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In August 2022, Alka Kalra, a 59-year-old psychologist in Dubai, boarded a flight to London to support her pregnant daughter who was expecting to deliver in a few days. It was to be a joyous time for a mother and a grandmother-to-be, but bad news struck the family.
One day, Kalra was showering when she noticed blood spotting on the floor. She shared the experience with her daughter, who insisted that Kalra consult a doctor. The doctor advised her to undergo detailed investigations to diagnose the real cause.
“My daughter persisted that I consult a doctor," she recalled. "I had no other issues. There was no sign of illness. I was active and full of energy. As a practising psychologist, I have been busy for three decades. In London, I had nothing much to do and spent most of the time with my daughter."
“Finally, I consulted a gynaecologist, giving in to my daughter’s argument. I flew back to Dubai and consulted a doctor. She asked me to perform an ultrasound scan. She examined my body and took a sample for biopsy as part of the routine check-up. I was told that the biopsy report would take a few days. So, I travelled back to London,” she added.
Back in London, Kalra welcomed her grandchild and enjoyed her time with the newborn. “It was one of those days when my gynaecologist gave me a call and broke the news. Yes, my biopsy report had come positive. I could not believe my ears. I was dumbstruck for a moment. All the negative thoughts pervaded my body and mind. The news spoiled the happiness that my grandchild had brought to the family. I could not sleep that night,” said Kalra.
“But then it hit me that I cannot spend the rest of my life crying or in depression. That would not change the fact that I have cancer. I thought about all the work I had to do in my life. A practising psychologist, I have been actively engaged in community work, helping parents of differently-abled children and a wide range of activities. I told myself that I had a lot to do in this life. My family was supportive. I flew back to Dubai for treatment,” she added.
Back in Dubai, Alka met her doctor and discussed the future course of the treatment. The doctor referred her to Dr Sivaprakash Rathanaswamy, consultant surgical oncology at Aster Hospital, Qusais.
“Dr Sivaprakash ran a series of tests on me. I had to undergo an MRI scan to see the present state of the cancer. Fortunately, there was no metastasis. A minor surgery could correct my issue. But the doctor told me he would have to operate out the uterus,” said Kalra.
“I discussed it with my family. There was no other option. God was kind that I could diagnose cancer at an early stage. But despite being a doctor myself, the idea of going under the knife haunted me. It was so frightening. But Dr Sivaprakash helped me. He was so motivating and kept my morale up always,” she added.
Alka underwent a hysterectomy procedure, which went well. A further MRI scan showed no signs of cancer in her endometrium. The doctor has advised her to perform a scan once every three months to check for any signs of recurrence.
Post the surgery, Kalra performed two scans to date. She will be going in for a third scan this week. There is no sign of cancer in her body. She has completely recovered. She is now engaged in more activities than before and lives happily with her family.
It is not easy for anybody to admit that they have cancer, says Kalra.
“Even in my case, despite being a doctor, it took me some time to digest the fact that I had cancer. I used to panic, thinking about what would happen to me. There are a series of negative thoughts that drown you in depression. In my life, I have helped and counselled many people going through a similar experience. But when it came into my life, I stumbled."
"It is fine. We are all humans. But we should not let cancer overcome our mind filling it with fear and negativity. We should fight back. It only requires a positive attitude towards our life and a little courage,” explained Kalra.
According to her, she started to count the blessings she had in her life. She also started engaging more with her community initiatives to distract herself from negative thoughts.
Cancer is a disease with no symptoms unless it reaches the end stage of illness. Regular screening is the only way to diagnose cancer early, emphasised Dr Sivaprakash.
“Even in Kalra’s case, we would not have diagnosed the condition if she had not consulted a gynaecologist. The diagnosis happened early, and we could save her with a surgical procedure. But in most cases, people come to us late. By that time, there is nothing much we can do. Across the world, oncology experts have been emphasising the importance of screening for cancer. But it is yet to penetrate the hearts and minds of people. People like Kalra and their journey should be learning lessons for others,” the doctor added.
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