Chhavi Mittal: Most cancers are curable but the healing journey depends on you

Chhavi Mittal doesn’t believe in taking a weekend off like any other content creator who has a deadline to meet Monday morning. She’s busy instructing her staff and okaying papers in between our call. The actor-producer has been sharing her story of breast cancer battle through a series Instagram posts. This is to help others and raise awareness.

Behind her inspiring story of recovery is a story about swerving emotions, pain, and hope. There is also teeth-gnashing grit. But above everything else is the story of an ordinary person who’s determined to reclaim normalcy with some extraordinary willpower. “It’s not cancer, it’s the battle in the mind.”

Chhavi Mittal underwent recent breast cancer surgery. (Photo: Chhavi/Instagram)

‘I’m a textbook case of fitness, I still got it’

My diagnosis was accidental. I had pulled a muscle from my chest while working at the gym. They recommended an MRI scan to determine the nature of muscle stress. That’s when they found a tumour in my other breast and insisted I did a biopsy just to be sure. I was confused because I didn’t feel any pain or other symptoms, and I never felt more fit. I dismissed the possibility of an outside cause because I had done everything right up to that point. I had slept well, fed my children, done my routine tests on time, ate right, and never missed a workout. I didn’t have any family history of cancer.

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Uncannily, I had hosted a webinar about breast cancer a fortnight prior to diagnosis. I was well-aware of self-check protocols and changes in the breast. I didn’t have anything. I still did the biopsy out of professional respect for my doctor.

Chhavi MittalChhavi documents her journey to cancer recovery on social media. (Source: Chhavi Mittal/Instagram)

So, when the result came, it was unbelievable but I didn’t panic. That’s the way I am built, I am calm during a crisis but will fret over the smallest aberration in my children’s lives. I took a while to process the information and then shared it with my husband, mother and a few other close friends. It was Stage II, Grade 1 and I was advised to have immediate surgery. On the basis of the histopathology report, the surgeon said we could avoid chemotherapy and since my cancer was slow-progressing, gave me a fortnight’s time to prepare. I fulfilled all my obligations in that time, and I did my research on my condition so I could be informed and prepared. I believed I could get my cancer out of my body by the time I was on to the operating table. I remembered how the surgeon in the OT asked me to relax, to which I responded, “I am going to be sleeping, are you relaxed enough?” And everybody laughed.

Extreme pain

My surgery took seven hours due to multiple procedures. They also had to remove a small part of my muscle. The next step was to recommend 20 sessions of radiotherapy for six weeks. I experienced severe pain in my breast and armpit immediately after surgery. Because of this, my movement was limited and I had trouble lying down or pulling myself up to the bathroom. I also had a fluid drainage bag attached and I could have left the hospital with that device, but I chose to stay seven consecutive days in the hospital. I was hooked up to IV lines. The repeated clotting, flushing, and finding new veins for a new canal became so painful that I would scream. My limbs were tender and swollen, which caused additional pain.

Chhavi MittalChhaviMittal shared a new update about her cancer treatment (Photo by Instagram/ Chhavi mittal)

After any surgery, physiotherapy is essential. In my case, I did it daily for the first few days to ensure that my nerves and muscles could heal faster and regain their flexibility and movement. As a part of my muscle was taken out, this part had to be “told” to react to neural responses. I found this painful because I had to do it twice, thrice or three times a day. However, I was determined to get my body moving like it did before.

Radiotherapy: The long road

This therapy uses high-energy beams, such as protons or X-rays, to kill any remaining cancerous cells in the area. Radiotherapy is different for everyone. I was asked to be aware of any swelling or colour changes. I felt tired but there was no burning sensation. I felt tenderness and swelling. The radiologist advised me to wear fitted clothes as my body felt too turgid. There was no way to know what to wear. My regular undergarments wouldn’t fit so I had no choice but to buy big, bulky tops that would cover me adequately and protect me from allied damage. On the days that I went to shoot, the swelling would worsen and I would apply ice packs in evening and then take a Dolo.

The worst part about radiation was holding your breath to make sure that your heart and lungs didn’t get affected. The device would turn off the moment I let go of my breath. I learned to hold my breath for between 10 to 32 seconds. Radiation typically lasts between 10 and 15 minutes, but shorter breath-holds can mean that the process is longer. I devised my own counting process, chanting “Mississippi 1, Mississippi 2…” I always took somebody along during these sessions to maintain my rhythm. And during one of these sessions, my actor-friend Pooja Gor suggested changing my chant to “Mrs Hippy 1.” We had a good laugh and the session became bearable.

Chhavi MittalChhavi shared her story about her recovery. (Source: Chhavi Mitchell/Instagram

During these sessions, I noticed that some survivors had tattooed themselves to indicate the location where the body would be aligned. I just wanted to let everyone know that they should consult their doctor. I used marker stickers to show my position. You don’t need a tattoo.

How I found my familiar moorings

I was discharged and returned to work within seven days. It was easy to get back to my normal routine, even though I didn’t know it. I learned to refocus by immersing myself in work. But I learned to listen to my body and take breaks in between. I never pushed myself. It is better to get back to the way you know it. This will help with healing and your willpower.

I owe a lot of my recovery process to my mother, who came from Delhi to manage the home front and my husband, Mohit, who didn’t leave my side for a minute during the seven days I was in the hospital. He even set up my computer so I could escape all the pain. My nine-year-old daughter, though my son is young, handled the situation well. I told her that they would trim me smaller than the time they cut me when they removed my stomach. And that I would be home in no time. That’s why I stayed back in hospital for seven days because I didn’t want my children to see me in pain or hear me shrieking. There were my friends who visited me at the hospital with homemade food.

chhavi mittal Chhavi Mittal pens note for husband Mohit Hussein. (Photo: Chhavi Mittal/Instagram)

My activities now

I am not yet 100 percent fit. But I have returned to exercise. I can lift 5 kg now, and I used to be a heavy lifter. I take regular walks in the mornings and evenings. For a while, I couldn’t do pull-ups, push-ups, or callisthenics. After my son’s birth, it took me three long years to master pull ups. It will take time. It will definitely take more than six months to get there. But I am good.

How I prepared my mind

I was certain I would beat cancer. I am grateful to the universe and count my blessings for getting a reason to have myself examined so that I could keep my breasts healthy and not need chemotherapy. Most cancers can be treated, but it is up to you to heal the wound. I always give positive vibes to my body, saying three months later, I wouldn’t even remember the pain I underwent. I can remember my doctors asking me how much pain I could take. I said I could dance with pain if it was my choice.

Chhavi Mittal, Chhavi Mittal news, Chhavi Mittal breast cancer treatment, Chhavi Mittal radiation therapy, indian express news Chhavi Mittal apprised her fans and followers that she can “finally move [her] arm enough to swim”. (Photo: Instagram/@chhavihussein)People find my jokes about Cancer offensive and think I am suppressing my trauma. However, they are my coping mechanism.

Although I have supported my fellow survivors, I have never been to a support group. I believe in myself and strive to be better. Just because somebody had to have a mastectomy or had a long, complicated haul because of a different stage or grade of cancer doesn’t mean I will repeat their condition. You are responsible for your own cancer journey. Don’t let others’ experiences influence you. Instead focus on getting better with complete faith, follow your doctor’s advice and keep yourself informed about your condition. Remember that faith is like water. It can only reach your stomach. Last but not least, I urge all women to get checked and scanned regularly. Don’t wait until a hidden tumour surprises you. Remember, I didn’t have obvious symptoms.

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