-Aparna Munukutla Gunupudi
5 years ago, I was driving home from work and heard on the radio that October is breast cancer awareness month. I thought, that is nice, they have a dedicated month for this cause and wondered what I can do to recognize that. I certainly can tell my two daughters to conduct regular self-breast exams. But in my mind, I wanted to do more. A few days passed by. Still thinking about how I can reach larger group. Then it dawned on me that October is the month we celebrate “Dussera” a festival of Goddess Lalita/Sakthi/Kaali. Usually families gather and invite others to showcase a display of doll arrangements, a very prominent festival for women and girls. Just the thought of the festival and Goddess Lalita showed me the path for my quest. I have decided to use the festival to inform and encourage every guest to do regular self-exams. After all, it is a festival of female strength/power and I felt it is the most appropriate occasion to insist on self-breast exams and raise breast cancer awareness. With the support of Subbarao and both my daughters, we drew pink bows on all the goody bags and I opened the topic with the guests as I was handing the bags to them. Some people appreciated and others felt awkward. There is nothing awkward about talk of the breasts. It is part of your body, just as important as any other part of your body. I kept going as the message must be conveyed. We also gathered some funds and donated to cancer society with my employer matching my contribution.
Since then, I have been following the same routine for each Dussera festival. Needless to say, I practiced what I preach. Being in accounting & finance profession, I am bound by monthly, quarterly and yearly goals. Following that routine, I made this as my personal quarterly goal and checked regularly. Now 5 years later, who would have thought, I would become a walking example of a candidate of breast cancer, detected early. In one of my routine exams, I felt a lump in my right breast, which prompted me to visit my doctor during COVID-19 pandemic. It certainly is not easy to visit a doctor during this time. After several tests and screenings, sure enough it is shocking news – the lump is malignant, and it is stage 1 breast cancer. I couldn’t comprehend! I thought I took care of myself with yoga, regular exercises like walking, hiking, biking swimming and by taking only fresh and nutritional diet. In fact, I have a policy of earning my daily meal with an hour of exercise. But in case of cancer, there is no cause and effect, it just affects us all! However, my exercise routine did help me to keep my overall health in good condition which is a blessing to treat the cancer.
The statistics say 1 in 8 women and 1 in 1000 men are diagnosed with breast cancer. If you turn the radio on, you will hear the breast cancer foundation announcing that every 2 minutes a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer. Cancer sure is a detrimental decease. However, of all the cancers, breast cancer is treatable & curable, thanks to the blessings of scientific advancements. But the key is early detection. Unfortunately, the symptoms are not visible. In fact, I did not experience any symptoms at all. Early detection is only possible if each one of us conducted regular self breast exams. Don’t wait until the doctor tells you or mammogram reveals it. Regular self breast exams are a must, put them on your calendar/computer/phone.
I religiously chant Lalita Sahasra Naamam every morning. Needless to say, it is Goddess Lalita’s intention for me to propagate the awareness and chose me to lead by example. I strongly urge and encourage each one of you to conduct regular self breast exams if you are a woman and if you are a man, encourage every woman you love (mother, sister, wife, daughter and niece) to conduct self exams and do it for yourself too. There is no harm in it. To learn on how to conduct a self exam, visit https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/breast-exam/about/pac-20393237 and follow the guidelines.
In terms of my condition, the lump has been removed and I think I will be ok after the treatment in the next 3 to 6 months. I still don’t have any symptoms and am leading my life normally – work, cooking cleaning, gardening and so forth. It certainly is not an ideal to be a cancer patient, but I thank my stars for making me a success story of early detection. I thank you all for your support, but first thing I would ask you to do is to tell this story to everybody you know and continue to raise the awareness. Please pass this message across to your family and friends. Sharing this is what gives me the strength to fight and recover from this cancer. As our basketball team Warriors’ coach Mr. Steve Kerr boasts about “strength in numbers”, the awareness can get stronger momentum only with more people talking about it. All of us can do it together.
Aparna Munukutla Gunupudi is a poet, lyricist and short story writer. She has written dance ballets such as Queen of Jhansi, Prasanna Ashtalakshmi, Usha Kalyanam, Sneham, Jamsetji Tata and they were performed in Kuchipudi and Bharatanatyam styles. She wrote songs for “Prema Tarangini” an audio cassette released by noted music director Sri Manohar Murthy. She considers her parents, who provided and encouraged her in book reading, are her “gurus” and Sri Jandhyala Payayya Sastri as her writing mentor.