A Beautiful Pain: A Patient’s Journey Through Chemotherapy

 “Even though chemotherapy is full of suffering, with its headaches, its nausea, its inability to keep food down, there is one thing that keeps me going; being able to go back to my daughter, and to see my grandson. They are everything in my life. They are the reason that I was able to persevere through the suffering of the treatment.” These are the words of Mrs. Razia Nasreen Sultana, a 62 years old breast-cancer patient from Bangladesh who braved through her condition with tears in her eyes and smiles on her face so that she could see her beloved family’s happy faces again.

Mrs. Razia Nasreen Sultana, a 62 years old breast-cancer patient from Bangladesh, began her entanglement with cancer three years ago. It was during a trip to visit her daughter in Canada that she became unwell. The doctor could find nothing wrong with her and only prescribed a pneumonia vaccine as she was asthmatic.

“I came back from Canada during the final stages of the general election in Bangladesh, so the work was very hard. I became ill once again. I had no inkling that the earlier symptoms were only a prelude to this serious condition.” she says, describing how she eventually got around to getting a more thorough check-up.

“I went for so many different health checks, barrage after barrage of tests and examinations. Until finally I saw a cardiologist who insisted that I get a mammogram. By that point I was beginning to feel quite dismayed at the repeated testing. Then I was referred to a breast surgeon, who said that I may have breast cancer, but even he still wasn’t sure.”

Mrs. Razia then consulted the health support service of World Bank office in Bangladesh, where she has worked for over 25 years. Her employee health insurance allows access to healthcare in Singapore or Bangkok. Upon receiving her medical records and test results, the health support service wasted no time in recommending that she seek treatment immediately in Bangkok, namely at Bumrungrad International Hospital. They have previously referred many other colleagues to seek cancer treatment there. Another plus is that the cost is more reasonable than Singapore.

On February the 14th Mrs. Razia found herself at the Horizon Regional Cancer Center at Bumrungrad International Hospital. Sitting before her was Dr. Piyawan Kensakoo, a breast surgical oncologist. “The doctor told me that she was 98% certain that I had breast cancer. I was utterly shocked. So, I really have cancer then?” shadows of anxiety flitting across her face as she recalled the event. She became even more alarmed when it was finally confirmed that the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes, which does not bode well for patients.
 

Treatment is on the Horizon


Dr. Piyanoot Jitthiang, a medical oncologist stepped in to handle Mrs. Razia’s chemotherapy treatment.

“I went through six rounds of chemotherapy, which I grit my teeth through the whole time. By the time of my fourth round of chemotherapy I was feeling so weak, so demoralized. Amidst all of that suffering, I received such good care from my doctor and her entire team that I still had something to feel good about despite the pain and discomfort. They never disappointed me.”

“I made regular trips between the hospital in Bangkok and my home in Dhaka. I did my best to carry on as normal, especially at work. Teamwork is very important in my line of work and face to face communication is imperative. Some problems have to be met by the whole team.” Mrs. Razia draws comparisons between her own work environment and the similar teamwork she witnessed among the multidisciplinary team treating her at the hospital.
 

Pain ending in smiles


In July, Mrs. Razia went through her last chemotherapy session before surgery. While still on the way from the airport to the hotel, she told her husband to take her straight to the emergency room of the hospital.  “My breathing was short, I felt very afraid. As soon as I got to the hospital blood samples were taken immediately. Dr. Piyanoot was called urgently.” As the doctor rushed to the hospital, she told the emergency room staff that they were not to leave Mrs. Razia alone under any circumstances.
 
“I don’t remember anything that happened after that. The next thing I recall is seeing the doctor tell my husband that I was in a critical condition. She explained to me that this test and that test had to be done. I could understand everything, but I was too weak to even respond.”

It was another six weeks until I had recovered enough of my strength to undergo surgery. Everything went well. Everyone was very professional. I waited once again for the results of the tissue sample tests. When the results came, I had some difficulty believing what I heard. Could this ordeal really be over? Dr. Piyanoot held my hands as she told me that I was free from cancer, that the medical and surgical oncology team have worked wonders and finally gotten rid of the cancer in my body. I felt so uplifted as I had ever felt since I became unwell,” says Mrs. Razia as she recounts the sheer, blissful relief of the event that happened only a day before this interview.
 

Chemotherapy: the life-giving poison


 “When I first knew that I had cancer I researched information about chemotherapy online, and I knew then that it was inescapable. It is a poison, no doubt. Even though chemotherapy is full of suffering, with its headaches, its nausea, its inability to keep food down, there is one thing that keeps me going; being able to go back to my daughter, and to see my grandson. They are everything in my life. They are the reason that I was able to persevere through the suffering of the treatment,” says Mrs. Razia, fighting back the tears.

In the following day after giving this interview, her daughter will come to visit her in Bangkok. That is the reason for her smiling through her tears. Speaking in encouragement for other cancer patients, “if anyone should have to go through the illness that I went through, I want them to think about their family. All of your loved ones want you to pull through so that you can go back to spending your lives together. I feel very lucky that my family, my children and grandchild are always giving me their love and encouragement, urging me to keep fighting through it all, to be strong. The most important thing I have to say is that if you know you have cancer, you must seek treatment immediately. Do not delay, because that delay could tear you away from those you love forever.

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