for my mom, I schedule her check-ups in Mumbai remotely and receive a detailed digital dashboard of her medical graph.

Sapna has remained cancer-free since 2009 and got married in 2013 to a wonderful, kind man. Despite her cancer treatment having affected her fertility, Sapna’s hopes of a family weren’t quelled by a mile. She and her husband adopted a beautiful baby girl in 2015 and a precious little boy in 2017. Today, they live just outside New Jersey and we spend many weekends together.

Sapna’s breast cancer experience has shone a light on the need for proactive medical check-ups in my family. If it hadn’t been for her, I may never have discovered my propensity for cancer and God forbid, may have left it too late. My sister’s cancer saved me, and I can’t help but wonder how differently my life would have turned out otherwise. As harrowing as it was, I’m grateful for what life has thrown at my family. If nothing else, we’ve grown closer, wiser and stronger, and I am grateful for every moment and every miracle that has come our way.

Why wait until it’s too late? Be proactive and manage preventive health assessments for yourself and family members overseas. With preemptive measures, you can keep breast cancer at bay. Change your fate with OurhealthMate.

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